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Friday, November 20, 2009

Adrian Belew: The Acoustic Adrian Belew


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) Martha Adored.

The A Cappella Adrian Belew would be more like it. Normally, electric guitar wizards record "unplugged"-style albums as sort of an "experience in refined taste" — to let the fans know that they can create sonic wizardry without any technical gadgets just as easy as with them, that they sim­ply prefer the electric sound most of the time because it rips, but every once in a while it kind of rules to stress that everything begins with nylon, wood, and finger technique.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But with The Acoustic A. B. it doesn't even begin to work, because the purpose of the album is anything but demonstrate to the listener that A. B. is an acoustic virtuoso. For the most part, he plays the simplest of chords, the most standard of rhythm accompaniments — at least, that is the way it sounds to my ears; I may not be getting the deep-hidden complexity of what and how he picks, but I am pretty sure that The Acoustic Robert Fripp would have sounded nothing like that.

So what's the point? Maybe he can do better than that on acoustic, but there is no sign of that here; why release the album at all? My answer is — it has little, if anything, to do with Belew the gui­tarist; it has much more to do with Belew the vocalist, Belew the lyricist, and Belew the gentle, sentimental artist. With the minimalistic, hushed playing (not only is everything indeed complete­ly acoustic, but Belew is the only player on it), the emphasis is clearly on the impression convey­ed by his singing — which is why he includes not only some of his poppiest, catchiest numbers, but also Beatles ('If I Fell') and Roy Orbison ('Crying') covers.

Once you come to terms with that, The Acoustic Adrian Belew ceases to be a disappointment and becomes a nice, soothing, unspectacular, record to relax to. I would never call Adrian's voice "great": it is a bit too even and devoid of personality for my tastes, but he does have a nice range and an excellent ability to creep into other people's styles — he certainly "gets" the essence of 'If I Fell' and 'Crying', even if nature has not allowed him to reproduce it vibe-for-vibe. His own songs pass off even better — they are, after all, his songs — and for some fans it will be a nice distraction to hear the intimate takes on 'The Lone Rhinoceros', 'Matte Kudasai', and 'Burned By The Fire We Make' (a preview of the upcoming material from Here) without concentrating on the guitar trickery of the "full" versions.

Under this light, the disappointments are minor — some of the original 'rockers', like 'Young Lions', take a lot of strain to be properly transferred into an acoustic settings; and the closing nu­m­­ber ('Martha Adored') is played backwards in its entirety, probably goading the listener into fin­ding a means to reverse it, but count me uninterested (not that it is a hard thing to do in these days of music-editing software). As a bonus, the listener gets to hear 'Old Fat Cadillac' from the cata­log of The Bears — pretty damn fine song if you ask me. Thumbs up — moderately, as this is, after all, a trifle by Adrian's standards.

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