adrian belew - side two

Adrian Belew: Side Two (2005)

Released about six months after Side One, Side Two finds Adrian Belew in a darker, more contemplative mood.  Handling all the instruments himself, the album shows just how formidable Belew is on all fronts: as a composer, instrumentalist, and vocalist.  Despite the lack of rockin’ hooks found on Side One find myself much more drawn to the compositions on this release.

One of the best shows I ever saw was King Crimson – I had the pleasure of seeing them in the “double” configuration back in 1995 at the Longacre Theater in New York.  Although the music on Side Two bears only a passing relation to the more expansive prog-rock concoctions the band executed that night (they were supporting THRAK, and at the time I was in love with the song “Dinosaur”), there’s something in the way tracks like “Dead Dog on Asphalt” and “Sex Nerve” play with intimacy and tension that call back to how subtle and soft a song like “Walking on Air” would work despite being played by two drummers, two bass players, and two guitarists.

Which isn’t to say these are quiet tracks, necessarily.  “Dead Dog on Asphalt” spends some time building out its soundstage before moving into a menacing and dissonant main section.  The tension built out continues to be supported on “I Wish I Knew” which feels constructed on fragments and loops hung in darkness, coming together in some eerie isolation.  Belew really embraces the artificiality of the recording process and makes it his own – you will never mistake this for a band effort or an analog process, but I really like how he blends all these clashing components together.  “Face to Face” is a beautifully constructed song, fragile and powerful in its attack, fart noises aside during the last minute.

The second half of Side Two feels even less conventional, opening with the sound collage of “Then What” before moving sideways into “Quicksand” with its seemingly tossed aside vocals.  “I Know Now” and “Happiness” are brief electronic pieces, kind of small instrumental tags before the closer “Sunlight” brings back a bit of the more conventional driving pulse of the first half fo the album.  It’s also a great showcase for Belew’s vocal layering – something he’s always been adept in when it comes to Crimson but here where it’s slightly less adorned by instrumentation you can feel how crisp and sharp his singing works as its own instrument, as opposed to simply being a conveyer of lyrics.

Running about the same length as Side One I found myself running this one over more and more throughout the day, listening to it twice in the car on my commute and then again as I write this.  Maybe its the emphasis on electronics and the almost Kreftwerk approach to some of the songwriting (at least that’s how my ears hear it, limited as they are when it comes to the band), but I find myself more and more drawn to this record now, finding in Belew’s voice moments of joy and abandon that has me straining to match him.

I know I never will, but I’ll always try.

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