Adrian has been around. Most well known as the vocalist and a guitarist for prog-rock's longest lasting band, King Crimson, since its 1980s incarnation, he's also worked with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Peter Frampton, The Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails, Porcupine Tree, and Tori Amos, among others. This is his 10th solo album.
This album is only 33 minutes long, which perfect, in my opinion, but it still costs the same as an LP. It's the first in a trilogy of albums to be released this year. The production is bright and open, verging on thin, but gives the instrumental seperation necessary for this type of record. Les Claypool of Primus and Danny Carey of Tool appear on the first three songs.
1. ampersand - 4:23
This is an ampersand: &. A few interesting bits about the lyrics, which read more like abstract poetry. They're short enough to post here:
"ampersand the angry sea beats
on the rocks of futility
fields ever grown, groves ever green
this is the madness of my dreams
tools I use the tools at hand,
alliteration, irony, pathetic fallacy, ampersand"
An ampersand appears nowhere in this song, nor does the word it stands for. Furthermore, this very issue is addressed with the tool of irony. Musically, Danny Carey is most prominent on this song, bashing out a tom heavy groove in alternating 7 and 8. Les Claypool is as subdued as he has ever been, every once in awhile busting in with some high register chordal riffs. Adrian's vocals are all harmonized and act more like keyboards than lead vocals. Adrian establishes his crazy guitar style to be featured through the album. The song ends with a whammy solo and crescendo and a very short fade, giving you no reprieve before plunging you into the next song. Overall, a very good song. 4/5
2. writing on the wall - 3:53
A funky groove, and some killer guitar work. Only seven words here: 'I see the writing on the wall.' These words are repeated about 10 times in a hard, but not screechy, falsetto. Some tasteful slap from Les. As with most of the album, the guitar is the standout element. 4.5/5
3. matchless man - 2:33
A slower track, Danny Carey is on tabla here. I don't know enough about the instrument to tell you if he's any good, but his playing adds an incredible amount to this track. Les Claypool plays his most interesting lines here, slightly wandering solo-esque work which fits perfectly without being intrusive. The guitars are looped reverse, adding atmosphere. 5/5
From here on, everything is Adrian, besides cello and violin on madness, and violin on pause. While the change works, and the album is cohesive, the guitar plays an even more prominent role from here on. There's still bass and drums, with Adrian playing a Roland V-drum kit and whatever the bass is, but it's not like Les and Danny (which is a good thing, in this case).
4. madness - 6:54
The title pretty much lets you know what you're in for. The longest track on the album, also the hardest to listen to. The bass and drums lay down a nice groove, but that's not what this track is about. Two guitars playing pretty much unrelated and atonal riffs go on for all of the nearly seven minutes. Not pleasant background music, but certainly gives you something to listen to if you're in the mood for something insane. My only complaint is that it seems to drag around the three to four minute mark. Not a bad track, by any means, and I think the album would be much weaker without it. 3/5
5. walk around the world - 4:58
Two guitars playing fast, clean riffs which recall King Crimson's Elektrik and Elephant Talk. A big bass drum and snapping. The vocals are the most normal they've been so far, with something that even resembles a chorus! A bass joins in later to pleasantly fill out the sound. It ends with a short Reich-ian guitar phase. 4/5
6. beat box guitar - 5:08
A very cool and unique track. Another instrumental track, but much easier on the ears than madness. A wonderful groove by the drums and bass, with some very nice melodic guitar and keyboard work. The drums later turn more straightforward rock, and Adrian lets loose one of his more melodic solos of the album. 4.5/5
7. under the radar - 1:39
Like matchless man, under the radar is a short and slower track. This one is all guitar and keyboards, save for a couple very short tom fills. The vocals are more melodic and hauntingly beautiful than they've ever been on this album, and really stand out here. 4.5/5
8. elephants - 2:15
Ah, elephants. A monologue and some huge guitars. That's about all that needs to be said about this track. 4/5
9. pause - 1:20
An ambient track, which reminds me of an alien abduction. An eery ending. 3.5/5
In other news, Adrian Belew is extremely ugly and should not have put a picture of himself in with the cd artwork (which is his own abstract awrtwork: very nice).