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Friday, November 6, 2009

Adrian Belew: Young Lions


1) Young Lions; 2) Pretty Pink Rose; 3) Heartbeat; 4) Looking For A UFO; 5) I Am What I Am; 6) Not Alone Anymore; 7) Men In Helicopters; 8) Small World; 9) Phone Call From The Moon; 10) Gunman.

The sound is so much fuller on this record, you could swear Adrian finally hired a backing band of his own, but he didn't; he just seems to have figured out better ways of getting all his different parts together. Also, perhaps the impression is a bit illusionary, caused by grander diversity and the use of David Bowie as a guest star (Belew used to play for Bowie in the late Seventies, so it's only just that the famous frontman of Tin Machine return the favour).

Young Lions is my favourite "pop" record from Belew's backlog: better fleshed out than Mr. Music Head, yet somewhat less Beatle-worshipping than the subsequent two and, therefore, more true to Belew's own nature. The only song here where "core melody" is neglected in favour of weirdness is 'I Am What I Am', a tribal psycho-rocker featuring muffled spoken radio DJ-style vocals over a bundle of guitar pyrotechnics — fun stuff, hearkening back to the good old days when Belew would play the old game of go insane onstage with the Talking Heads. Everything else is Belew-style pop, highest category.

Naturalistic romanticism pulsates from every pore of the title track — real wild: 'In the guise of a lioness, the wind kisses her burning dress, you can feel her animal eyes, you can hear them cry, be the jewel around my neck, never a tear on my burning dress...' (I shiver at the thought of what Adrian's sex life must look like). With ferocious tom-tom percussion work (delivered by some Dutch percussion ensemble called Van Kampen), more guitar fireworks, this plunges you into a mixed holodeck of African jungle and Planet SoGo, but Belew's vocals also add a bit of genuine soul and tenderness (unlike, say, 'Big Electric Cat', all sci-fi and flash) and, thus, an extra layer of meaning and interest. No wonder it has become a stage favourite even in his avantgarde and experimental shows.

An even hotter kicker is the Belew/Bowie duet 'Pretty Pink Rose', a song David wrote for his former guitarist but liked enough to include it in his own setlists from time to time. It's a perfect match of wit, kick-ass attitude, and guitar fire — with one of the most exciting transitions from the first twenty seconds of relaxed ambient intro to the main rhythm of the song that I know. The other duet between the giants, 'Gunman', is, on the other hand, paranoid and bleek, which does not work nearly as well in the overall context of the record, but it is quite inspired all the same.

There's plenty of unpredictability throughout — such as Belew's decisions to remake the King Crimson standard 'Heartbeat' (solid, if not all that necessary); to cover the Traveling Wilburys' (!) 'Not Alone Anymore' (but he does give a pretty fine Roy Orbison impression); to offer just one, but a really good one, relaxed atmospheric ballad ('Phone Call From The Moon'); and to disguise his eco-sensibility as the album's fluffiest, cheeriest pop tune ('Men In Helicopters', where you really have to pay attention to the lyrics to get its actual bitterness). And it all makes Young Lions' fourty minutes flash by in an instant and leave you yearning for more. Thumbs up with­out a doubt — once again, the guy manages to feed both the intellectually yearning and the emotionally demanding parts of the organism at the exact same time.

1 comment:

  1. A really nice album. I'm still having a hard time getting used to the two covers ("Heartbeat" does not seem that different from the original and "Not Alone Anymore" without Orbison just seems cheesy), but everything else is top notch, poppy and fun and making you wonder why almost nobody ever listened to it.

    I just love the hilarious video they made for "Pretty Pink Rose". Bowie delights in parodying his own "Neo-Romantic" facet, and Belew... is just being his wacky self. The first twenty seconds never fail to crack me up.