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"I'm burnt around the edges but I'm tender in the middle"
|Main Category:||Smart Pop|
|Also applicable:||Avantgarde, Pop Rock, Guitar Heroes|
|Starting Period:||The Divided Eighties|
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Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Adrian Belew fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Adrian Belew fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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The way I see it, Adrian Belew is certainly NOT a genius, as some of his devoted fans might claim, but he's dang close, and a figure well worth getting to know. In a certain sense, Belew to the late Eighties and Nineties is more or less the same as Bowie was to the Seventies: a shameless trend-hopper whose brain lacks true inventiveness to actually create something radically new, but is sharp and active enough to get to the core of whatever the others are doing - and at times, do it better. His talents at songwriting are, at best, mediocre - his guitar riffs lack memorability and his vocal hooks are often exaggerated and clumsy; but he more than makes for it with a wonderful optimistic vibe and some nice pop sensibility that guarantees his albums are always enjoyable even if in the end you tend to forget about them. (Although at least a couple of them do turn out to be near-accidental near-masterpieces).That said, let us not forget to add that Belew is a rather multi-sided kind of dude. He first became prominent as a Zappa sideman (doing a hilarious Dylan impersonation on Frank's 'Flakes' among other things), but, of course, most people will know Belew as Fripp's right hand in the Eighties/Nineties mark of King Crimson. In between Crimson projects, though, Belew conducted a surprisingly prolific and equally surprisingly commercially unsuccessful solo career that was as diverse as possible. The two main preoccupations of Belew, as incompatible as they might seem, are Beatlesque/ELOesque guitar/piano-based power-pop, on one hand, and wildass guitar experimentation, on the other hand. One must note, though, that Adrian rarely tends to mix the two sides - which results in a very spotty catalog, where unbeatable masterpieces like Young Lions and Inner Revolution co-exist with very dubious projects like Desire Caught By The Tail and The Guitar As Orchestra. So tread Belewground carefully: you never know exactly what to expect from the man. A separate note must be made on Belew's 'influences'. The main is obviously a huge Beatles fan, but I'm afraid his "copy-cat" status has been seriously exaggerated and in the end, resulted in a stupid backlash - the two main reactions I've been able to notice about the guy are either "wow! he's making Beatles-quality music without the Beatles! how wondralicious!" or "whoever said this guy was making Beatles-quality music? That pipsqueak? Heck, he ain't even making Fountains of Wayne-quality music!". In this here writer's eyes, Belew is nowhere near as good a songwriter as Lennon or McCartney and I'm positively sure he never really tried to compete with either of them. And above all, the Beatles are only one of the influences in this bizarre melting pot. As somebody whose artistic growth coincided with the arrival of New Wave, Belew's style is certainly very much determined by that epoch's musical values. At one time, he played guitar on Talking Heads studio albums, and learned a lot from David Byrne, whose 'wobbly' chuka-chuka-chuka guitar style he's mastered perfectly, I'd even say better than the master himself, and whose exaggerated vocal style he often copies as well. Bowie is a huge influence, too; no wonder the two men sometimes worked together and Bowie even donated one of his best songs of the Nineties, 'Pretty Pink Rose', to Belew's best album. And, of course, let us not forget Zappa and Fripp, the "senior" teachers of Belew, whose presence is also often felt on his albums. As you can tell from these passages, the historical significance of Belew in the evolution of rock music is pretty low - innovating a lot on a 'small' scale, he was never responsible for any major breakthroughs. But what with all the obvious flaws and everything, Adrian still made a fair share of damn good records, in fact, a few of them could well rank up there with the best stuff that the Eighties and Nineties brought us. No power-pop lover should find himself without the "sacred tetralogy" of Belew's 1989-94 studio albums, which are all made with enough love and care to guarantee at least some respect. See, as much as Adrian can be qualified as 'the weird guy', whenever he decides to pen a straightforward pop number, he really gives it his all, and he doesn't tolerate 'lightweight' stuff - all of his songs are either serious, well-meaning love ballads or uncomplicated but not too banal philosophic/ecological rants. It's a big question, of course, whether he really believes in everything he plays/sings, or if he's just another David Bowie. I vote for somewhere in between: on my subconscience level, I don't always feel that Belew is really being so sincere in his 'gorgeous' love ballads. On the other hand, credit must be given to the man - he's multi-sided, yes, but he's not a true musical chameleon like Bowie (for one thing, he hadn't had the chance to stick around as long as the Thin White Duke), and once the few select styles of his had been firmly established, he preferred gradual evolution to rapid trend-hopping. And at least the guy never experimented with generic run-o'-the-mill techno or anything. That should give you a clue. Unfortunately, some of Adrian's stuff is out of print right now - his earliest albums, for instance, are almost impossible to find (although nothing is truly impossible on the Russian market, wink wink), and his "classic" albums are constantly drifting in and out of print. The good news is that, since good ol' Ade is still part of King Crimson, you can always hook up to Signor Fripp's Discipline records and then, if you harass them long enough, they might send you something - just don't forget to make sure the "something" is not the syncopated sound of Adrian Belew blowing his nose into one of his amplifiers. You never know what to expect from these badass weirdos. PS. I almost forgot to mention how much I actually respect Belew for managing to combine the "avantgarde" and the "pop" facets of his personality; if anything, he's the number one argument in favour of the theory that 'commercialism' and 'true art' do not necessarily contradict each other. For all the "snobbiness" that naturally accompanies him as a regular King Crimson member, responsible for some of the most elitist music on the planet, he has never found it a problem to dedicate a lot of his time to relatively simple, straightforward pop music either, and that's cool. The more people will learn to accept artists like Adrian, the sooner we manage to bridge this ridiculous gap between the warring "simple is better" and the "complex is better" parties that's causing ten times more harm to the future prospects of Music as an art than all the major record industries rolled into one. Sorry for digressing, but if I don't say this on an Adrian Belew page, I don't know where I will be able to say it next time.
Listenability: 3/5. Fortunately,
Adrian's "normal" side slightly outweighs his "schizo"
side, which is good for me.
Resonance: 2/5. But not all that resonant. He's doing it for the fun, but 'soulful' his songs are not. Not particularly.
Originality: 1/5. He's what I call 'moderately original' - a lot of inventiveness in details and stuff, but nothing crucial.
Adequacy: 3/5. Sometimes the melodies don't work and don't live up to the exaggerated vocals.
Diversity: 3/5. And still growing - this guy's interests are unpredictable!
Overall: 2.4 = D on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Funny - throughout, it seems he doesn't know what the heck he's doing himself, but it's amusing all the same.Best song: BIG ELECTRIC CAT
Track listing: 1) Big Electric Cat; 2) The Momur; 3) Stop It; 4) The Man In The Moon; 5) Naive Guitar; 6) Hot Sun; 7) The Lone Rhinoceros; 8) Swingline; 9) Adidas In Heat; 10) Animal Grace; 11) The Final Rhino.
