Adrian Belew – The Acoustic Adrian Belew (1993)

Adrian Belew is one of the most interesting guitar players in the world at the moment, although for some reason he doesn’t really register in the general public eye as such. He was part of Frank Zappa’s band for years, after which he joined King Crimson in 1981, and was one of the first guitarists in the world to take advantage of new technologies allowing for a symbiosis between guitar and synth sounds, along with Robert Fripp (also from King Crimson). I look at Adrian Belew and see the only plausible bridge between the music of my favorite band and Frank Zappa, he who I’ve not been able to attune myself to. I’m taking it slowly, listening to as much as I can of Mr. Belew’s work, in order to edge in closer to what I expect to be a spectacular break into Frank Zappa’s musical territory sometime in the near future. Until then, however, I present you with this, his 1995 acoustic album, uniting songs from throughout his career both as a solo artist and from King Crimson’s repertoire, even including the odd cover.

It’s an unusual choice for an album from Adrian Belew’s discography, as he’s known to be one of the most intricate and complex electric guitar players ever, but I think that this album shows a certain key to understanding his musical thinking in general which would be much harder to discern by simply sifting through his other work. Also, it’s a wonderful album in of itself, splendidly demonstrating his tremendous songwriting ability and the uniqueness of his approach to music and the guitar. Listening to this record I feel a little strange, as if I’ve been turned inside out, because it carries the same mood as some of my favorite acoustic records, only at least ten years before their release. Jose Gonzales’ music is put into a completely new light for me, as seen through this lens, as if Adrian Belew’s record somehow exists as a sort of musical bracket, both source and offshoot, foundation and future projection. The two artists share a same sort of feeling – lonely, longing, overwhelmingly honest – except Adrian Belew seems to be singing from a completely different could level, a superior reality, something so above and beyond it’s increasingly hard to describe the more I think about it.

His guitar playing is so tremendously accurate and sharp, his voice is so clear and lofty it’s turning out to be quite the task to speak about the music without stopping every few seconds to wonder at what I’m hearing. He seems simultaneously trapped in a cold echo chamber, projecting a heart rending solitude and unbelievably close and personal, using music as a sort of radiant warmth. I try to imagine his songs as spaces for thought, bathed in a cold, shimmering light, inviting the gentle, patient observer in, and punishing any sudden movement and digression with blinding ferocity. A bit much, for what’s essentially an album comprised of bare-bones songwriting which I can more often than not relate to folk. But that’s just it, this music is so distilled, so very focused, it transcends the stereotype of the acoustic album as a comfortable affair. It’s as thought provoking and challenging as any of his work, be it with Zappa, King Crimson or Nine Inch Nails.

I’m reminded of Robert Fripp’s aphorisms, one of which goes “Everything we are is revealed in our playing”. Now, Mister Fripp isn’t the most easy person to understand, having certain, shall we say, intellectual eccentricities, when is comes to his craft and the art he produces, but in this case, I’d say he’s really hit the nail on the head. This music sounds to me like more than music, eerily so, as if there’s a communication going on here that I can’t really control and that tends to overwhelm me. It’s beautiful, fiercely simple, yet never simplistic, and is as haunting as can be, without declaring itself as such through any genre labels or gimmicks.

I get the impression I’ve produced one of the most convoluted, murky write-ups I’ve ever written, but trust me, it’s honest. It’s really hard to pick just a couple of tracks off this record, I believe it’s one that really requires a start-to-finish listen, but I’ll do my best. I hope you enjoy the tracks I’ve chosen from this album, and that you’ll consider giving the whole record a shot. See you soon!

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