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Friday, October 9, 2009

Adrian Belew: Lone Rhino


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.

It is strange that Adrian Belew only released his first album after he'd already engaged in serious collaborations with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads and King Crimson — maybe it had to do with some sort of natural shyness that had to be overcome — but, on the other hand, it's also a great benefit, because his very first album shows a completely formed artist at the height of his powers. Then again, maybe not that much of a great benefit: with an album like Lone Rhino under his belt, he's always had a very hard time topping it ever since.

In order to enjoy Adrian Belew, you have to be a little whacko in the aural department. The man's life-long love is electric tones and special effects; sometimes you'd think he could be completely happy left alone with just his 10,000 pedals and no guitar at all. Yet he is one of the few who can actually breathe real life into all of these pedals, rather than engage in completely soulless robo­tics, because deep down inside, he's a sympathetic, friendly, pop-loving guy like most of us.

Only when one realizes that Adrian's insides are, in fact, not controlled by whammy bars and Electro Harmonix, will it be easier to understand, for instance, his alternate obsession with nature and its sounds. From the title of the album, to its delicious sleeve painting (Adrian entertaining a rhino with his demented riffs, or, perhaps, learning to imitate a rhino with his demented riffs?), to its song titles and lyrics, and, of course, to its actual sounds — much, maybe most, of it is his in­spired filtering of animal life and behaviour through the double sieve of his imagination and his electronic equipment. The results may not immediately bring to mind the stomping of odd-toed ungulates or the roar of Pantherinae, but they can certainly be derived from there.

'Big Electric Cat', for all I know, may be Adrian's masterpiece. The funky rhythm pattern, the dry crackling of high-charged guitar loads, sometimes deep frying, sometimes exploding the listener, the sexy lyrics that juxtapose femme fatale and feline beauty, and the catchy chanting of the re­frain — everything that Belew does best is captured here, on his first solo track. Experimental, but memorable; whacked-out, but meaningful; sonically dangerous, but imminently attractive, my ideal of an intelligent pop composition.

But there is much more; the album rocks out quite consistently, in a "Euro-funk" manner mostly, occasionally pausing in its charge with one or two moody landscapes ('Naive Guitar'; 'The Final Rhino', with Ade's four-year old daughter joining him on piano — quite impressive for that kind of age, by the way, although by now we know she eventually failed to become the nex Mozart), and dis­playing an impressive palette of atmospheres, from a little misanthropy ('The Lone Rhinoceros', where Adrian gives the best sonic impression of a rhino's moaning I've ever heard, not that I've ever heard a rhino moan) to a little humor ('The Momur') and a little social sarcasm ('Adidas In Heat', whose opening verses nod ever so slightly in the direction of 'Subterranean Homesick Blues').

Adrian's specific vocal tones and constant desire to add an extra layer of sonic noise may pose a problem to one's heartfelt enjoyment of this material; I know it certainly has been a problem in my case, with the brain never hesitating for once to reward the record with a decisive thumbs up but the heart always hesitating to follow suit. But Adrian's total dedication to his craft, along with his really down-to-earth nature (unlike Robert Fripp, his grumbly older partner in King Crimson, he never gives the impression of being stuck up in any way), manage to convince me that he sincerely loves these things he's doing, and that all of these whizzes and whangings are there for a real reason, not mere­ly out of a snobby desire to out-whizz and out-whang all competition.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love the album and love your reviews. Such a shame Ade is not a part of King Crimson anymore.