Review Summary: Side Three maintains that old fashioned sort of anxiety for its entire duration, and for those of us who like getting lost in this mad wizard's schizophrenia for pop, rock and all things strange/quirky, it's a fun and perhaps necessary diversion.
Adrian Belew is an immense guitarist and immaculate performer with intense presence on the instrument that. That said, there seem to be more detractors regarding his solo career than enthusiasts--how many times have I heard someone say he should stick to being Bowie or Fripp's sideman"
Belew can hold his own, however.
trilogy (although plans are in the works to make it a tetralogy, with a live recording of Belew's power trio to be released as Side Four
) is a good, solid piece of work. Holistically the trilogy works because each of the three has a similar mindset, and each works well as companion pieces to the other two.
Belew loves the guitar. He pours his heart into the instrument, devotes his life to music. However, maybe our problem here is that he loves the guitar too
much. Every sound you hear here (excluding percussion, which is generally created using electronic V-Drums played by Belew himself) is made by a guitar, often with lots of help of midi-driven synthesizers. This, while being one of the album's selling points, also becomes a bit tiresome as it contributes to an overall inorganic atmosphere fed by digitized noisemaking--it's interesting and at times very cool, but perhaps with the upturn in the role of technology in music, not as surprising as Belew thinks it is.
fills in the gaps at the right times, though. Fellow King Crimson buddy Robert Fripp's cameo appearance on "Water Turns to Wine" is fantastic--his more organic sounding synth flute guitar breathes fresh life into the song, while Belew sets the stage beautifully with an odd chord progression and enigmatic vocals. The guest appearances from Side 1
of super rhythm section Les Claypool and Danny Carey (of Primus and Tool, respectively) are reprised here on tracks such as the manic funk grind of "Whatever;" and living legend Mel Collins (of the original 1969 King Crimson lineup) tears up a mean saxophone solo, juxtaposing Lounge Lizard jazz schizophrenia with Belew's groovy modal dissonance on Beat Box Car
Don't go discrediting Belew's fantastic and undeniably idiosyncratic vision, though. His compositions here include so many killer ideas, from amusing funky rock n roll to modal explorations and soundscapes. Still, ideas are all that really live here, beyond a few examples I've already cited. Many of the experimental tunes seem more like sketches, incomplete and not fleshed out. That said, it all still works to a certain degree, because the abstract nature of songs like "Truth Is," "Crunk," and "The Red Bull Rides a Boomerang Across the Blue Constellation," with their fragmentary lyrics and lack of defined melodicism, don't exactly lend themselves to structured composition in the first place.
There's nothing on here quite as jarring as, for example, Side 1
's "Madness" (which pretty well lives up to its name), but many of the songs will still throw you for a loop, especially after the lighthearted first couple of tracks, for which the main draw is generally Belew's soloing and gleefully cynical lyrics. After the first two tracks, though, the album takes a turn for the bizarre and has no qualms with discordance, allowing Belew to open up to his love affair with his Sustaniac pickup and the whammy bar while spewing fragmentary lyrical haikus that are at once interesting and nonchalant.
Songs like "Drive" have that too cool
atmosphere perfect for driving at night with spacey vocals and contemplative lyrics and "Men In Helicopters" is a faux-symphonic pop tune that is satisfying enough, but ultimately appears to be more of a workout for Belew's guitar synths than an actual composition. I could see the song working better in a more basic situation, with an acoustic guitar strumming the chord progression and Belew's rather accomplished voice overtop. "Cinemusic" is an eccentric little soundscape experiment and an excellent mood piece. The album overall has a very cryptic, puzzling and unique atmosphere which is definitely one of its draws.
This is marginally the best of all three Side
records. It's not as skeletal as Side 2
and contains more interesting material than Side 1
. What's so strange about these records, though, is that they're generally very meandering in nature, yet remain very short. It doesn't feel as if the ideas are developed beyond a reasonable doubt, so I can understand why so many people find this trilogy rather unconvincing. Pulling all three albums together for one listening session can be tiresome (they come together to be almost 2 hours), and Belew hasn't yet seemed to able to hit the bullseye with his solo records. Still, Side Three
maintains that old fashioned sort of anxiety for its entire duration, and for those of us who like getting lost in this mad wizard's schizophrenia for pop, rock and all things strange/quirky, it's a fun and perhaps necessary diversion from everyday life.