Adrian Belew
Salad Days

"The acoustic Adrian Belew" might at first seem like an oxymoron. After all, he has spent his entire career redefining what you can do with an electric guitar, coaxing exotic, imaginative new sounds from a slab of wood and some wires. And for once, I can say with great confidence that everyone reading this, and I mean everyone, has heard his playing. In addition to his solo work, he is a much sought after studio player, lending his unique sound to everyone from Paul Simon to Nine Inch Nails to Frank Zappa (not to mention extensive producing including the song "Flood" by Jars of Clay). The songs on this CD are taken from his past solo CDs and his work with King Crimson, plus two aural montage songs for the devoted Belew fan. By reducing his music to a purely acoustic format, Belew has boiled away everything but the bare bones, revealing song writing skills that are normally hidden behind layers of guitars and effects, giving these songs new life.

Fittingly, he opens with "The Lone Rhino", the first song from his first solo album. Belew captures the sorrow of a rhinoceros trapped in a zoo, longing for his homeland, with humor ("I know the zoos protect my species/They give me food, collect my feces") and sensitivity. Belew's ecological concerns are to be found on a number of tracks including "Men In Helicopters" which he sings against a string quartet that adds an urgency to his message. Other tracks include the haunting and hypnotic "Fly" ("After all I'm only sand to irritate the oyster and to wait for a pearl") and the nostalgic "The Rail Song" in which he sings the part of a rail employee lamenting the fading of the railroads. "Never Enough" and "Dinosaur" prove that you can rock on just an acoustic guitar, although from reading the extensive session notes at I learned that these songs contain what he calls "super-tracking" which is layering up to sixteen tracks of the same guitar part to create an immense, full sound.

Belew has always had a strong Beatles influence, with McCartney's gift for melody and Lennon's penchant for experimentation. It has been this Lennon side that has turned people off in the past as they are unable or unwilling to understand his lean, "weird", angular soloing style (imagine an atonal, alien bird call). In this acoustic format, such "offensive" soloing is gone leaving only well written, tasty pop songs with hooks aplenty and thoughtful, humorous lyrics.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, March 1999.