Adrian's first two solo albums (often unavailable as separate entities - there is a compilation called Desire Of The Rhino King or something like that which combines highlights from the two) are somewhat special in that at that point he wasn't yet so anal about separating the "avantgarde" and the "poppy" aspects of his personality and molding them into two distinctly different piles of faeces. Uh, sorry, two distinctly different shrines of musical reason. Must have been thinking about Kansas.Lone Rhino is a record that alternates between twisted, sometimes hard-to-follow pop songs and twisted, sometimes easy-to-follow instrumental compositions, all very heavy on technical gadgets and weird guitar tones and, well, often similar in mood to whatever he'd be doing in that rotten stinking corpse of a band called King Crimson. Uh, sorry, in that wonderful progressive outfit called King Crimson. Must have been thinking about Uriah Heep. The very first song here is definitely the best one; 'Big Electric Cat' is a hard-rocking percussive monster where Ade is simply delighted to chant the repetitive (but catchy) chorus, all the while introducing you to the creative wonders he can do with his guitar - imagine a psychedelic version of a roaring Neil Young guitar solo, almost as energetic (although a little less serious) but coloured in so many colours, and you'll have no more need for that ugly stinking jingoistic egotistic prick. Uh, sorry, for that innovative inventive hero of proto-grunge. Must have been thinking about Bruce Springsteen. From there on, the songs are rarely catchy, but almost always interesting. I don't know what the heck a "momur" is, but according to Adrian, that's what his wife turned into in the second track, and although the steady, bass-driven rhythm of that rocker sounds deadly serious, I still presume it's a joke and dare to say that the song's overall atmosphere is quite playful and jovial, unlike the one you'd find on these lumps of dried snot that have the nerve to be called "musical albums" by their creators, members of the band Talking Heads. Uh, sorry, I meant, "rather than the paranoid atmosphere you'd find on these incredible pieces of art from the Talking Heads". Must have been thinking about KISS. It is interesting to note how much Adrian cares for wild nature - and not only implicitly, as suggested by titles like 'Big Electric Cat', but also quite explicitly, as in 'The Lone Rhinoceros', which is a slightly sad and mostly experimentation-free (meaning he wants us to really concentrate on the message) ballad/pop-rocker distant echoes of which can even today be heard in King Crimson's 'Dinosaur'. It is pretty obvious that the guy has a real deep feel for everything beautiful that is unnecessarily passing away, and he can definitely express these feelings in a not-totally-obvious, not thoroughly cliched way, unlike those monkey-eating, bilge-poppin' fruitcakes who call themselves Jethro Tull. Uh, sorry, I meant, "unlike the sometimes a bit too obscure for their own good, but otherwise wonderfully inventive British lads Jethro Tull". Must have been thinking about Bad Company. There are also occasional passages and ideas which seem to have been more or less disbanded by Mr Belew later on, especially when he started making records all by himself; for instance, the presence of William Janssen on sax gives him the opportunity to transform 'Swingline' into an exhilarating jazzy romp, full of unpredictable tempo changes and getting a magnificent full sound without having to transform into a hogshed of dissonance, atonality, noise, self-indulgence, and sexual perversion like most of the dirty diaper-quality "product" heaped upon the innocent world by Frank Zappa. Uh, sorry, I meant, "into a musical masterpiece unworthy to be understood by a common mortal like me". Must have been thinking about Henry Cow. The instrumental pieces are, unsurprisingly, the most predictable compositions on the album - mostly because they often sound like outtakes from Discipline. 'Naive Guitar', in particular, obviously comes from one of the main creators of 'The Sheltering Sky' and no-one else, with its "heavenly" sonic patterns and all. It also works as a nice, ambient-style breather in between the more bizarre stuff, and is certainly soothing and relaxing without having to betray your attention, unlike the yawn-inducing, snooze-causing, hyper-hypnotic, "The-Evil-Queen-Says-Fuck-The-Apple' barely legal packs of tranquilizers distributed by Brian Eno under the guise of music records. Uh, sorry, I meant, "unlike the beautiful lullabies by that magic worker of ambient, Brian Eno, who makes the best lullabies on Earth'. Must have been thinking about Tangerine Dream. In short, this is an album that is a very good album, and if you think this is an album that is not a very good album or that this is an album that is a very bad album, you will have to give this album another couple of listens and watch a very bad album slowly become a very good album. (Now I am convinced that ellipsis was a darn good linguistic invention). I mean, it is produced in strict Zappa tradition, which means it requires a lot of attention, and I'm pretty sure I, for instance, haven't listened enough to truly appreciate it. But what I did appreciate at once was the overall sound of this stuff - and being a big fan of what Belew did for classic Eighties King Crimson, I am naturally a big fan of all the atmospheric gadgets and tricksy aural devices he displays on here. Not to mention that 'Big Electric Cat' is probably the best King Crimson song that has never been properly credited to King Crimson. But who the fuck is a momur?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7
He's a guitar master, all right, but I sure wish he'd come up with real melodies instead of just freaking out.Best song: LAUGHING MAN
Track listing: 1) Tango Zebra; 2) Laughing Man; 3) The Gypsy Zurna; 4) Portrait Of Margaret; 5) Beach Creatures Dancing Like Cranes; 6) At The Seaside Cafe; 7) Guernica; 8) "Z".
Not exactly 'big shit', even if I did give the record a seven: I don't hate it, and I only find, well, maybe a couple of tunes on here particularly offensive. Moreover, Adrian's photo on the back cover alone is worth the price of acquisition: he's got all his hair firmly in place, some of it even sticking out, and that's a blessing (hey, I always have trouble looking at his bald spots). But, after all, hair is one thing, and music is another: the major problem is that Adrian Belew with all his talents just isn't the omni-potent super-crafter he so obviously thinks himself to be, and he's far better at creating New Wave-style pop ditties than this kind of stuff. Desire Caught By The Tail is a completely instrumental album, with hardly any vocals to be found, and it is probably deemed as an 'experimental' record - just Belew and his guitar and drum machines, that's all. Everything he actually does is demonstrate the possibilities of his beloved instrument (a thing he'd return to a decade later with the even less critically successful Guitar As Orchestra), running it through dozens of fuzz boxes, synths and various gadgets to quite an amusing range of effects. Amusing, but pointless: sometimes you feel as if you were just finding yourself in the midst of a 'presentation', where Adrian displays the latest sound technologies. Thus, it might be interesting to give this one listen, but it has no artistic value whatsoever.To make matters worse, Belew doesn't even care about structuring the songs or creating anything closely resembling a melody. In general, Desire reminds me of some particularly wild Zappa freakout: sometimes amusing, but mostly excessive and dull. The album opener, 'Tango Zebra', is quite exemplary in that respect: seven and a half minutes of various tones and effects, ranging from simple acoustic to 'guitar brass', 'guitar violin' and even 'guitar sitar' (!), I think. The notable Eastern overtones don't save the tune, because even when Adrian manages to have a solid groove going, like at the very beginning of the tune, he quickly skips over it and proceeds to bug you with more incoherency. Thankfully, it is immediately followed by the album's best (and, I'd say, the only really worthwhile) tune, 'Laughing Man'. It's a very nice waltz with interesting chord changes and a nice atmosphere around it, and the guitar sound is this time around imitating the Eighties' real synths - you know, those corny ones that are at the core of all the murky synth-pop records. And the song is sometimes complemented with evil sounds of laughter - I still can't understand if these are real laughs, only electronically encoded, or if Adrian imitates them with the guitar as well (in which case this is a definite technological improvement since Dave Gilmour's 'laughing guitar' in the middle of the solo on 'Dogs'). After a couple zillion listens, one also starts to appreciate a little bit 'The Gypsy Zurna', which is indeed built on gypsy motives (the wild percussion on that one is really atmospheric, and the guitar's Eastern flavor is this time fully justified); and for some reason I find myself intrigued by 'Portrait Of Margaret', with one of the wildest, nastiest, most freakingly 'poisonous' guitar tones I've ever witnessed. Last time I heard something like that was while listening to the Police's 'Behind My Camel' (an excellent tune, by the way - kudos to dudes who awarded it the Grammy! Why people always hate that one is beyond me). It's just so spooky and disturbing that it easily drives you out of the coma you fall into at about the third or fourth minute into the record. Still, it would probably be nothing more than a piece of forgettable filler on any of King Crimson's Eighties' albums. The last four tunes just drop out on me - sorry all ye Adrian fans. At least, most of them are short enough, so you don't go around spraying your hate on all the objects around you for very long. 'Guernica' just sucks, and I could care less for the associations - it's nothing more than a bunch of cacophonous guitar noises for me. And the fact that the 'laughing man gimmick' is reproduced again at the end of "Z" doesn't mean that I have to sit through it in its entirety for what seems like ages; he's going for an Eno-ish kind of 'half-ambient' sound on here, but unfortunately, when it comes to experimentation with Sound, Adrian doesn't have a one hundredth dose of talent for such things that Eno has. A major fuck-up, in short: Adrian should obviously steer clear of experiments like this, because Desire amply demonstrates that his main strength lies in a skilful marriage of his one-man band experimental approach with a decent pop melody. Without being clad in a memorable, distinctively structured form, this fiddling with guitars is just like a faceless, bland ghost. Fortunately, Adrian seemed to understand that, and he retired from making such kind of records for years. Later on that year, Adrian formed his own group, called The Bears, and recorded two albums with it, none of which I have heard so far; the stunt, however, proved rather short-lived, and by the end of the Eighties he went back to making solo records - amazingly, it turned out to be a blessing.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989Record rating = 8
A bit too heavy on rudimentary dance beat patterns, but compensating it with rich vocal melodies. Belew's a good lad.Best song: OH DADDY
Track listing: 1) Oh Daddy; 2) House Of Cards; 3) One Of Those Days; 4) Coconuts; 5) Bad Days; 6) Peaceable Kingdom; 7) Hot Zoo; 8) Motor Bungalow; 9) Bumpity Bump; 10) Bird In A Box; 11) 1967; 12) Cruelty To Animals.
