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the thrill of victory, the agony of my feet

 

Adrian Belew

 

Adrian's a guitar wizard who has an affinity for Beatles and Bowie-inspired pop. He's also in that band with Robert Fripp. King Crimson, I think. Also, he was briefly in a band called the Bears, the second album of which I have and will include here.

Inexplicably, about half his catalog is out-of-print. It's understandable in some cases, but I have no idea why they don't re-release Lone Rhino.

review index: Lone Rhino / Desire Caught By the Tail / Mr. Music Head / Young Lions / Inner Revolution / Here / Op Zop Too Wah

sides:

the Bears: Rise and Shine

missing albums: Twang Bar King, The Guitar as Orchestra, various acoustic live albums

apex: Op Zop Too Wah
nadir: Desire Caught By the Tail
overlooked: Lone Rhino


Lone Rhino - 1982

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Big Electric Cat, The Lone Rhinoceros, The Man in the Moon
Worst songs: The Final Rhino, Hot Sun

 

Adrian's first solo album shows that even this early on, he had figured out his sound: crazy guitar tones mixed with layered percussion. He had also already figured out how to write a good song: the opener "Big Electric Cat" is a definite highlight, with its percussion (sometimes even recorded backwards), otherworldly-fuzztoned guitars, and heavily reverbed vocals. Other highlights include "The Man in the Moon", Adrian's tribute to his father, and the almost-epic "The Lone Rhinoceros", one of his first eco-rants (though rhyming "rhinoceros" with "a lots of us" is questionable). Also present is one of Adrian's first "word association" songs, "Adidas in Heat", which pokes fun at the American sports industry, going as far as to include an organ playing a couple bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".

A couple songs on here are okay, but hardly standout tracks: "Stop It" is a nice 'touring sucks' song, but the ending goes on for too long, and "Swingline" is a slightly funky song that just is given the ignominity of following up one of the two best songs on the album.

Downfalls? Just the three instrumental pieces, which range from unassuming -- "Naive Guitar" demonstrates some of the guitar synthesizer's capabilities, and is more interesting than Desire Caught by the Tail -- to annoying -- "The Final Rhino" is mainly Adrian's 4-year-old daughter plonking on a piano (she's better at singing, as Mr. Music Head will prove), and "Hot Sun" is just some percussive noises.

Overall, this is a very good album, and is worth searching for if you're a fan of Adrian's later (read: actually available) work.


Desire Caught By the Tail - 1986

Rating: 1/2
Best songs: Laughing Man
Worst songs: all the rest

 

I'm not forcing myself to listen to this again. It's tuneless crap -- just Adrian screwing around with his guitar synthesizer. The only thing approaching a song is "Laughing Man".

About a decade later, Adrian released another album of him playing with his synthesizers, called The Guitar as Orchestra. I've heard a couple bits of it, and it seems at least more interesting than this, so maybe I'll pick it up sometime. If I find it cheap, anyway.


Mr. Music Head - 1989

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Oh Daddy, House of Cards, Bad Days, 1967
Worst songs: Bumpity Bump, Motor Bungalow, Bird in a Box

 

This is where the "one man band" moniker starts to come into play. Adrian plays everything on this album except for string bass on two songs.

But I'm not here to analyze the effects of one man bands on society. The music's the thing!

And it's another good album. The opener "Oh Daddy" is a great pop tune, with the now 11-year-old Audie Belew on backing vocals. (Told you she was better at singing!) "House of Cards" switches between low-key verses and a great explosive chorus. And "Bad Days", a piano-based tune, is a lot more bouncy than the title would suggest. The first side's last song, "Peaceable Kingdom", is also interesting in that Adrian's vocals are backed up by just percussion and bird noises.

Side II? Not as attention-grabbing. Sure, "Hot Zoo" has a great doom-laden atmosphere, with its low piano notes and echoey vocals, and the album ends with the great McCartney pastiche "1967", but the other songs are less than thrilling. "Motor Bungalow"'s chorus is kind of catchy, but the verses are awfully dull, and "Bumpity Bump" (wasn't that a cartoon on ABC?) is just bad.

Still, it's better than Desire!


Young Lions - 1990

Rating: ***
Best songs: Young Lions, Looking for a UFO
Worst songs: I Am What I Am, Phone Call from the Moon, Gunman

 

Adrian is short on material this time around, so he adds in two spoken-word pieces, "I Am What I Am" and "Phone Call from the Moon", neither of which are particularly interesting, and two cover songs, a Traveling Wilburys song and even King Crimson's "Heartbeat", the latter of which doesn't add or subtract anything from the original.

