Adrian Belew- Side One (Sanctuary)
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

1. Ampersand
2. Writing On The Wall
3. Matchless Man
4. Madness
5. Walk Around The World
6. Beat Box Guitar
7. Under The Radar
8. Elephants
9. Pause



Adrian Belew’s been quite a busy fellow recently. In the past year, the King Crimson guitarist/vocalist has pursued painting, continued compiling a solo box set; offered his skills as a session musician; recorded music with his other group, the Bears; and recorded three solo releases.

Side One marks the first of these solo efforts (the other two should be released within a year), Belew’s first full-fledged solo outing since 1996’s Op Zop Too Wah. With Tool drummer Danny Carey and Primus bassist Les Claypool, Belew has assembled what he refers to as a “power trio” on three of Side One’s tracks – “Ampersand,” “Writing on the Wall” and “Matchless Man.” Strangely, they’re probably the weakest songs on the disc.

“Ampersand” opens with Belew’s trademarked buzzsaw guitar. Carey offers up some busy drumming while Belew appears to be singing about creating songs – “tools I use at hand/alliteration, irony, pathetic fallacy, ampersand.” An interesting piece but the music doesn’t change much over its four minute length.

“Writing On The Wall” brings up memories of 80’s King Crimson with its weird beats and equally strange and maniacal guitar. The song only has one lyric, “I see the writing on the wall,” which Belew repeats throughout the track.

The final power trip piece, “Matchless Man,” reminds me of some of the quieter numbers on King Crimson’s Thrak or The Power To Believe. Carey plays tablas while Claypool lays down an intriguing bassline.

For the rest of the Side One, Belew plays everything himself, save for some strings on “Madness” and “Pause.” The former is in the industrial vein, with Belew pounding away on the drums while his guitar menaces away. He holds the instrumental together with a solid bassline. A very good track.

The 80’s Crimson vibe returns on “Walk Around The World” with its distinctive repeated guitar lines. The first part of the track contains some heavy bass drumming before Belew breaks out the rest of the kit. A very Crimson-esque song.

The instrumental “Beat Box Guitar” is a sort of an ethnic/industrial song. An interesting, almost cinematic guitar and bass theme highlight the piece as Belew once again shows his multi-instrumental prowess.

The brief, hypnotic “Under The Radar” leads into former King Crimson drummer, Ian Wallace, giving a spoken introduction to “Elephants,” another in a long line of tunes where Belew shows his interest in wildlife. Dual guitars highlight this song with one churning out a heavy rhythm and the other offering typical Belew madness.

“Pause” ends Side One with some ambient noises and crashing percussion. Disjointed strings close the piece.

Some of Belew’s paintings serve as Side One’s artwork. In the liner notes, Belew states that we’ll have to wait until Side Two to understand what they mean.

Belew’s music is definitely not for everyone. While some (including myself) find his version of pop and guitar playing to be inventive, others find it to be headache-inducing noise. If you’re new to Belew’s music, Side One is probably too risky to introduce yourself to it, mainly because of the cost, which is my only real complaint about the disc. For just 33 minutes of music, the disc sells at full price, which I feel is pretty ballsy of Sanctuary to do. Hopefully (though doubtfully), Side Two will be longer, or cheaper.

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