Unless you’re in deep the music way, the name Adrian Belew might not ring a bell. Truth of the matter is that Adrian Belew was the secret weapon to the biggest names in music for the better part of nearly 5 decades; Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and Trent Reznor are just a handful of artists Mr. Belew lent his skills to on some of the biggest albums of the last 50 years. And that’s not even the most amazing thing about this man. He was the singer/guitarist for the 80s return of King Crimson as well as having a prolific solo career, spending time equally in the experimental and power pop side of things.
At 70-years old Adrian Belew shows no signs of stopping. His new album Elevator is a beautiful and clanging ode to his work as both a mad scientist behind the six string, as well as his ability to write gorgeous pop songs in the vein of Lennon/McCartney. To be honest, Adrian’s solo work from the late 80s/early 90s was a massive influence on me. The mark those Atlantic Records releases made on my brain still hold true today.
Having begun my Belew journey back in 1990 at 16-years old with Young Lions, my loyalty began in his power pop songs. He wrote songs that were like the Beatles breathing rarified air. Shimmering hooks, melancholy harmonies, and otherworldly guitar lines that imitated everything from elephants, cars, to well, guitars. Mr. Musichead through Here was a four album run that was as pivotal to me as someone hearing Rubber Soul in the mid-60s for the first time on the family Hi-Fi. Revelatory, to say the least.
It took a bit for me to download the proper mental software to process the sonically adventurous side of Belew, but once I did I felt this was a guy that could do anything. It was always there, but Adrian Belew had a knack for offering it up in a way that dropped easy on the ears. Op Zop To Wah was much more appreciated, as it was this amazing balance between artistically ‘out there’ and melodically rich. Elevator, likewise, is this amazing mixture of all that came before, though it feels much more pop-centric throughout. I find myself going back and listening and re-listening. And then listening some more.
“a13” opens with an adamant guitar ringing before a busy melody line brings us into a world that feels like we’re on a train line to infinity. Belew performs everything(as he’s known to do) and gives us a melodically rich song filled with fun, quirky twists and turns and his ever genius melody-driven lines. It’s like Beatles and Dixie Dregs coming together. Perfect. “a car i can talk to” grooves and gleans with futuristic glee. You can almost see a shining example of the Motor City ingenuity we were used to from the 50s and early 60s blaring down the freeway as this song plays.
Elsewhere “good morning sun” shines beautifully with layered harmonies and Belew’s penchant for intricate rhythms, while “you can’t lie to yourself” shakes and flutters with intimacy and vulnerability with plucked strings and Belew’s perfect vocals. “the saturday morning roar” is “A Day In The Life” but with the neighborhood morning buzz in mind. Lawnmowers, morning coffee, and writing sessions are pondered in a spoken-word fashion. This is what Adrian Belew does so well, he makes what we may think mundane and turns it into the sublime. “seventy going on seventeen” ends things with Belew making it known age is nothing when you’ve got a mind that keeps burning the candles at both ends as ideas continue to make themselves known. I hope there’s a ‘ninety going on 19″.
Elevator is yet another stunning power pop record from one of the unsung heroes of rock and roll. Majestic pop songs with enough otherworldly sonic magic peppered throughout to keep even your most proggiest of friends engaged. But really, at this point the fact Adrian Belew isn’t a household name just feels like a crime against humanity. If you’re in the know, you know. If you’re not, start here and go back.