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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Bears: Rise And Shine

THE BEARS: RISE AND SHINE (1988)

1) Aches And Pains; 2) Save Me; 3) Robobo's Beef; 4) Not Worlds Apart; 5) Nobody's Fool; 6) Highway 2; 7) Little Blue River; 8) Rabbit Manor; 9) Holy Mack; 10) Complicated Potatoes; 11) You Can Buy Friends; 12) Best Laid Plans; 13) Old Fat Cadillac; 14) Girl With Clouds.

Although this album is a little longer than the first one, it gives the impression of being even more formulaic. No attempts at walls of sound, no brass section anywhere, just a very basic, very tight pop-rock sound. Two guitars, one bass, and a drumset. Of course, with Adrian Belew con­stantly honing his skills as a «guitar-orchestra person», this means that there will be numerous overdubs where his six-string will sound like a one-string, a two-string, a no-string, or a little bird twirping away high up in a tree, but eventually, you get used to the predictability of it, too.

The first five songs here really just go past through me like a knife through warm butter — mood-wise, there is nothing to tell them apart, and when all of your hooks look like they've been passed out from the assembly line, there is no reason to call them «hooks» as such. Pleasant, same-sounding midtempo pop with buzzing or meaouwing guitars (sometimes buzzing and meaouwing at the same time, courtesy of Adrian's never-ending tone variation effects) and friendly choruses. The album does not even try to begin to steer a different course until ʽLittle Blue Riverʼ, which slows down the tempo, adds a pinch of tender folksy harmonies, and tops it off with a psychede­lic coloring for the lead guitar part.

Further on, things become more interesting with ʽRabbit Manorʼ, a quirky avantgarde-funk work­out with a feel of not-too-dangerous suspense and a touch of classic Belew paranoia; ʽComplica­ted Potatoesʼ, with Belew (or is that Fetters?) adding some distortion to his sound; and ʽBest Laid Plansʼ, with a mystical-hypnotic guitar line dominating the verse (for the chorus with its ques­tionable pun — "the best laid plans never get laid" — they shift to the usual power-pop mood). But arguably the best song, and the only one that made it over to Adrian's solo career (you can find a live version on 1993's The Acoustic Adrian Belew) is ʽOld Fat Cadillacʼ, for which he came up with a more «New Wave»-y guitar pattern and a memorable riff.

The overall arrange­ment and performance of ʽCadillacʼ does suggest that this is more of an «intimate Adrian Belew moment» than a collective Bears tune, and this, in turn, suggests that there was a certain reason why The Bears were put on hold after Rise And Shine, like its pre­decessor, failed to interest the public: namely, because the most interesting songs on here are the ones where «the band» is not intentionally striving to sound like «a band», but more like «a back­ing band» for the chief personality. When it's de-personalized rhythm guitar and group harmonies, they are neither the epitome of heavenly beauty nor a wallop of unstoppable energy — but on ʽOld Fat Cadillacʼ, Belew's individual emotionalism comes shining through.

Besides, the original novelty and excitement of it all had worn off, and now they sound a bit too much like a relatively mindless pop factory (good taste and all) where songs like ʽMeet Me In The Darkʼ and ʽNone Of The Aboveʼ were honestly more fun. Style-wise, I have no problem with the record, but it just feels too much like one of those «let us get together and make a guitar-based pop-rock album with no purpose other than showing how much we like guitar-based pop-rock» ventures, and we've probably all had our fair share of these already. And what's up with that big old hinomaru on the album cover? Was that a surreptitious attempt at sucking up to the Japanese market? Bizarre, but I'm not even sure the album got a Japanese release in the first place (much as the Japanese love to release and re-release everything, especially if it got bonus tracks).

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