Side Two

Adrian Belew

Sanctuary, 2005

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I've started to notice that many artists front-load their releases with their best songs. From the Beatles to Pearl Jam, rarely is the second side of an album or second half of a disc as good as the first.

But Adrian Belew, ever the rebel, bucks that theory with Side Two, the second part of Belew's Side trilogy, which commenced earlier in 2005 with Side One. That half hour was a mix of electronics, rock songs, guest stars, introspective lyrics and the general experimental weirdness Belew's fans have come to expect.

Perhaps it's that the shock has worn off of having new Belew material, or maybe it's the lack of guest stars, but for whatever reason Side Two initially failed to conjure up the same excitement for me. It took a few listens to let this one sink in, and only then were its true rewards found (though I still wonder why it was released separately instead of combined with Side One...and later this year, we can look for Side Threemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 ).

Belew is always interesting and eclectic, perhaps the reason he's been one of the longest surviving members of King Crimson. Like his band, he's not afraid to use silence or dissonance as parts of a song, and he knows how to keep things slightly uneasy and unpredictable.

Part of this disc's charm is it's erratic, moody atmosphere. Belew never engages in guitar wizardry because he can -- rather, on "I Wish I Knew" and "Dead Dog On Asphalt," he employs meandering but melodic acoustic and electric guitar solos over top of electronics, atmospherics, whispered voices and slight percussion. It's really hard to describe but very good, which is a sign that Belew is still a vital creative force, some 30 years after he crashed on the scene as a guitar player for Frank Zappa and David Bowie.

But unlike them, Belew has little interest in writing a catchy single or a pop tune. Rather, he is fascinated by sound, by different tempos, instruments and approaches. "Face To Face" is sort of a love song but decidedly quirky, with an Arabic stringed instrument and electronic drums setting the mood while Belew sings and puts on backward guitar effects. He's a musician's musician, that Adrian.

Side One took little time to get used to because it was more explicit, but this disc is textured and subtle and takes time to grow -- not difficult, since it's only half an hour long. A tune like "Asleep" offers Crimson-flavored guitar but a Bjork-type beat, before breaking for some whooshes and then turning into a more standard rock song (albeit with strings, wind sounds and barely audible guitar picking). "Sex Nerve" is a bit like a porn song without the cheese factor, a Moby-type piece with attitude, and "Sunlight" is a New Age-type track with a prominent single bass note wordlessly carrying the soundscape.

But while Belew may be varied in his songs, the songs themselves don't have many variations throughout. In short, Belew picks his themes -- electric drums, strings, backward guitar, whooshes, etc. -- and and repeats it for a few minutes. Most of the time it works, but not always, as on "Then What" and "Sunlight," which does get old after a little while.

For those who thought progressive rock was dead, Belew offers proof there are still many variations to be found in music these days. This is a low-key affair but it demands the listener's attention, and the half hour just flies by, another good sign that while Belew may not be popular, he is definitely worth listening to. It's a shame the disc is so short.

Rating: B

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