This record really threw Belew into the limelight - well, critical, at least, as I doubt that too many people on the planet have ever heard the name itself. With Mr Music Head, Belew fully shakes off the Crimson shackles and engages on his own curious solo career, effectively transforming himself into one of the most obscure, yet one of the most diverse and intriguing popmeisters of the late Eighties/early Nineties. And, while Mr Music Head is not as tight-gripping or immediately likeable as its more adventurous follow-up, Young Lions, it's perhaps even more important to those who have a soft spot for Adrian: out of all his records, it's easily the most sincere-going and even autobiographical. His later records are mostly 'Belew imitates the Beatles', 'Belew imitates Byrne', 'Belew imitates Bowie', etc.; on Mr Music Head, apart from a few evident stylizations like 'One Of Those Days', Belew is obviously trying to carve out his own pop identity, and he mostly succeeds. Pity he didn't really stick with it for too long.The general flaw here is that Adrian's melodies are not too - howdjasay - not too consistent, I guess. He has a way of knocking you over the head as if with a hammer as soon as you put something on: the music is so charmingly silly, so friendly and so light and playful that one can only wonder where on Earth you were before, ignoring the output of this postmodernistic genius. The problem is - most of them are too light to be memorable. This is partially due to Adrian's main principle of recording - no guests. He records everything himself, and thus one can never hope to have a carefully crafted sound texture or anything. His drumming is quite professional, and he's excellent at creating really innovative and experimental drum machine patterns; likewise, when he goes for riffing, his riffs are cool and his guitar tones are enthralling. But it's just that there's too much for him to do, and too often, these songs just remind one of half-baked, average demos. 'Peaceable Kingdom', for instance - the number is supposed to sound African, and it does, with the only instrumentation being several layers of ethnic percussion and various chirps and tweeps and squirks emitted by parrots and chimpanzees, I guess. It's still pretty in its naiveness and simplicity, but I suppose it was just more simple for Adrian to produce this kind of stuff than a fully-instrumented song in its place. Likewise, the entire second half of the album seems very much hit and miss to me. For the most part, it consists of a set of weird electronic pop-rockers - 'Hot Zoo', 'Motor Bungalow', 'Bumpity Bump' and 'Bird In A Box' all have a certain amount of potential, but I can't get rid of the feeling that essentially Adrian's just endlessly recycling one vibe on these. 'Hot Zoo' features, like, two or three chords repeated over and over, the vocals are echoey and ununderstandable, and, while I appreciate all these jungle sounds that fill the empty spaces, they get monotonous after a while, too. 'Motor Bungalow' has fantastic lyrics that describe Belew's cosmopolitic fantasies, but it sounds like the melody was thrown together in a couple of minutes as well (you gotta dig those paranoid drum machines, though, especially their little 'solo spot' in the middle of the song). And the next two songs are structured more or less the same, except that 'Bird In A Box' is a little bit more heavy on the guitar. Not a bad or an offensive sequence, but a fairly unimaginative one - and I'm speaking of a guy who can imitate an entire orchestra with just one guitar. Oh well, maybe he just didn't have the time or something. And at least, all these mistakes are perfectly compensated for on the better numbers. For starters, the lead-in number 'Oh Daddy' might just be THE greatest pop song of 1989 par excellence, as nearly everything about it is perfect. The lyrical matter - a dialogue between an unlucky and an awkwardly shy 'daddy' who cannot, or doesn't want to be a big star, and his daughter who urges him on to 'write that big hit'. For the record, Belew's real daughter, the 11-year old Audie Belew, sings backup vocals, and she sings 'em far better than quite a few fully grown-up women I've had the misfortune to hear in my life... The melody - an intoxicating piano pattern, and a sly, 'hookable' guitar riff popping out at just the right times. And, of course, the friendliness and playfulness the likes of which you'd hardly be meeting on any other record at that time. Nothing really holds up to that standard, but that's no problem. 'House Of Cards' has a gorgeous vocal melody (that's where Belew really shines, by the way - he often manages to salvage even a really weak track with his singing and vocal hooks), and its message - 'wake up, get out of that house of cards' - is quite authentic and sincere. The chorus is so uplifting it's gonna nullify all your personal problems in a second. If you can stand drum machines, of course. Then there's 'One Of Those Days' - a terrif Jerry Lee Lewis rip-off, but I adore it even if it is a rip-off. He's stealing the melody of 'End Of The Road', as far as I understand, but he's actually embellishing the song by substituting his own lyrics - a great nostalgic description of a picnic from the perspective of the Lord himself. No kidding. And 'Bad Days' is one of the greatest broken relations' anthems ever recorded: the incredible thing is that Belew's actually playing a cheerful rhythm on the piano, over which he overdubs his own soulful, plaintive intonations. There are apparently McCartneyesque notes on here - the song's atmosphere is a teeny-weeny bit reminiscent of 'For No One' (and there are Lennonesque notes, too, in the guise of some backwards guitars). The Beatlesque ambitions, of course, don't fully emerge until the last two tracks. 'Cruelty To Animals' is crap: it's Belew's tribute to 'Revolution #9', a four-minute sound collage consisting, quite frankly, of all the special sound effects he'd used previously on the album plus other elements he hadn't. I suppose even those who get their kicks out of the original will have to admit that an imitation of 'Revolution #9' is a pretty weird idea. On the other hand, '1967' is a very pretty (although not tremendously memorable) acoustic suite entirely in the vein of, say, 'Little Lamb Dragonfly'. Lyrically it's structured as a venture into Belew's own mind - describing his inner emotions, feelings and images, and it's a pretty entertaining journey. And musically, it's at least very refreshing after the sequence of four drum-machine pop-rockers I've described above: Belew's quite nice at acoustic picking, and every now and then he even has something close to a great musical idea (the riff in the 'if the bat-winged beast sweeps down...' section, for instance). This was, of course, only the rough beginning of Belew's later Beatles imitations - but for the time being, he was still more intent on creating something more original, or, at least, sending his 'experimental rip-offs' in more directions. Like on Young Lions.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
Belew imitates everybody on here - and the results are smashing. As long as you don't shut off the actual CD.Best song: PRETTY PINK ROSE
Track listing: 1) Young Lions; 2) Pretty Pink Rose; 3) Heartbeat; 4) Looking For A UFO; 5) I Am What I Am; 6) Not Alone Anymore; 7) Men In Helicopters; 8) Small World; 9) Phone Call From The Moon; 10) Gunman.
