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Friday, January 1, 2010

Adrian Belew: Side Two


1) Dead Dog On Asphalt; 2) I Wish I Knew; 3) Face To Face; 4) Asleep; 5) Sex Nerve; 6) Then What; 7) Quicksand; 8) I Know Now; 9) Happiness; 10) Sunlight.

This is Adrian's experimental facet. There is no way to surgically separate it from his pop side, so Side One occasionally featured avantgarde bits where Side Two occasionally lets in pretty vocal melodies, but the general difference is quite clear. The power trio never shows up; Belew handles all the instrumentation himself, and, in a way, this is his starkest and least accessible offering since Desire Caught By The Tail (it would be hard to call Guitar As Orchestra an «offering» in the first place).

On the other hand, perhaps the word «experimental» no longer fits this kind of music. Belew has been surprising the world for so long that he has pretty much run out of surprises. So we still get non-trivial time signatures, non-trivial sonic effects, superb playing technique, and even a decent smorgasbord of tones and atmospheres... but most of this just about barely passes the grade of «Contemporary Ambient Sonics for the Seasoned Elitist».

There is a certified dreamy aura to the entire record; even when it rocks, the rocking sound seems to be beamed down to you from some faraway fantasy world, but there is no delight in understan­ding that — it is more like, "oh no, not another fantasy world, for God's sake". The connections of the fantasy world with the real one are not clear, either. For instance, the lead-in track, 'Dead Dog On Asphalt', is really supposed to be about a dead dog on asphalt — reflecting a recent ac­cident that happened to Belew — but the track, recycling the riff from 'Beat Box Guitar', could just as well be called 'Shooting Ducks In Outer Space'.

The whole experience is unsatisfying. Lazy and a bit tossed-off, almost as if Adrian ran out of fresh ideas by the time of Side One's release, yet became trapped in his own project, forced to come up with two more records despite being landlocked. So the record is just as short — in fact, it could have easily fit on the same CD with Side One — and, although the guitar solos are im­peccable (getting Belew to play badly would require professional virus software), the arrange­ments are openly crappy. Crappy beatbox percussion, crappy synthesized bass, crappy effects.

Maybe I am way off here, but I think a guy like Belew, with all that enormous experience behind him, can toss off a record like Side Two in just about the same half hour that it takes to sit through it. Incredible: to have fans waiting at his doorstep for a decade only to placate them with thirty minutes of first-rate music — and then follow it up with thirty minutes of boring, unimagi­native ramblings. My brain would like to challenge this man to a duel for this insult, but, seeing as how it would probably get its ass kicked in seconds (do brains have asses?), it will, instead, just cowardly slip him a thumbs down rating — and be done with it.

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