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Friday, October 16, 2009

Adrian Belew: Twang Bar King


TWANG BAR KING (1983)

1) I'm Down; 2) I Wonder; 3) Life Without A Cage; 4) Sexy Rhino; 5) Twang Bar King; 6) Another Time; 7) The Rail Song; 8) Paint The Road; 9) She Is Not Dead; 10) Fish Head; 11) The Ideal Woman; 12) Ballad For A Blue Whale.

Although Belew's second album came out high on the heels of Lone Rhino, and his backing band is mostly the same, it sounds strangely different — and, in my opinion, inferior. For some reason, production values have dropped down, as if the artist was too lazy to drop by a proper studio and stuck to his bedroom instead; and there is clearly more emphasis on his solo guitar playing (or, should I say, guitar strangling?) than on a band-type sound.

As a result, Twang Bar King neither rocks as hard as its predecessor nor manages to reach the same levels of 'moodiness'. On the first count, it does try, because technically, it features two of the most overtly rock'n'roll numbers in Adrian's life story: a maniacal cover of the Beatles' 'I'm Down' (!) and the title track, a funny marriage of the traditional "rock'n'roll hero" cliché with Ad­rian's undying love for the whammy bar. The second, however, is so short that you barely manage to acknowledge its power, and the former is... dubious — not enough of a "deconstruction", not too successful a "tribute".

Twang Bar King also goes heavy on MIDI technology, freshly designed a year before and — perhaps — already implemented on Lone Rhino, but, in any case, only explored properly on this particular record. And the sounds that Belew synthesizes here are questionable to my ears: very computerish and, in some respects, dated just the same way that we feel about late-Eighties MIDI music in computer games. Belew's technique is not to be questioned, of course, but no technique is worth serving to produce ugliness, and much of this sounds openly ugly.

Also, where Lone Rhino gave us a fairly independent Belew, Twang Bar King yields a Belew that is much more Crimson-ian in form, with the same familiar dissonances, polyrhythms, and pseudo-pop songs that we all know in better avatars on King Crimson record (where they benefit from the participation of Robert Fripp and the gang). E. g., 'Paint The Road' may sound fantastic to the uninitiated, with its off-the-wall funk and grit, but in reality it is just an inferior reworking of the King Crimson classic 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' — who needs fish without the chips when you can always have the chips?

Overall, considering that Belew isn't known as a prolific writer, capable of churning out five mas­terpieces over one night of heavy sleep, I'd say that he was a bit spent here, having already dona­ted his best ideas at the time to Lone Rhino and the King Crimson records; or maybe it is just the ugly MIDI tones that deviate me from savouring the genius. One truly gorgeous atmospheric piece that I would, however, heartily recommend to all those who believe that technology need not be the enemy of beauty, is 'Ballet For A Blue Whale', which is neither a ballet nor is really in­tended for blue whales, but, in your imagination, can easily be both. You do have to wait for all the computerish sounds to go away, though, as it's the very last track on the album, but in reward you'll get some otherworldly tones, moans, and groans that are, perhaps, the only piece of truly timeless shit on this collection. Thumbs down overall, but flashes of brilliance here and there.

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