By the early Nineties, Belew had completely assumed the mask of an imitator; but Young Lions is a rather vague record in that respect - inside of concentrating on some particular aspect, Belew works in the vein of just about everybody he can think about. This explains the fact that the material on here ranges from a cover of the Traveling Wilburys to two collaborations with Bowie (Belew's former 'master' - Adrian used to play guitar for him), and connotations with the Talking Heads, Fifties' pop, and, of course, King Crimson themselves, are found in abundance.This shouldn't, of course, detract one from the fact that most of these imitations are SWELL. Now, as Adrian got more and more involved in creating song-filled albums instead of avantgarde guitar experiments, his main flaw finally comes to life: he is not a very talented songwriter. And hey, I've said that about millions of times on this site, but this time you gotta believe me - the man's main talents do not lie in creative melodies. Very few of the songs are actually memorable: they sound magnificent while you're listening, and they do have hooks, but it's some strange kind of hooks, the ones that don't linger in your head at all. He does get out sometimes - on the covers and on 'Pretty Pink Rose', see below - but most of the songs that are credited to Adrian never have enough musical substance to come across as chef-d'oeuvres. Oh, well: I suppose God plans all his donations of talent wisely. Because if the actual melodies were solid and memorable, I simply couldn't just speak of Adrian as a terrific musical stunt-maker: I'd have to speak of him as, quite possibly, the greatest musical force of the Nineties. As it is, the re-make of 'Heartbeat' (why Adrian wasn't just content with the regular Crimson version isn't clear) fully demonstrates what constitutes a great melody and what doesn't. Regardless, the re-make is very nice and not at all inferior in comparison to the original, and hell, I loved the song in the first place, so how can its own co-author ruin it? But something tells me that Fripp was more involved in creating that melody... The Wilburys cover (presaging Belew's soon-to-come albums of Beatles imitations) is 'Not Alone Anymore', one of the band's slightly less interesting numbers: it's an operatic ballad, sung by the late Roy Orbison. However, Belew gives it a slightly electronic treatment, adds funny finger-clicks, and since his voice is nowhere near as powerful as Roy's, manages to convert it from insecure bombast into groovy fun. The absolutely best material on here, however, are the two tracks that Belew shares with Mr Davy Jones. 'Gunman' is disturbing, amazing and tense in its paranoia: if anything, it is extremely reminiscent of Bowie's Scary Monsters period. David sings it himself, by the way; and his troubled, whacko intonations, together with the spooky, apocalyptic lyrics and Belew's insane guitar solos, make the song an unforgettable album closer. But, as far as I'm concerned, 'Pretty Pink Rose' is even better. It's not as delirious as other songs on the album, but it rocks harder than everything else on here taken in one big heap. It's catchy - hey, after all, it's a pure Bowie number. It's credited to David alone, he sings it, and Belew just plays guitar - like in the good old days when David was Da Boss and Adrian was just the chief guitarist and no-one else. The guitar tears your ears to shreds, though. And oh boy oh boy, is this number addictive - so steady, so upbeat, so melodic... I don't think I'll make a big mistake if I say that 'Pretty Pink Rose' could well be the best song Bowie ever came up with since, well, since his Fripp/Eno period. Fans of David, take heed! Got an extra buck to spare? Now, the trickiest theme. Belew's self-penned material. Audio-wise, everything rules. I haven't yet mentioned that Adrian plays all the instruments, as usual, but I think with this man-orchestra, it goes without saying. These remaining six tunes are wonderful examples of what I'd call 'inventive Nineties sound', if there ever was one: New Wave updated with latest guitar-enhancing technologies and various stuff I don't even know the names of. It's all rousing and attention-drawing, even if not really innovative. 'I Am What I Am', for instance, features some wild instrumental background over which a muffled vocal recites a strange, preachy dialogue telling you, well, to believe that you are what you are, whatever the circumstances. Can't argue with that one, although I'd sure love to know who's the 'vocalist' on that one. Bowie? He's credited for appearing on the track... Weird. The title track, meanwhile, is a blatant Bowie-imitation itself - you know, something in the vein of 'Secret Life Of Arabia'. Utmost fun and a strange perverse romantic atmosphere mixed in with tribal elements. 'Looking For A U.F.O.' is a strangely under-arranged pop ditty a la Fifties; 'Men In Helicopters' has a really strong vocal melody, with beautiful harmonies as Adrian blurts out some ecological lyrics; and 'Phone Call From The Moon' is structured in the fine tradition of 'Rocket Man'. Hey, there's really no need to discuss all this stuff seriously - like I said, it's all just a big, wonderful put-on. Belew is like a Marc Bolan of the Nineties: mostly borrowing stuff from others, but making it exciting and definitely adding a stamp of his own bizarre nature onto everything. PS. Looking back on this album a year after I'd reviewed it, I must apologize for somewhat underrating Belew's skills here. I must have confused Young Lions with Inner Revolution: the essential trick is that there are vocal hooks on here, lots of 'em, and they do get under your skin. 'Oh, it's a small world...' in 'Small World', for instance. That's a major hook. And, of course, the wonderful 'oh, the legacy we're leaving behind' line in 'Men In Helicopters' is worth a fortune. So yeah, I guess I can easily proclaim this as Belew's masterpiece (or at least, one of the two masterpieces, provided one guy can have two of 'em). Get this record today, it's easily one of the best albums of the Nineties.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Pretty little experimentation here, more like unpretentious pop-making with a good vibe.Best song: BIRDS
Track listing: 1) Inner Revolution; 2) This Is What I Believe In; 3) Standing In The Shadow; 4) Big Blue Sun; 5) Only A Dream; 6) Birds; 7) I'd Rather Be Right Here; 8) The War In The Gulf Between Us; 9) I Walk Alone; 10) Everything; 11) Heaven's Bed; 12) Member Of The Tribe.
This album suffers. Not because it's a bad album - because it was a record that started spreading all these "Adrian Belew = Beatles clone" rumours. This is, to be frank, total hogwash. Of course, it's useless to deny Beatles influences on this album, as well as on certain tracks from its two predecessors; they are huge, and they are quite intentionally showcased throughout, as Belew makes this record his most commercially appealing ever, with a set of poppy songs that make big use of vocal harmonies, stripped-down, but thoughtful guitar/piano arrangements, and clever vocal hooks; the vocals throughout are, indeed, the main point, more so than the actual instrumental melodies. But to think of Inner Revolution as a 'Beatles imitation', as some actually do, would be doing the record and the artist a huge disfavour - it's obvious that Adrian can stand no competition, and wouldn't want to in the first place.Besides, only about half of these songs, maybe even less, do sound Beatlesque. You could as well label them Big Starish, Badfingerish, ELOish... basically, it's power pop with an attitude, and that's that. Good power pop, although the hooks, as is usual with Belew, are kinda lazy, keep popping up in all the wrong places, and you really need a bunch of listens for the songs to grow on you, and even then a couple of tunes, like 'Only A Dream', will still be sucking. I mean, it's nice that the song borrows the descending riff from 'Not Alone Anymore', but I get the feeling that Belew really overscreams on the song, and that ain't no hook in itself. Oh, and, by the way, 'Only A Dream' is among the few most Beatlesque tunes on here, particularly the middle part. However, for the most part, Inner Revolution is a total winner. Belew had mastered the secret of gorgeous vocal harmonies long ago, and he puts it to full and blistering effect on 'Birds' - why the song is the shortest on the album, I will never know, but maybe Adrian thought it was good taste to make the best the shortest. If the very first lines ('birds, birds everywhere I see, I wanna live like they do, I wanna be in their tree'), sung in the most delicious falsetto, don't struck a chord within your soul, all I can say is - just keep on trying. The guitar solo is heavenly as well. There are several other "lightweight" pop masterpieces on here as well: 'Big Blue Sun' is inimitable, with a real string quartet enlisted to provide the song with an obvious McCartneyesque atmosphere - and it's hardly a rip-off of 'Good Day Sunshine', although the atmosphere is very similar. It's probably Belew's best bet for ever capturing the Beatlesque spirit on record... er, well, the McCartney spirit, I'd say, because from all the Beatles references found on this album it's evident who in particular is Adrian's main hero. Let us also not forget 'I Walk Alone', whose melody is not particularly memorable, but while the song is on, I can't really turn away from it, because it's more like a real operatic movement, with Belew's vocals slowly growing and reaching upwards to a magnificent series of crescendos. First, or next, time you hear the song, try to concentrate on that short bit where Adrian goes "I walk alone... I need to see you, to fe-e-e-e-e-el you here and let it heal the lonely fears...' and tell me that Brian Wilson wouldn't be proud of patenting such a beautiful melodic move. I truly don't care if Belew is "faking" it or not; maybe he is, maybe he wrote this song driven exclusively by the wish to compete with the greatest vocal harmonizers of all time, but who cares? When you see something so perfect, you can forget all the rules of 'sincerity' and just bathe in the sound. The more "rocking" songs are fun as well. The title track is no great shakes melodically, but it has a wonderful ass-kicking atmosphere, and I like the lyrics - for some reason, Belew's preaching never comes across as contrived or particularly cliched. Maybe because it ISN'T? Who knows? Same for 'This Is What I Believe In', the only song on here to retain the typically Crimsonian 'wobbly' guitar pattern - I could have mistaken it for a re-make of 'Three Of A Perfect Pair' easily, had it not been graced with a different vocal melody from the very beginning. 'The War In The Gulf Between Us' is Beatlesque! It begins with a line lifted off 'And Your Bird Can Sing'! Er, that's where the similarity really ends, otherwise it's more like your routine power pop. Not too good, but nice-soundin'. And don't forget 'Member Of The Tribe' that ends the album on a radically different note: it's pretty hard-rockin' and full to the brim with Belewguitars, somehow returning us, both through the music and the 'tribe' references to the hot ethnic raunch of Young Lions, even if it's not really about anything ethnic - it's just about, er, well, 'a face in the crowd', if you get my drift. There ain't really a bad song on here - just three or four tunes that aren't particularly imaginative. Belew has taken the risk of making an entire album by himself once again, with no participation from Bowie and no "can't-fail-that-one" covers, as on Young Lions, which is why there are flaws; remember, the man really doesn't have an inborn feel for great unstoppable hooklines. But judging from what I've heard in perspective, Belew sure can learn - there are certain advances here over both of his previous albums, mainly in the sphere of vocal harmonies, and it would all come together on the next album, once and for all. Too bad Inner Revolution never caught the public attention; I guess by 1992 the world was really busy with absorbing Nirvana. Plus, whoever would think that a balding ugly former King Crimson guitarist of all people would hatch a near-pop masterpiece? Now tell me - would you have believed it around 1992? I sure wouldn't.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9
Very superfluous and superficial; this is clearly not Belew's sphere, but he doesn't seem to think so...Best song: MEN IN HELICOPTERS
Track listing: 1) The Lone Rhinoceros; 2) Peace On Earth; 3) The Man In The Moon; 4) The Rail Song; 5) If I Fell; 6) Burned By The Fire We Make; 7) Matte Kudasai; 8) Dream Life; 9) Old Fat Cadillac; 10) Crying; 11) Young Lions; 12) Men In Helicopters; 13) Martha Adored.
