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Friday, October 23, 2009

Adrian Belew: Desire Caught By The Tail


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".

The most sonically audacious of Belew's albums of the decade, it's also the one that is bound to appeal the most to burnt out King Crimson fans. Fully instrumental and almost completely jetti­soning Belew's "pop" side — which would unexpectedly come back in full swing on the next four albums — it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, I can hardly call it an "avant­garde" record in the full sense of the word, because its weirdness comes from Adrian's ongoing passion for bizarre tones and effects, as well as from its sonic unpredictability, rather than KC's trademark desire to break the limits of traditional harmony.

The album is relatively strictly demarcated in the middle: the first side is generally rhythmical, featuring "regular" melodies played in odd ways ('Tango Zebra' is a partial exception, because it's long and has multiple sections, but at its core is a relatively clear free-jazz rhythm pattern), and the second side, at least after 'Portrait Of Mar­ga­ret', is more generally "atmospheric" and, there­fore, less accessible. But there are highlights in both camps. 'Laughing Man', for instance, frivo­lously justifying its title with ugly laughing sounds from a mechanical toy, is a neo-psychedelic interpretation of an elegant, romantic waltz — before it collapses midway through, giving way to some slithery Eastern-tinged improv (but also quite neo-psychedelic in character). It's amusing and visionary at the same time.

Then, on the second side, it's easily matched in quality by 'Guernica', a song so obviously inspi­red by Picasso's painting that, I believe, it is even possible to get that impression without knowing its title. In a matter of two minutes, Belew gives us the roar of the Condor Legion, the detonation of the bombs, the sirens, the chaos and confusion, the cries and moans of the dead and wounded, and perhaps even some of Pablo's bull-and-horse imagery to finish the picture. I have not been able to locate anybody else's appreciation for the composition — I guess it's too short and modest a piece on a way too obscure album — but I insist upon calling this one of Adrian's most meaningful and interesting experimental creations.

Everything else on the album can be described, more or less, by taking these two numbers as star­ting points. Belew is, of course, "nuts", and Desire Caught By The Tail will be best appreciated by similar-minded individuals. However, Mike DeGagne of the All-Music Guide is quite right in saying that "there is a method to Belew's madness", which, I'd like to add, quite a few "sane" people might be seriously interested in deciphering. The brain is, thus, much more interested in these sonic equivalents of cubist painting than the heart, forcing a thumbs up decision, but the album is vivid and colorful enough to make me believe that this might, indeed, reflect the way Belew actually feels about the world around him rather than the way he dissects the world into crazyass guitar patterns.

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