Side One – Adrian Belew
Sanctuary Records 06076-84738-2
Ah, Adrian Belew. Such a blessed career, but, from another point of view, such an unhappy story.
Zappa to Bowie to Talking Heads to King Crimson, plus session shots with Simon, Hancock and Reznor: most musicians would be happy with one of Belew’s credits. Pulsing through Side One and many other recent Belew projects, though, is an evident desire to be considered an artist on par with those listed above. "In the hissing airwaves/if you listen carefully/you can understand my fate/to be stranded on the stairway/under the radar," Belew sings here, reminding us that even most of the people listed above get less attention as time passes and our society’s tastes tilt more towards the ephemeral. But if it’s partly the times that have denied Belew the solo success that his collaborators once enjoyed, it’s also partly that his solo music isn’t quite interesting enough to make the grade.
Especially in the first three songs, with drummer Danny Carey showing his chops and bassist Les Claypool paying homage to Tony Levin, Side One entertains. Belew gives his post-Hendrix guitar stylings plenty of space, and he offers songs such as the Syd-Barrett-writes-for-Metallica "Ampersand" and the Heads-ish stomp "Writing On The Wall." And on "Walk Around The World," Belew essays the Steve-Reich-meets-Beatles songwriting style which may have been Robert Fripp’s idea, but which has been developed and executed to the greatest degree by none other than Belew himself.
Too often, though, Belew's songs give us half a good idea. "Here I am a matchless man/trying to set your heart on fire" is a neat pun, but as two-thirds of an entire lyric it's not enough. It's nice for "Walk Around The World" to tell us to "use your imagination," but a top-notch writer would prod us to do so without saying anything so explicit. The instrumentals, too, give a heavy dose of guitar effects, but don't do much else. And his singing is nondescript, although at least he doesn't take on other singer's identities as much here as he has in his David Byrne-ish past.
Perhaps Side Two and Side Three, the promised follow-ups insinuated in Belew’s short liner note, will give these ideas the development they need. Given how long Belew’s been at it, though, it seems more likely that they’ll poke around the same terrain. Perhaps his efforts won’t be entirely in vain — a new singer-songwriter might be looking for a sideman to add a wild guitar edge to his notions.