This is the first of two completely acoustic records that Adrian has released in the Nineties (the next one was 1998's Belewprints), and neither of the two add much to his reputation. To be completely fair and honest, though, none of the two are bad or anything - just somewhat excessive. Also, both have only been in print for a very limited time span, and most of the other time they were only available through direct contact with Adrian's company (if I'm not mistaken, it's the regular Crimson label, Discipline). Selections from both albums have been collected together and placed with several new numbers (like 'Fly' and 'Three Of A Perfect Pair') on the compilation Salad Days, which seems to be the only 'remainder' of Adrian's acoustic exercises currently in print.I have been able to scoop up the Russian releases of both of these acoustic albums, but I'm not exactly happy with the result. Oh, no, it is definitely a very nice gesture, and it's always pleasant to witness an experimental guitar star sometimes go unplugged and deliver a bunch of 'no-bull' versions of his compositions; this is supposed to remind us that sonic effects and weirdness, no matter what one says, are always inferior to things most important to music - melody, harmony, well, what am I talking about, you know all that already. Unfortunately, I can't say that this record is very entertaining. First of all, Adrian isn't a great acoustic player. Of course, I may be biased, as since 1992 I'm subconsciously judging all acoustic performances by the standards of Clapton's Unplugged; but in any case, I just don't get the point. He is honestly copying all his riffs and inserting rudimentary solos and sometimes throwing in an ingenious staccato, but the more I try to soak in the atmosphere, the more I realise that Adrian's main skill really is experimentation - he seems to almost be thrown off guard when he finds out that he can't diversify the tone much. Where are the knobs and the pedals and the fuzz and the synthesized effects? They're nowhere, and they certainly can't be substituted by solid, but never outstanding acoustic rhythm playing. In fact, Adrian's pointless cover of 'If I Fell' perfectly symbolizes the lack of sense: it's nice, of course, and his Beatles' imitation is excellent, as usual, but do we really need yet another proof that yes, Adrian can imitate the Beatles? The only use I can make of this song is to play a trick on some unsuspicious friend of mine - 'look, here's a newly-uncovered Beatles demo version, how much would you give me for it?' Bah. And 'Matte Kudasai' is as gorgeous as ever, but I really really miss the 'heavenly' guitar effects that made the original so much more poignant. Otherwise, the material is all taken from Belew's solo records, mainly from Inner Revolution, although a couple of tracks date back to his early Eighties' solo efforts (Lone Rhino, Twang Bar King), and another couple is taken from Young Lions (these were originally present only on the Japanese version). After several listens, they do click on you, and everything starts to work - 'Burned By The Fire We Make' and 'Crying' are beautiful, 'The Man In The Moon' is melancholic, and 'Old Fat Cadillac' is hilarious. But that only happens after several listens, when you've already had enough of lamenting over the lack of exciting arrangements, and I still don't understand what they can add to the originals. To tell the truth, I would have far preferred to have some demo versions instead - at least, demo versions provide you with an insight into the working process of the artist. But latter-period stripped-down rearrangements? Hmm. (One should, however, mark that 'Burned By The Fire We Make', as well as a couple other inclusions, wouldn't appear in their 'regular' version until a year later on Here). If anything really stands out, it's the Young Lions material - 'Young Lions' and 'Men In Helicopters' were originally rip-roaring, bellowing tracks, and I was kinda interested in how the guy would really manage to quiet them down. He does manage - 'Young Lions' just becomes a powerful romantic ballad, and the vocals in 'Men In Helicopters', taken together with Belew's furious strumming, make you really forget all about the lack of 'noise'. I suppose I must give Adrian his due and say that his voice is in top form throughout - on the other hand, he copies all the originals note-for-note, so that bad tongues could even suppose that he just lifted the vocals from the original electric versions. Heh heh. For some reason, the record ends with a stupid gesture: a track called 'Martha Adored' whose origin I'm not too sure of, but the thing is, Belew decided to record it backwards - which means you have to sit through two minutes of ear torture just to justify a completely sickening, perverse experimental urge. This Belew guy is truly a hit and miss one. All things considered, I give the album a nine, but hardcore Belew fans might easily increase the rating, if only because it gives a great opportunity for the rabid Belewer to study Adrian's playing techniques in detail. It's like thrusting some sheetnotes right under your nose, you understand.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
Introspectivity + growing pop sensibility = an album you GOTTA have.Best song: BURNED BY THE FIRE WE MAKE
Track listing: 1) May 1, 1990; 2) I See You; 3) Survival In The Wild; 4) Fly; 5) Never Enough; 6) Peace On Earth; 7) Burned By The Fire We Make; 8) Dream Life; 9) Here; 10) Brave New World; 11) Futurevision; 12) Postcard From Holland; 13) (None).
I can only maybe find just a few complaints to voice about this album. I guess one or two of these songs aren't as well-written as the others. I also guess the best material on here kinda overshadows the "simply good" one. That's still no reason to deny this album an objective 10 on the Belewscale. For pure enjoyment, I still prefer Young Lions, but I sincerely bow my head in this particular case: remember when I said Belew's songwriting abilities were 'mediocre'? Not on this 1994 offering from the guy, his last in the 'pure pop' vein. Probably he just made a tremendous effort - and after this album proved to be a commercial flop equal to that of Inner Revolution, Adrian never returned to 'pure pop' again; soon afterwards, he would rejoin the rejuvenated King Crimson and head off into experimental ventures, and his next solo album would already be a fifty-fifty combination of "pop" and "avantgarde". A pity, that: on Here, Belew gets his best chance to stand before us as master pop songwriter and performer.It's a bit different from Inner Revolution in that the album is generally quieter - lots of acoustic songs with no rhythm section and introspective, romantic moods, alternating with the usual pop-rockers we have come to expect from the man. This would make the common person off the street seriously wonder: can he? Can he really pull off the 'singer-songwriting' style? Hmm. I suppose he can - what do you call 'Dream Life' but a beautiful minimalistic acoustic ballad? I do think the song would have benefited a lot from a quiet rhythm section, as the stop-and-start structure tends to get me off base. BUT it's still beautiful. Before I forget, I think I should say that Here, in addition to Beatles' influences, betrays Belew's obsession with the British Invasion epoch in general. I can easily picture 'Dream Life' as being sung by Mr Ray Davies, in particular; this endearing, slightly naive atmosphere is far more characteristic of the Kinks than the Beatles in general. The somewhat monotonous 'Peace On Earth' and the plaintive title track are about the only songs that don't hold my attention for too long - the former somehow forgot to pack a hook, unless you count the weird finger-pickin' acoustic playing style (and yet another British Invasion reference, as it's the same style that was employed to better use twenty-six years ago by Pete Townshend on 'Sunrise'), while the latter kinda drags, as stupid as it sounds. But this is easily compensated by the soaring atmospheric beauty of 'Fly', a near-psychedelic composition that could also be said to 'drag' were it not for the fact that its primary purpose is to set a mood, and it succeeds admirably; don't forget, after all, that Adrian Belew used to be one of the chief mood-setters in King Crimson, and this is the kind of guy that always learns his lessons. But enough on the slow ones. Let's concentrate on the ass-kickin' stuff! That's what we came here to do, after all, we all need our ass kicked. First, in a gentle and tender way, as on the magnificent 'May 1, 1990', a brilliant slice of echoey, sentimental Britpop driven forth by crunchy acoustic riffs (yeah) and a subtle cello line in the background which you don't even notice until you start really sinkin' in, but it's right there and it's adding passion all over the place. Next, we'll let in the real crunch, as 'I See You' brings in the joyfulness and bounciness and Belew's most obvious Lennon impersonation in the mid-section (I never knew what was it people meant when they were saying Belew can sound like Lennon, but with this mid-section, I certainly know now). 'Survival In The Wild' brings in crrrrunchy rocking sitars! Er, no, well, the sitars don't exactly rock, and I'm not even sure if these are sitars (probably yet another of Adrian's countless gadgets), but who needs an album that takes its inspiration from mid-Sixties pop and features no friggin' sitars? You gotta hear it, it's hilarious. I could also mention the coolness of songs like 'Brave New World' and the obligatory "experimentally sounding" cut 'Futurevision', but instead I'd just like to have your attention concentrated on the two absolute pop chef-d'oeuvres on here. Yeah, had Belew never penned anything but 'Never Enough' and 'Burned By The Fire We Make', he would still have earned himself a little niche in the Pantheon of rock heroes. The former is actually pretty complex, going through all of its different mid-sections, but they're all tied in with the wonderful bassline and smashing drumming rhythm, and the contrast between the "angry punkish" mid-section with distorted vocals and the softle, gentle 'it's never enough' refrain really exceeds my expectations of a pop song. 