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Friday, December 25, 2009

Adrian Belew: Side One


1) Ampersand; 2) Writing On The Wall; 3) Matchless Man; 4) Madness; 5) Walk Around The World; 6) Beat Box Guitar; 7) Under The Radar; 8) Elephants; 9) Pause.

In 2000, Belew released a futuristic compilation seducingly called Coming Attractions — a set of «sneak previews» of tracks from records to come. Then, in an almost insulting manner, he de­layed the release of the real records for a smashing five years. Granted, he had a serious excuse: in the early 2000s, King Crimson was again on the move, and in between recording The Con­stru­Kction Of Light and The Power To Believe and touring in support of both, there was not much chance of resuscitating the solo career.

By 2005, however, Belewstuff was on the market again, in the form of three consecutive records, all three so short that, with a little insignificant loss, they could easily fit onto one CD — but that would leave us with no gimmick, a very boring result considering how long fans had been wai­ting for something extraordinary. So the gimmick splits Adrian's personality into three «sides» and gradually acquaints us with each over a year-long period.

Side One, for the most part, gives us the «futuristic pop» Belew, and for that reason is my favou­rite. Except for a few brief ambient interludes, the songs rock — in weird time signatures, as be­fits a true Crimsonian, but with honesty and passion. Particularly notable are the first three num­bers, where Adrian forms a power trio with bassist Les Claypool of Primus and drummer Danny Carey of Tool — they are not necessarily the best songs, but they are certainly covered with the juiciest flesh and the prettiest skin.

'Ampersand' puts a psychedelic Beatlesque vocal on top of music that is, very much indeed, equal parts King Crimson, Primus, and Tool, and, with a stron­ger dose of PR, could have been judged one of art rock's top creations of the decade. 'Writing On The Wall', although mostly vocalless, is only a tiny notch below in quality, and then the trio cools it down a bit with bongos, backward guitars, and opium den atmosphere of 'Matchless Man'. A very modernistic mix of beauty and weird­ness, catchiness and experimentation — if the world were a better place in the first quarter of 2005, this would be the perfect Top 40 material, while Mario's 'Let Me Love You' and 50 Cent's 'Candy Shop' would be justly relegated to the status of semi-legal biological weapons, inflicting permanent brain damage on alien invaders.

The «solo» material that follows predictably sounds a little tossed-off in comparison, and we've heard it before — 'Madness' is an apt title, but this type of paranoid, pressure-pumping, guitar thunderstorm (or, rather, a cross between a thunderstorm and a deranged beehive) was already ex­plored to the limit on Crimson's early 1980s instrumentals, and the rest of the tracks — with the exception of the intentionally trendy lo-fi sound of 'Beat Box Guitar' — are also firmly grounded in the values of Discipline and Beat. Not that it's a bad thing — these have always been exciting values — but it is a little strange to see that, after an eight-year pause, Belew is unable to offer us anything seriously fresh, unless he gets professional outside support.

On the other hand, one cannot invent a new fashion of the wheel with each new decade, and even a guy as permanently whacko as Adrian Belew must get old, eventually. Whatever be the case, if you do not expect a musical revolution, Side One shows that the man still has plenty of ideas, and that his sensitive soul has not entirely burned out yet, either. And it is nice to know he is still a fan of the whole wildlife shenanigan — not above giving us some more cooky elephant noises as a trifling postscriptum to the record. Thumbs up, by all means.

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