The pluses on the album include the title track, a great percussion-heavy track, and "Looking for a UFO", a wonderfully bouncy pop song. And as for the Bowie collaborations, "Pretty Pink Rose" is good enough, but "Gunman" is just annoying. Overall, this is Adrian's most inconsistent work yet (excluding that awful Desire Caught by the Tail thing).


Inner Revolution - 1992

Rating: **
Best songs: none
Worst songs: none

 

Man, how do you go from zero to generic this quickly?

Apparently, the point here was the emulate the Beatles or something like that. Okay, that's great, but don't forget that the Beatles were, uh, good songwriters. Also, they were good producers. Adrian plays well, and he sings fine, but this is a rather limp collection of melodies, both compositionwise and productionwise. The melodies go up, the melodies go down, but they also fail to register any impression on me at all. Time for you to go on eBay, Mr. Belew!


Here - 1994

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Never Enough, I See You, Burned by the Fire We Make, May 1 1990
Worst songs: Here, Postcard from Holland

 

Adrian's social consciousness goes off the deep end this time -- no less than four of the songs on here have lyrics that deal with some "hot topic", as it were. Luckily, the rather heavy-handed commentary doesn't impinge on the song quality. "Burned by the Fire We Make" is an absolutely lovely acoustic song, and "Brave New World" is (surprisingly) optimistic. Usually, Adrian just bitches about people killing rhinoceroses. Or is that rhinocerii? And "Futurevision" is a little silly in its "pissed-off" mood, but I dig it anyway.

Other highlights on here (sorry) include the rockin' "Never Enough" (boy, did it surprise me at first -- I'd only heard the acoustic version from the Somtimes God Smiles DGM sampler) and the pop explosion of "I See You".

The low points this time include the title track, which leaves absolutely no impression on my cranium, and the weak ender, "Postcard from Holland", which proves that the word 'cookies' should not be used in a song, unless you're on Sesame Street. Additionally, a couple other songs (such as "Fly" and "Dream Life") pass by somewhat unnoticed. But on the whole, this is Adrian's most successful "straight pop" album.


Op Zop Too Wah - 1996

Rating: ****
Best songs: All Her Love Is Mine, Six String, Of Bow and Drum, Modern Man Hurricane Blues, etc.
Worst songs: Sky Blue Red Bird Green House, Op Zop Too Wah

 

Something of a minor masterpiece?

I'd say so -- at least this time Adrian shys away from his heavy-handed social commentary (mostly, anyway). The main problem with this album is all the short connecting tracks between the actual songs. They're occasionally cute (such as "Plate of Words" and "In My Backyard") but mostly just annoying. A couple longer pieces, such as the mantra-ish "Sky Blue Red Bird Green House" and guitarfest title track, are also less than steller.

Luckily, the rest of the songs are great, and Adrian does some of his best guitar playing, especially on the opener "Of Bow and Drum" (sort of a sequel to "Young Lions", perhaps?) and the countryish ballad "Six String". Other highlights include the beautiful "All Her Love Is Mine", the strange acoustic number "Modern Man Hurricane Blues", the melancholy "The Ruin After the Rain"... Ah, heck, just go buy it!

Can you tell I suck at writing?


Postscript: Side Projects

Well, you can't be a solo artist and have solo albums, can you?


the Bears, Rise and Shine - 1988

Rating: ***
Best songs: Aches and Pains, Save Me, Old Fat Cadillac, Holy Mack
Worst songs: hmm...

 

This is Adrian Belew with three other guys, Rob Fetters (guitar, vocals), Bob Nyswonger (bass) and Chris Arduser (drums). And guess what kind of music they're playing.

That's right, it's guitar pop! And it's yet another album that's now out of print. Adrian must be cursed or something.

It's good, to a fault. The top moments include the shoulda-been-a-hit album opener "Aches and Pains", the silly "Holy Mack", eco-rant #29478/C "Save Me", and Ade's "Old Fat Cadillac". The rest is... good, but several of the songs rely on a catchy chorus ("Not Worlds Apart", "Complicated Potatoes", etc.) and don't do much of anything in the verses. Still, it's worth picking up as long as you don't waste a bunch of money getting it off eBay.


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