culture / Kogen Serrano / Review / September 2018

Insecure Men

Written by Kogen Serrano

Every 10 years or so, our ears are graced by a band whose vision is so pure, so technically unrivaled, and so righteous that their music becomes the soundtrack to an entire cultural moment. Such bands clarify the very value of music and set aspirational benchmarks for future generations.

Insecure Men is not one of those bands.

Bandleader Saul Adamczewski arrived on the London music scene in 2012 as the guitarist for Fat White Family, the most debased and transgressive group to ever crawl from a Peckham squat. Helmed by Lias Saoudi, they fulfilled a certain purist degenerate imperative by regularly performing naked and espousing radical socialist views in the most dramatic way possible.

(Their “the bitch is dead!” poster caught the attention of many a news outlet following Margaret Thatcher’s death.)

In 2016, this unsustainable tour of debauchery finally caught up with Adamczewski. On the night of the Paris Bataclan attacks, Adamczewski refused to vacate the area because he was waiting on his heroin dealer. (This spawned headlines such as “lead guitarist made friends wait for his dealer as terrorist attack took place.”) Understandably, he was ejected from Fat White Family the next day.

Now Adamczewski has returned with a new supergroup and a batch of demented pop songs. As part of a bid to kick his addiction, Adamczewski teamed up with childhood friend and stabilizing influence Ben Romans-Hopcraft to form Insecure Men. Their first, self-titled album is the ersatz, rancid masterpiece that The Beach Boys never made, a hazy tour through decaying British values and celebrity worship run amok.

From the euphoria of “Subaru Nights” to the uneasy glam of “Teenage Toy” Adamczewski proves to be an able guide through a modern wasteland of kitsch. Because this is basically a Fat White Family project, there’s a recurring impulse towards provocation, particularly in the paean to Gary Glitter’s post-prison stay in Asia (“Mekong Glitter”) and the crude elegy of “Whitney Houston and I.”

Many will balk at some of the lyrics. It is in exceptionally bad taste for Saul Adamczewski to assume the voice of the late Bobbi Brown and declare: “Whitney Houston and I both like a hot bath.” But Insecure Men isn’t just trying to get a rise out of you. They explore touchy subjects, probing for empathy, and finding poignancy in unlikely places. Pathos is a thing rarely present in modern pop. So Insecure Men took it upon themselves to bypass clichés and approach it from a rather unsavory back door.

Melodies are carried aloft by synths that I can only describe as “squishy.” An echo-laden sax graces many tracks, and producer Sean Ono Lennon even overdubbed some buoyant vocal harmonies reminiscent of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. But there’s something sinister lurking below the surface. Something is very off about Adamczewski’s disconsolate vocal performance. (Think early disco meets sleazy elevator music.) Even the instruments sound like toy versions of their more legitimate counterparts. It’s as if the music itself is ill.

Insecure Men is ultimately a balancing acta balancing act between high and low art, crudity and eloquence, decay and renewal. This is an album that posits itself as the antidote to the disingenuity of modern pop and as a springboard for one of the world’s most unlikely pop musicians.

This year has seen some interesting developments. Amen Dunes came out of the literal echo-chamber of his previous efforts to deliver the superb Freedom. Arctic Monkeys went to the moon. Yves Tumor went pop (kind of) with the excellent Safe in the Hands of Love. Yet none of these developments feel as revelatory as the cultural synthesis that Insecure Men has accomplished on their debut album.

This is every cheesy 70s hit vandalized and turned inside out, like an alternative cultural history that Adamczewski makes up as he goes along. This album is probably too weird for proper canonization and maybe not weird enough for true obscurantists, but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the year’s most original statements. Insecure Men is a shimmering hitch in Karen Carpenter’s voice, rendered in gaudy technicolor on a Vegas marquee.

 

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