Adrian Belew’s brilliant Side One was a journey through his entire musical history

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Adrian Belew released solo material in four separate installments of adrenaline-charged, twisty guitar (or “sides”) through 2007 — beginning on January 25, 2005, with Side One. Nothing like that to make the drive to work more exciting, as if the patches of black ice here and there weren’t enough.

There are plenty of great guitar players out there, but there aren’t a whole lot like Belew, who can combine their chops and piles of musical creativity. The thing about Adrian Belew is that you can hear his entire musical history in the compositions. Side One brought tasty bits of pop, rock, funk, art rock and experimental music.

Hey, why not?! Adrian Belew has played with a crazy-great cast of musical characters from Frank Zappa to the Talking Heads to King Crimson to Laurie Anderson — one of the few times I’ve seen somebody play the guitar with a spatula. While the songs tend to lean toward a more King Crimson-esque sound than, say, Belew’s more pop side (like the Bears or his own Mr. Music Head), there are jumping tunes that made me bop around in the car seat.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Adrian Belew discusses his incredible orchestral reimaging of ‘e,’ his long history with King Crimson and what it was like to attend the Frank Zappa School of Rock.]

Despite the presence of Les Claypool and Tool’s Danny Carey on the opening “Ampersand,” the song was a rock/pop gem that reminded me of an updated Batman theme. It did devolve into some serious noisemaking at the close before the segue into the funkified “Writing On The Wall” (second of three tunes with those heavyweight guests) … making me wonder if Tool fans were left satisfied with this record’s sound. The final trio track was “Matchless Man,” with Carey switching over to tablas. Claypool’s rubbery bass made the tune sound like an up date of Three Of A Perfect Pair-era Crimson.

You can just tell that Belew had a lot of fun recording this one. The skronky goodness ooozed out of every track. It would have been interesting to see how Belew interacted with Carey and Claypool during the recording process. There was some obvious musical chemistry there. It’s always fascinating to see that kind of stuff in action.

I was lucky enough to attend a ProjeKt Two concert years ago with Trey Gunn on Touch guitar, Robert Fripp on guitar and Adrian Belew on electronic drums. While the personalities could not have been more different (Fripp looking like he’d rather be at home reading some esoteric book, Belew sporting an enormous grin while shooting out crazy sound effects), it was pretty obvious that musically they were of one mind.

Some of that was definitely going on here, though I suspect that Carey and Claypool are slightly more, uhmmm, relaxed fellows. Cripes, I think I’m too cranked up to get any work done now!

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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