Side Two – Adrian Belew
Sanctuary Records 06076-84755-2
Adrian Belew is 55 years old, but his music sounds like that of a
snobbish 24 year old British hipster. Side Two, the second installment in
Belew's concept trilogy, brings an appropriate mixture of Belew's taste for
electronica and his penchant for mediocre rock songs. Personally, I've
thought Belew's solo work to be monotonous, generic and uninspiring, at least until I heard Side Two. I’d like to think that King Crimson has a lot to do with Belew’s fascinating musical turnaround.
During the late '90s King Crimson decided that instead of taking a
hiatus from playing they would break up into smaller sub-groups (Projekcts)
and explore improvisational electronic methods. Projekcts resulted in
various mini-Crimson line-ups, some of which featured Belew playing drums
(electronic drums taboot). The electronic experiments of Projekcts lead to
Crimson's progressive style of electronic rock on 1998's The Construkction
of Light and 2003’s The Power to Believe. While Crimson is on another
hiatus (slated to return September of 2007), Belew has continued down the
progressive electronic path.
I've only heard Side Two, but I’m sold enough to buy Side One and, when it’s released, Side
Three. Side Two reflects Belew as
whole artist. The artwork consists of paintings done by
the guitarist, among them a simple/complex painting/collage of a bedroom's view of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, while the album cover depicts a dead dog on asphalt (which
happens to be the title of the first track as well). The lyrics are written
in prose, with Belew [dropping his David Byrne impression,] developing his own
voice of ambience and psychedelia.
Musically, Side Two flows very well. Belew tastefully mixes ambient
beats with live instruments. "Face to Face" features the exotic
playing of the Balalaika (a Russian folk guitar of sorts) by Erick Cole alongside
perfectly programmed beats. The tasteful combination of antique music with
the modern highlights the album. Each track segues into the next with the
use of ambient synthesized noise. The album contains a dark presence,
with lyrics that ring true. "Sometimes
I'm paralyzed with life speeding by," Belew sings on "Quick Sand," "I never seem to get anywhere no matter
how hard I try."
In the end Belew manages to keep his signature Crimson riffs while
sounding simultaneously fresh. The album shares some of the same
qualities as Brian Eno's recent Another Day on Earth,
ambient, ethereal and touching while remaining dark and foreboding.
Side Two is nowhere near perfect, but it's a fun listen right before embarking on
REM travels. The concept of the Side albums embody life to death,
consciousness to unconsciousness, past to present, and a bunch of other
psychological Zen inspired journeys. For a solo album, it's damn good, even
though I can figure out the majority of it on my Mini Korg. For Belew, it's
money baby and it sure as hell isn't his earlier Mr. Music Head. Four thumbs up!