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King of the Mild Frontier

Adam Ant is still dressed up, and now has somewhere to go

"After I did that I got a deal with EMI and started again and did a whole new album, which is Wonderful. So, in a way, it was a long way 'round ... but hey, it makes ya strong."

Ant has indeed been rescued from obscurity, validated by the revered Reznor, forgiven his past crimes and allowed to continue on with a career long presumed over by those who cared about such things. Pop music audiences live by the motto "forgive and forget," allowing the discarded refuse of one era to resurface in another even bigger than before, stars reborn with nary a mention made of past indiscretions and failures.

So Ant returns, this time as a dewy-eyed romantic writing wimpy, twisted love songs strummed on an acoustic guitar -- personal, he calls them, natural. But he's back, all right, singing of holes in his heart and flesh-eating angels, bemoaning the fact "you can't beat your meat." He still performs all the old hits -- "Antmusic," "Friend or Foe," "Strip," "Goody Two-Shoes," "Vive Le Rock" -- and often speaks of the good old days with fondness and enthusiasm.

But, Ant insists, "I don't want to sit back and think, 'Oh, the old days were great and now is rubbish.' I don't think that's the case. Now is a great time, and that's all that concerns me. I just follow my heart.

"In 1977, '78, there were lots of people doin' a lot of the softer stuff and a lot of the more melodic and very personal stuff, and that's why I did the hard-edged stuff. Now I feel that the hard-edged stuff is being very well taken care of by the likes of Soundgarden and Nirvana and Pearl Jam; I think Nine Inch Nails are the top of the scale of the hard stuff. I want to do something I've never done before, so I focused on songs and lyrics that aren't dressed up and are very simple, actually. Simple and easy. I love doin' the old stuff, but I don't want to be a cabaret act."

At age 40, Ant is in a unique position -- old enough to be the grand old man of New Wave, but young enough to still participate in the music without seeming too ridiculous sporting leather pants on-stage with Reznor. He was raised on the Pistols and has witnessed the so-called rebirth of punk with Offspring and Green Day and D-Generation; he was a Wire fan and now sings the praises of Elastica, a new British band that so closely mimics Wire as to warrant a lawsuit.

His association with Reznor is particularly interesting, perhaps because there's a vague similarity between the two that extends even to a physical resemblance. Nine Inch Nails may well be the Adam and the Ants of the '90s -- producers of catchy pop songs with a dark, perverse subtext, wrapped in bondage gear and pseudosexual imagery. The roots of both men's music run deep through punk, but it blossoms as a warped sort of pop that's at once danceable and depressing. Like Ant circa 1980, Reznor has been hailed as genius and dismissed as gimmick; and Reznor's version of Ant's "Physical" on Nine Inch Nails' 1993 EP Broken is little changed from the original.

"Trent is a very focused person, and every single thing you see of his is presented as a vision," Ant says. "Trent's work is extreme, and that's what I like. I think we're both people that like extremes and pushin' it a bit.

"Performing with them was a real eye-opener for me. In a way, it was kind of like going full circle ... it's just generations, ya know? I feel very proud of them, that they've had the guts to go out and grab a piece of action for themselves on their own terms. But even then, that's not necessarily an influence from me but from generations before me. And maybe one night, we'll do one of their songs."

Adam Ant performs between 5 and 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at Party on the Plaza, Jones Plaza. Free. Call 845-1000 for info.

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