ADRIAN BELEW: OP ZOP TOO WAH (1996)
1) Of Bow And Drum; 2) Word Play Drum Beat; 3) Six String; 4) Conversation Piece; 5) All Her Love Is Mine; 6) I Remember How To Forget; 7) What Do You Know? (Part 1); 8) Op Zop Too Wah; 9) A Plate Of Words; 10) Time Waits; 11) What Do You Know? (Part 2); 12) Modern Man Hurricane Blues; 13) In My Backyard; 14) A Plate Of Guitar; 15) Live In A Tree; 16) Something To Do; 17) Beautiful; 18) High Wire Guitar; 19) Sky Blue Red Bird Green House; 20) The Ruin After The Rain; 21) On.
To look back at the fate of this record is a little funny and a little sad. From a purely theoretical standpoint, it should be remembered as Belew's magnum opus — a long, diverse, ambitious album that pursues the goal of capturing all of his sides: Belew the sci-fi freak rocker, Belew the guitar-driven, Beatlish style pop lover, Belew the avantgarde whacko explorer, Belew the incurable romantic loner. On practice, Op Zop Too Wah has not yielded even one 'classic' Belew track, and is usually left aside in any serious discussion of the man's music.
Why? The obvious answer would be that there is just so much of everything that, in the end, there is too much of nothing. But then the same argument could be flung at The White Album; if the songs are good enough, their cumulative effect would override any confusion. So maybe it's just that the songs are not good enough? But I really would not say that. Look all over the place and you will find plenty of inspirational bits in all styles. Obviously, if you jam twenty-one tracks onto one CD, some are bound to come out as (relative) failures, but what's a few one minute-long failed bits to a generally solid recording?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. The album oozes ugly discoherence, maybe because the connecting bits are as loud and in-yer-face as the main songs, and although the desire to transform a simple rectangle into a Möbius strip is understandable, it sacrifices the pure value of the songs to the overall bizarre atmosphere that is not even totally new or particularly interesting. As a result, I find many of the individual tracks lovable once I tune in to them individually, but the album as a whole impresses me about as much as its cover: green, wobbly, and yucky.
My advice is to try and filter out all the short links, rearrange the remaining thirteen songs in an order that you find personally comfortable, and this will leave you with about fourty-five minutes of good music. Then it becomes possible to sort out the dreamy psychedelic ballads ('All Her Love Is Mine'), the Zappa-style guitar heroics ('High Wire Guitar' — a parody, actually, on useless guitar wanking, replete with silly "crowd cheering" as the fans admire their "idol"), the power pop exercises with a little Roy Orbison flavour ('Six String', a love ode to Adrian's favourite fetish; 'I Remember How To Forget'), the sentimental acoustic idillies ('Time Waits'), the obligatory Beatlisms ('On', a tribute to Lennon circa Revolver; 'Something To Do', a tribute to McCartney circa... uh, Red Rose Speedway?) and something else I apparently forgot.
On the average, these songs may be slightly weaker than the average estimate of his 1989-1994 records. At least, there is nothing to make me relive the weighty stimulus of 'Young Lions' or the catchy heart-on-sleeve atmosphere of 'Burned By The Fire We Make'. But this is something that can be lived with; many of the tunes are growers. What really disrupts the continuum are all the silly links. It is as if, looking at his past efforts and also "rejuvenated" by the latest phase of King Crimson's career, Adrian, having made a fifth solid pop album, decided, at the very last minute, to spice it up for the sophisticated fan. But then the sophisticated fan, being perfectly happy with the Fripp-dominated KC, would not buy Belew's "pop stuff" in the first place.
So, in the long run, I doubt that Op Zop will fully and completely satisfy anyone. But brain-wise, I still give it a thumbs up because it gives me enough savory ingredients to make up my own concoction. It is a failure only inasmuch as it aspires to be more of a success than the previous records — and ends up less. Which is not to say that 'Six String' does not rock, or that 'Time Waits' does not comfort, or that Adrian Belew is any less of a damn fine chap than usual.