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Friday, November 13, 2009

Adrian Belew: Inner Revolution


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.

Inner Revolution is certainly the purest pop album Belew ever gave his increasingly befuddled fans, but not necessarily the "truest" to his inner self. This time, he does not simply include a tri­bute or two to the Beatles; he seems to have asked himself the question, "What would the Beatles sound like today if they were frozen solid around mid-1966 and, upon defrosting in 1992, put to­gether in a modern type studio?" Then he spends the rest of the time trying to answer it.

To be fair, only about half of the songs try to ape the Beatles, chief culprits among them being 'Everything', 'Birds', and 'Big Blue Sun'. And there is hardly any danger of one's mistaking even these for the real thing (as could be the case with, say, 'Lies' by the Knickerbockers), because Be­lew is much too idiosyncratic, and his guitar playing style is so much his know-how that he pro­bably could never play his instrument Lennon-wise or Harrison-wise even if he wanted to — de­spite the fact that, technically, he obviously trumps both at the same time. But be it as it may, he does attempt to crawl into somebody else's hide, and the results are questionable.

I guess I might as well say right here what it is that bugs me about Belew's pop style. He under­stands fairly well that one of the Beatles' main points of attraction was the inexhaustible cheer­fulness and optimism (at least, until drugs, mutual hatred, and Sgt. Pepper kicked in) on their early records, and on songs like the ones just mentioned above he literally jumps over his head trying to recreate that youthful, naïve, unbridled optimism. But I cannot buy it — even though I have little reason to think of Adrian Belew as, deep down inside, a depressed, sardonic, misanth­ropic sad creep, I still cannot buy it. The arrangements are shiny-happy major key ones, the sin­ging is loud and welcoming, but the word to describe it all is "overwrought".

Maybe he needed a big band to do this; maybe this kind of sound just does not tie in well with a man-orchestra. Maybe the songs themselves are exceptionally well written and contain all the proper hooks. But as much as I admire the craft that went into them, neither 'Big Blue Sun' nor 'Birds' bawl me over and make me feel all happy inside the way 'Good Day Sunshine' or 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' made me feel. I like all of them, but they contain no magic, just professionalism and good taste.

It clicks once: 'I Walk Alone', driven by piano instead of guitars, is a Roy Orbison impersonation that works almost as well as the real thing — Belew certainly does not have Roy's range or con­trol, but he has his feeling, and if on the previous album he has shown us that he can do honor to a great Orbison-led song ('Not Alone Anymore'), then here he can actually write and record a song well worthy of an Orbison. This one has solitaire romance in it, as well as restraint and ten­derness, and it's lovely and stately at the same time.

On the other hand, when Belew does have to scream his head off, it always comes off better on his own style numbers, such as the 'Three Of A Perfect Pair'-look-alike 'This Is What I Believe In' or the funky guitar blizzard of 'Member Of The Tribe', or even the rather simple title track. Here, he nails 'em every time he hits 'em.

Still, it is impossible for me to give this anything other than a big thumbs up. The heart may be aglow only about a third of the time, but the blessed reason points out quite correctly that all of these songs are expertly written, feature original and meaningful melodies, and serve the gene­rous purpose of keeping Sixties-style power pop alive and updated for the next decades, regard­less of how many people have actually heard this album. As for "sincerity", nobody authorised me to represent Adrian Belew's subconscious, so I'll have to pass on that one.

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