'Burned By The Fire We Make' is even better. Usually I look askance at eco-rock anthems, but like I think I already mentioned before, Belew is one of the lucky few who can get away with this stuff - his take on the eco stuff is quite clever lyrically, avoiding usual cliches and bringing in really clever lines ('and when God looked down on the Earth and saw it was broken, then the tears of God fell down through a hole in the ozone'). But, of course, it's the melody that matters, and in the chorus to the song we finally have what's needed - something so simple it's almost banal, yet a total work of genius in its simplicity. Try singing 'burned by the fire we make, burned by the fire we make, burned by the fire we make, what a shame' so as not to sound cheesy; Belew sings it so that it sounds deeply moving. Plus, the track immaculately segues from acoustic ballad into full-fledged rocker, with both parts pulling on a different nerve (compassion and sorrow in the first one, anger and scorn in the second). George Harrison could learn something from this guy... granted, the song itself might have been spiritually obliged to All Things Must Pass, but that was a really long time ago, wasn't it? Didn't we have 'Save The World' since then? Yuck! All in all, the high points on here are so dang high I can easily overlook the one or two minuses - and forgive Belew the unjustifiably 'weird' final to the album (the one-minute long piffle of 'Postcard From Holland' followed by a minute of silence and then one and a half minute of unannounced "ambient Crimsonian" sound making - not nasty or anything, just not necessary). It's certainly an unexplainable mystery why Belew isn't usually being held in high regard as a popmeister since this album... heck, I mean I know it's the Nineties and all that and miriads of pop albums, including little-known retro-pop and power-pop albums, appeared throughout that decade, but at least Belew's got a name for himself for Chrissake, he ain't just a nobody off the street in heavy need of promotion and imagemaking. Then again, I suppose the core audiences of "power-pop" and King Crimson are so radically different from each other that Belew simply didn't have a chance: the hardcore Crim fans would take offense at their idol sinking into 'pop slop', and the pop fans would abhor King Crimson and everything connected with the band for certain. Too bad - it's their miss. Thankfully, not mine.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995
It's useless to rate this stuff. It's not supposed to be rated. TELL me it's not supposed to be rated.Best song: anywhere but here!
Track listing: 1) Score Without Film; 2) Portrait Of The Guitarist As Your Drum; 3) Piano Recital; 4) Laurence Harvey's Despair; 5) Piano Ballet; 6) Rings Around The Moon; 7) Seven E Flat Elephants Eating Acacia Of A C# Minor Forest; 8) If Only; 9) Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers On A Train" Starring Robert Walker; 10) Finale; [BONUS TRACK]: 11) Stage Fright.
I will not say one word about Adrian Belew being a lame, wretched dumbfuck for releasing this album, because it is perfectly adequate. Where other worthy gentlemen (I'm not naming any names, but you probably know who I mean) release experimental crapshoots and innocent bystanders get hit because they don't know what to expect, the gallant samurai Belew explicitly states on the album cover: "Adrian Belew Presents: The Experimental Guitar Series - Volume 1: The Guitar As Orchestra. 10 modern classical pieces presented as an orchestra in concert, composed and performed entirely on electric guitar by Adrian Belew". Now all you need is a translation device. Click, buzz, whirr. Got it. "A bunch of messy, mostly atonal/dissonant sequences of notes, all serving the purpose of illustrating just how many different types of sounds that nosey guy can get out of his six-string with the help of a few hi-tech gadgets".There, now you probably know whether you're going to buy this or not. I, for instance, definitely knew that I was going to buy it (for cheap, of course) out of completist obstinacy, but I didn't expect that it would stun me. It didn't. I mean, I already knew I would be hearing a guy try to make his guitar sound like a piano, a couple trombones, and a string orchestra all at once. Wow, gee, man, that's just superb. I love technical progress. Think o' the possibilities. But do I need to, like, actually hear that stuff? I believe you man! After all, this ain't exactly Rod Stewart we're talking about. This is Adrian Belew, one of the most innovative and experimental-minded guitarists of our generation. I believe he can make his guitar sound like an orchestra. I mean, he did make it sound like an elephant trumpet on Discipline, didn't he? Just how much harder is it to make it sound like an orchestra? Please... do I really need to hear it? Do I? Oh, okay, I guess I do have to hear it. Well, as music this album sucks from head to toe. Let me be frank with myself: I don't even like "respected" modern classical, like Frank Zappa's Yellow Shark, so what can be said about purely "experimental" modern classical, where it is obvious the main purpose is to turn that knob and see what sound it makes? No, okay, obviously, as music this is still much better than George Harrison's Electronic Sound, where turning the knobs was both the main tool and the main goal; here it is definitely true that Ade actually tries to play something. Unfortunately, what he plays still sounds like crap to me. At best, I could probably select one or two pieces out here and say that they work as half-decent ambient music. The five-minute 'If Only', in particular, wouldn't feel out of place on a Brian Eno album, although there's still one big difference: Brian Eno, even at his most ambient-est, tries to convey some particular emotion (see The Shutov Assembly, for instance), while 'If Only' remains curiously detached. Well, why "curiously"? There's nothing really "curious" here. He's just... making sounds. 'If Only' is probably the most 'normal' track on here - there are several other similar ones, but they are more dynamic, and, unfortunately, in the case of this album 'dynamic' means 'moving forward like you would be moving in a three-wheel carriage over a track covered with pitfalls'. The advantage over "basic" modern classical is at least in that, in Belew's case, I understand why these goddamn patterns are so herky-jerky - because the primary ideology behind each one is "let's pull this one and see what happens". Needless to say, this makes one a sacred number when it comes down to discussing how many times the album should be listened to. It gets more offensive, though, when he actually gets around to imitating piano rather than semi-ambient strings. 'Strangers On A Train' (according to the title, a re-working of the musical theme in Hitchcock's movie, but, having seen it more than a year ago, I can't confirm that directly - apart from the re-working aspect, of course) is nine minutes of dicking around with a fast, incoherent avant-jazz rhythm. Uh oh. The stupidest thing is, the more it progresses, the less it actually resembles a piano. Do piano notes bend that much? I never thought they did. Well, okay, he wasn't foolin' us, so he warned us on the album sleeve already. Yeah, okay. Then let me say that 'Seven E Flat Elephants' perfectly matches the title. Meaning, of course, that it sounds like seven elephants gathered together and discharging their flat-ulence into seven brass chamberpots. If that is not enough to make you buy this album, I don't know what is. Maybe the fact that my particular edition has a bonus track called 'Stage Fright' and, oh joy, it is not a weirdass cover of the timeless hit by The Band, but rather six and a half minutes of more avantgarde noisemaking! Whee! In all seriousness, though, I am a little disappointed. Belew is an excellent guitarist, and these technical achievements that he displays here are impressive. The natural question is: why go ahead and waste his guitar talents? Why waste these technical achievements? Now I know that neither he nor his great Guru with a fetish for Discipline would probably call these efforts "wasted", but I will, and so will loads of other people who would probably be very interested in hearing these extraordinary musical means applied to some real music, not a bunch of useless noisemaking. And the natural - if very painful - answer is: maybe they can't be applied to real music. I mean, listen to Adrian's "normal" compositions: how often do you hear him make his guitar sound like a piano? If he wants to play a piano melody, he comes up to his piano and plays the melody. That's it. And why? Because obviously, it's easier to play a piano melody on a piano than it is to play it on your guitar. They're different instruments with different playing principles and techniques, after all. Which leads to the probable conclusion: The Guitar As Orchestra is a curious experiment that, creatively, is a dead end, and that's the way I'm gonna be a-thinkin' of it until the day I actually hear someone put these innovations to good use. I repeat - I'm not angry, but I'm not overwhelmed, either. All I know is, as far as I know, to this day Belew has not yet released a 'Volume 2' of this series. Should we complain? Or should we put up a candle in the nearest church?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Belew's major piece de resistance - what a pity that he forgot to stuff it with more melodies this time around.Best song: SIX STRING
Track listing: 1) Of Bow And Drum; 2) Word Play Drum Beat; 3) Six String; 4) Conversation Piece; 5) All Her Love Is Mine; 6) I Remember How To Forget; 7) What Do You Know? (Part 1); 8) Op Zop Too Wah; 9) A Plate Of Words; 10) Time Waits; 11) What Do You Know? (Part 2) 01:11; 12) Modern Man Hurricane Blues; 13) In My Backyard; 14) A Plate Of Guitar; 15) Live In A Tree; 16) Something To Do; 17) Beautiful; 18) High Wire Guitar; 19) Sky Blue Red Bird Green House; 20) The Ruin After The Rain; 21) On.
