CD Review of Stranger on the Sofa by Barry Adamson

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Stranger on the Sofa
starstarstarstarno star Label: Central Control
Released: 2006
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Barry Adamson, it has been said, writes soundtracks for films that don’t exist; indeed, we were led to understand that, by our mere acceptance of a promotional copy of his latest CD, Stranger on the Sofa, we were agreeing to use that descriptor somewhere within in this review…presumably for Googling purposes.

Adamson did time as a member of Magazine and of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, as well as Visage (“Fade to Grey,” anyone?), before heading off to the wonderful world of solo recordings; his debut album, Moss Side Story, appeared in 1989 on Mute Records, as did the five subsequent releases (four studio recordings, one compilation). With Stranger on the Sofa, however, Adamson’s gone even further solo by creating his own label…oh, sorry, he prefers the phrase “production home”…called Central Control.

If Adamson’s last album, The King of Nothing Hill, found him stepping away from his film-noir soundscapes in favor of proper songs, then Stranger on the Sofa is a mixture of the old and the new styles. The first track, however, features the recitation of a monologue by Anna Chancellor – a British actress known best to American audiences for her role as Juliet Shaw on “MI-5” – that really does deserve to have a movie written for it.

“They believe I know everything because my master’s memory serves me well,” she intones, as the track comes to a close. “In fact, I know nothing. And so they will find me, and in the middle of a cold afternoon, they will ask, ‘What is it exactly that you know?’ And then, they will take me outside…and they will kill me. That much I do know.” And following those icy cold words, we hear the tinkling of bells, a sound which leads into the folky, harmonica-led of “The Long Way Back Again.” It’s a song that inspires the hoisting of tankards of ale by drunken seamen.

It’s the long way back again
To where we once began
We’ll lead this caravan
And find our way to the sea
Sail away

“Officer Bentley’s Fairly Serious Dilemma” begins as a bouncy little pop song that wouldn’t prove out of place on a Captain Sensible album, but at the two-and-a-half minute mark, it launches into a virtual “Adam-12” episode, with the sounds of police calls taking the place of lyrics for its remaining eight minutes. Next up is the jazzy, finger-popping “Who Killed Big Bird?”, a style which Adamson revisits on “My Friend the Fly.” You can totally imagine Jarvis Cocker or even a young Scott Walker singing “Inside Your Head” or “Theresa Green,” just as you can envision “The Sorrow and the Pity” and “Dissemble” serving as the sonic backdrop to your favorite mystery movie.

As the funkiness of “Free Love” fades to black, there’s reason to think that Barry Adamson’s finally found the perfect middle ground between imaginary soundtracks and dramatic pop songs. Guess that’s what having your very own “production home” will do for you.

~Will Harris