Adrian's 1996 effort is easily the most 'serious' attempt at music-writing he ever made. As is the usual thing with him, he proves himself master of exotic guitar techniques and crazy percussion rhythms, abstaining from the quasi-Beatles/quasi-British Invasion stylistics he'd developed on his previous two song albums of the Nineties. But this time around, he decides to exceed the limits and go beyond the scopes of his pop efforts. So Op Zop Too Wah is loosely structured as a 'concept' album (yeah, I do mean these quotes, as there's really no serious unifying concept to these songs to be found), with a staggering number of tracks - twenty-one - and lots of various links and brief, one-minute musical snippets tying the songs to each other; the album flows almost non-stop and alternates different styles and grooves almost instantaneously. Does this work?Well - partially. Perverse, maybe, but so far, this is the weakest song-dominated Belew album I've heard. The links are cute, but they're not too funny or intriguing: usually, it's just a short bit of some crazyass guitar solo ('A Plate Of Guitar', 'Conversation Piece') or an unstandard drum pattern ('World Play Drum Beat', with Adrian's percussion accompanied by a random collection of spoken words), or a half-interesting musical idea that doesn't have enough time to be fully developed ('What Do You Know', both parts; 'In My Backyard'). So, in the end, they do more harm than good - they take the listener's attention from the 'meat' of the album and are horrendously deconcentrating. I would even go as far as to program some of them out, because it takes a great deal of listens to fully appreciate the value of songs like 'Six String' or 'Beautiful' or 'All Her Love Is Mine'; subconsciously, I just treat them as 'part of the package'. And since the package hardly works as a whole - it's meaningless and manneristic, the songs do not work either unless you manage to grapple them out and analyze them one by one, peeled of the incessant gimmickry that really and truly gets on my nerves. So here's the song material. Some numbers are clearly just polygons for Belew to showcase his guitar skills, and I don't mind: his guitar playing skill is only increasing as years go by, and the opening dissonant riffs of 'Of Bow And Drum', I suppose, are enough to demonstrate that. The vocal sections of the number are rather rote, something like psychedelia badly chained with world beat, but the guitar is top notch throughout. For more head-spinning rhythms one should check out the title track - more world beat, but this time, not a single sign of psychedelia around (to help the matter, it's completely instrumental). And 'High Wire Guitar', arranged as a mock-live track, is probably the most Crimsonian stuff on here: if only the Frippergang Volume Four would consider adding something like that to their THRaKaTTaK album instead of all the dumb dissonant crap they stuffed on their to hurt our poor little ears with, the world would have rejoiced and breathed a sigh of relief. (And I would have done without two pairs of broken headphones). Now, when it comes to the actual songs, the problem that's typical for Adrian stands up again - melodies, melodies and melodies again. Brr. He does come up with at least one melodic masterpiece - the mock-country rocker 'Six String', whose style is really borrowed from the Traveling Wilburys (check out Adrian's version of 'Not Alone Any More' on Young Lions and tell me it ain't so). It's gracefully decorated with steel guitar to make it more 'authentic', but of course, you can't really mistake the song for something different from a 'Belew-Frig-Up', as the guy never denies himself the pleasure to insert some delightful weirdness in his guitar playing, not to mention singing. But few of the other songs are really all that memorable. He always tries to make the melodies complicated and independent of traditional rhyme schemes, but truth is that he's not an inborn master of twisted melody, and in the end it all comes down to the problem of mood and atmosphere. 'All Her Love Is Mine' is a really cool tune, but it's not because I'm actually impressed by great chord sequences or anything: it's the dark, dusky mood of the song, the ominous, jagged twirls of lead guitar and the ghostly falsetto in the chorus that really contribute to the number. I like it when a love song is arranged as something spooky - untrivial contrasts are sure welcome, even if housewives may not be in total agreement over this one. Then there are some pretty pretty acoustic ballads, like 'Beautiful', and some pretty pretty acoustic piano ballads, like 'The Ruin After The Rain'; but beware - they're not at all memorable, and atmosphere isn't everything. And there are some more vaguely psychedelic rockers, some uplifting ('On'), some rather repetitive without being rather catchy ('I Remember How To Forget'), some plain befuddling ('Modern Man Hurricane Blues' - what the shit is THAT?) Nothing really goes completely over the top, like that dumb bonus track at the end of Mr Music Head, but really few things stand out and a-loudly and a-proudly proclaim their presence, either. Columbus this guy is not. There's another point that doesn't exactly make me happy: this is, in general, a drearier and heavier album than anything Adrian ever did before (I'm not saying 'seriouser', because (a) that's ungrammatical, (b) I already said something like that in the beginning of this review and (c) Adrian Belew, a serious guy? C'mon, ye must be jokin'!). I like Belew when he's either cheerful and silly, as in 'Oh Daddy', or when he's sly and eccentric, as on most of the tracks from Young Lions. When he's starting to depress me by playing all these spooky beats and gothic love ballads and turbulent psychedelic passages, I can't but help thinking that he's just ripping off David Byrne or Peter Gabriel, the real masters of heavy psychologic thrill. This is definitely not his patented style, and although Op Zop Too Wah is still saved by a large number of acceptable tracks, an incredible sense of diversity and an overall smart, intelligent feel, I really hope he won't be continuing in the same direction on his further albums. I really do hope so.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
More diverse than his previous acoustic effort, but also less distinctive - some songs are undistinguishable from the originals.Best song: FREE AS A BIRD
Track listing: 1) Men In Helicopters; 2) Cage; 3) I Remember How To Forget; 4) Young Lions; 5) Never Enough; 6) Things You Hit With A Stick; 7) Everything; 8) Big Blue Sun; 9) Bad Days; 10) One Of Those Days; 11) Return Of The Chicken; 12) Dinosaur; 13) 1967; 14) Free As A Bird (Live At Longacre Theater); 15) Nude Wrestling With A Christmas Tree.
Significantly better than The Acoustic A.B., if only for the reason that this is an 'unplugged' album as opposed to the 'acoustic' character of the previous effort in the genre. Which means that Belew is not just playing acoustic guitar here - some of the songs feature a rhythm section as well, and some are piano-based rather than guitar-based. This sometimes results in what I'd call 'conceptual stupidities': thus, the versions of '1967', 'Bad Days' and 'One Of Those Days' (from Mr Music Head) sound almost exactly like the originals - on first listen, you'd be able to swear he just took 'em off the original record without changing a sound, especially since Belew is a poor vocal improviser and seems determined to never change a single note in the vocal melodies, not to mention inspired, or even uninspired, ad libbing. Oh well, at least these songs are good.And he redeems himself by making the album sound diverse - instead of concentrating on the balladeering side, he cleverly transforms what could be an entirely passable effort into an anthology of sorts. The track listing does feature several Beatlish ballads ('Bad Days'; 'Big Blue Sun'; 'Everything'; '1967'), but there's also some powerful Crimson ('Dinosaur'), some typical Belew ('Young Lions' again), some of the grim-looking 'acid Belew' from Op Zop ('I Remember How To Forget'), and some sonic explorations a la THraKaTTaK ('Things You Hit With A Stick', 'Return Of The Chicken'). And this time around, there's enough weird surprises to get the interest level flowing relatively high. The album starts with yet another version of 'Men In Helicopters' (Adrian must really be an ecology-obsessed dude), accompanied by a string quartet - and it's oh so much better than just hearing Adrian pinch and pound his acoustic. The 'sonic explorations' are, of course, forgettable, but kinda funny, throwing in some pseudo-worldbeats on 'Things You Hit...' and featuring funny chicken noises in 'Return Of The Chicken'; for reasons unknown, the latter is reprised once again at the end of the record in a longer version, this time sporting the name 'Nude Wrestling With A Christmas Tree'. The biggest surprise, though, is Adrian's performance of Lennon's 'Free As A Bird', recorded live at the Longacre Theater, NYC. No, don't frown: this has nothing to do with the Jeff Lynne bastardisation, whether you like it or not; it's just Adrian sitting at a piano and engaging in a flawless imitation of John. Don't believe it? I haven't heard John's original demo version, but I've heard quite a few other John piano demos, and Belew perfectly recreates - not just the sound, but the very atmosphere. Even the mumblings that he substitutes the lyrics with from time to time are pronounced as if they were uttered by John (not surprisingly, the audience mostly greets him with applause at the very moments where he goes 'mm-mm-mm-mm' - and no, that's not because his singing is shitty). It's things like that which make me believe that Belew is a real understander of the Beatles' spirit, not just a pretentious mannerist. Sure, he's not a genius like John or Paul, and when he starts composing his rip-offs, his actual skills are nowhere near as good, but he really understands and lives that music, and that's a good thing - not everyone is able to do that. And yup, I know I condemned him for duplicating 'If I Fell' on The Acoustic A. B., but I suppose that his performance of 'Bird' can almost be considered 'ritualistic' to an extent - purifying the great Lennon tune from the dregs that Mr Lynne laid upon it and introducing the pure beauty of the chords and the clear, high voice to the general public. It would have not been like that were the ex-Beatles to release the demo itself instead of tampering with it. On the other hand, 'If I Fell' is just a near-flawless copy that has no 'social importance' at all - and that's where the rub lies. Apart from that, it's really funny to hear Adrian blast his way through the acoustic rendition of 'Dinosaur' - turns out that the tune can be influential and atmospheric enough even without the roar of Fripp's guitars: the dreaded lines 'I'm a dinosaur/Somebody is digging my bones' hits just as hard as the original. And, while nothing else sticks out particularly (I mean, nothing else differs that much from the originals), the general quality of material is also higher than last time around: in any case, I'd take 'Everything', 'Big Blue Sun', and '1967' over 'The Rail Song' and 'The Lonely Rhinoceros' any time of day. In short, Belewprints is a really enjoyable, never boring product that even non-fans could get interested in - just to witness the old guy's forces. It's currently out of print (though hardcore fans can easily contact DGM for a copy, I'm sure), but most of the tracks are available on the Salad Days compilation, which, I suppose, could be quite a reasonable purchase. But don't put that real high on your shopping list: if you are really determined to get acquainted with Mr Belew, remember that acoustic playing is not one of his main gifts. You'd do better to pick up some 'classics' like Young Lions instead.
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Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Short and sweet. "Predictably weird" is usually boring, but not with this guy.Best song: AMPERSAND
Track listing: 1) Ampersand; 2) Writing On The Wall; 3) Matchless Man; 4) Madness; 5) Walk Around The World; 6) Beat Box Guitar; 7) Under The Radar; 8) Elephants; 9) Pause.
You know, I never really gave it a thought, but this is Belew's first album of all-new material in a whoppin' nine years. Yeah, I realize he'd been busy crimsonizing around and all, but come now, nine years without new music of one's own, this is three times as many as a live John Lennon could allow himself. (And don't tell me this guy was spending his time baking bread in his personal oven. He looks like he'd be having enough trouble with corn dogs in microwaves on all of his photos). So what's this deal with a thirty-three minute long record? This makes, lemme see, 3.667 minutes a year... hmm, approximately 0.6 seconds of music per day. See, that guy's really smart. You try and write 0.6 second worth of music every day for nine years, see where it takes you.On the other hand, at this point I'd rather have thirty-three minutes of this new Belew stuff than twice as much from yet another (Pale) Crimson incarnation. Now that it seems Adrian has firmly stuck to the decision of combining his avantgarde and pop incarnations in one flask rather than bottling them in two different ones, it looks like there is no longer any formal distinction between him solo and him working in tandem with Robert Fripp; but on the other hand, not having Fripp at his side means not being as stuck up about whatever he's doing and giving a lighter, less serious tinge to all the weirdness. Not to mention that, after all, Belew is significantly younger than Fripp, and doesn't have nearly as much nostalgic baggage on his shoulders. From a certain point of view, this is just like Op Zop, but shorter and without reprises or variations; a rag-taggy collection of ideas that range from fully finished to those that don't even seem half-started (but are exciting nevertheless). Everything is as directionless as Belew's paintings that grace all of the album's physical sides, but it's rather because he doesn't want to go in any particular direction than because he can't, which makes all the difference in the world. You know approximately where you're gonna end up, but never exactly. That's the game. You might, for instance, end up face to face with a real - but crazy - song, with lyrics, melodies, and even session players. Such is 'Ampersand', for which Belew reserves the services of Les Claypool - bass hero extraordinaire - and Danny Carey - the drummer of Tool. Is Les Claypool a better bass player than Danny Carey is a drummer? Is that the question Adrian Belew was subconsciously posing to himself while writing 'the angry sea beats on the rocks of futility'? And are these questions more meaningless than the song's lyrics? I have no idea. What I do know is that the song's five or six lyrical lines are twisted into excellent hooks, with poppy multi-tracked vocal overdubs and all, and that the "verses" are most formalistically broken up by the least formalistic guitar solo ever played, and that the rhythm section is better than the ones King Crimson had been paying royalties to for the past ten years. The same rhythm section is also responsible for 'Writing On The Wall', which rocks hard, mercilessly, and plum takes your breath away the way nothing on Power (Not) To Believe ever could. In fact, it brings me back sweet memories of 'Thela Hun Ginjeet', both because of the jungle-like rhythmics and the use of a single repetitive line for chorus... and lots of other things, too. Actually, I think Carey might even be consciously trying to ape Bruford's old drum style on here, and he does it well. Finally, the "power trio" makes its final bow with the slower 'n' softer 'Matchless Man', a typical Belew franchise with backward guitars, lazy psychedelic vocals and an atmosphere that technically looks to the future (or, at least, to the recent past of the late New Wave years) but spiritually yearns for the good old Indian days of 1967 (Carey even drags out the tablas for that one). 'Madness', on the other hand, is classic Crimson legacy, born from the same pool of ideas as 'Devil's Triangle' or 'Starless' or 'Industry' or whatever other morose, lengthy drones you could dig out; the only thing to justify its seven minutes is that Belew is joined by a cello and a violin player and the three of them play off each other. The result is a gruesome dog killer of a melody which isn't much to my liking - mainly because you can never tell which one is the guitar and which one the violin, they're all processed in the same way, but also because this kind of stuff just doesn't cut the mustard for me these days. It was great (or could be great, at least) in the old times, but the art of droning has lost most of its sheen these days. Then, however, you can also end up on another planet, where the leaves are always blue (or, at least, violet) and little green men seem to be right around the corner - with 'Under The Radar', built around what seems to me like a sampled chord off 'Dear Prudence', short, but visionary-stic. Or you might end up knowing that apparently Belew has a real fetish for elephants: the old chestnut 'Elephant Talk' is now followed by something simply called 'Elephants', which adds errant ecological ideas to the former's thesaurus-like approach (sample lyric: 'elephants are enslaved ensnared endangered exploited elephants are exterminated') and trods along like a mean grumpy fat Musical Nothing, but with a pretty terrifying two-chord guitar riff to boot. Or you might want to try out the guy's experiments with techno on 'Beat Box Guitar', record crackles and all included. Funny stuff. What I really like about all this is that Belew is still being weird for the sake of being interesting rather than for the sake of being different. I've said it many times over already: today, today, you just can't get away with sticking to the latter. There's been so much stuff out there not making sense at all that it no longer surprises anybody except for complete beginners. Being weird and making sense at the same time, though, now that's a different thing. 'Walk Around The World', for instance - crazy (but not unprecedented) rhythms and sonic textures, but normal romantic lyrics and attitude. The elephants thing - weird, but it's obvious that he cares (well, we all know Ade to be ecologically minded since at least the days of 'Burned By The Fire We Make'; and his love for African savannah was evident since at least the sleeve and title of Lone Rhino). Ratings are a weird thing, of course. In the end, I found myself involuntarily giving this the same score as Power To Believe, but that's probably just due to overall quantity rather than quality. With the omission of 'Madness', 'Beat Box Guitar', and maybe the silly closing link ('Pause' - eh?), this is all prime time material, but there's barely enough of it to fill up one ear cavity, let alone two. Four excellent songs, two cool "shorties" - hey, today's bands come up with CD singles that are longer than that, and while I do not normally judge music by the kilogram, there certainly have to be certain reasonable limits. Apparently I understand there is going to be a Side Two eventually and maybe even a Side Three, but I'm not holding my breath, given Belew's current rate of work. If these records do come out, though, and if the trend continues, this might just be collectively the best Belew record ever.
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