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Adrian Belew

Side Four

Review by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill

Side Four is the Adrian Belew Power Trio live follow up to his already well received Sides One, Two and Three. With everything from the cover art work to the unique song titles being steeped in the Belew tradition of coming at you from left field,  his musical approach actually makes total sense, with a unique respect for  harmony, melody, sound, texture, color, and feel. Our first impression was that we were totally blown away with the fresh, unique sound of this amazing power trio. With the young virtuoso siblings, Julie slick on Bass and Eric Slick on drums, the trio delivers an amazing tour de force well worth a serious listen. Frankly, we haven't given this CD much rest over the past month. The writing is incredibly compelling, extremely well balanced and diversified, and chock full of both Belew's unique and interesting approach to the guitar, plus a cadre of interesting musical effects that layer depth, complexity, and insight into a very unique composer/performer. If you haven't heard this CD, please go ahead and buy it! Progressive rock fans shouldn't be caught unaware of the importance of this fine music, especially in a time where great music can be difficult to find consistently. Get your copy today, and please visit Adrian Belew at

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Writing On The Wall
This piece immediately grabs one's attention with its forceful intensity. Eric Slick's  driving percussion is underscored by Julie Slick's aggressive playing and Adrian Belew's heavy, distortion oriented treatment of both harmonic and melodic guitar elements. "I see the writing on the wall!" croons the legend, and even if he didn't you would believe he did!  What an amazing piece to open a live album, a song that makes one want to rock with the force and intensity of the composition itself.
We absolutely love this song. The tongue in cheek double entendre is well felt, musically speaking. "I am a dinosaur. Somebody's diggin' my bones!," sings Belew. One can't help but smile at Belew's poetic insight to lyric writing. This is a rhythmically interesting piece full of unique chordal treatments throughout. Plus it's just a really cool song! We think you'll love it!
Leave it to Adrian Belew to come up with a song title based on a punctuation abbreviation! But etymology seems to be an interest of Belew's, and he's just as creative with his treatment of words as he is in his musical offerings. This is another powerful song, with strong emotive images that develop as a result of both the lyrical lines and the unique harmonic/melodic combination. We really dug it during the live show, and it continues to grow on us - kudos!
Young Lions
The percussive opening almost has a 42nd Street feel to it with Eric Slick's heavy tom playing, but we quickly recognized that these were rock elements at play, not swing.  The sound is booming and strong, and, of course, the melody line works its way into an incredible Belew solo. We really enjoyed the repetitive rhythmic section, mostly because it is performed with perfect execution and not a hint of anything overplaying the length of the pulsating rhythm.  This one could easily be the album favorite of many, however we reserved that honor for the song which followed.
Beat Box Guitar
"Beat Box Guitar" is an amazing song, and Grant constantly plays this one at least twice when he drives with it in the car. Many kudos here, well evidenced by the 2006 Grammy nomination for best rock instrumental. Not only is the guitar work superlative, the free section has all three members of the trio existing in their own worlds, but the resolution entrance is so perfect that it fits like a glove. The solo sections are simply amazing, and all three players drive aggressively through the number. Julie uses the entire instrument here, so incredibly deftly that one gets drawn into the intuitive intensity the three members of the trio exhibit with such skill and ease. This is a five star song, for sure!
Matchless Man
Soulfully, Belew sings, "Here I am, a matchless man, trying to set your world on fire!" How cool is that? Or should we say hot? In any event, this slow, almost bluesy arrangement evokes many feelings and emotions. Musically, it's rather funky and R&B oriented in a certain sense, yet it retains those same amazing proggy characteristics that define Belew's musical status. It's another excellent number for you all to enjoy!
A Little Madness
One might actually feel a little crazy after listening to the harmonic dissonance over the top of this number. This is truly a performance art piece. I'm not sure I would enjoy performing it myself, but one  gets the feeling that if the song reflected the state of someone's mind, you can actually feel the confusion or pain of emotional dissonance. Psychological insights aside, this piece sounds almost experimental, but it adds a unique compositional style that exists nowhere else on the album. Belew deserves high praise for daring to include such a unique song on this CD.
"Drive" is the kind of song where Belew takes a little solo break and allows the Slicks to rest. The song opens with a sample of a car starting, then fading as it drives into the distance. Belew layers in a repetitive eighth note pattern that evokes feelings of driving through the countryside and looking out the window at the scenery along the way. It is a thought provoking and almost internalized kind of song. What kinds of images do you see and feel when you listen to it?
Of Bow And Drum
This is one of the more musically complex songs on the CD.  It is a bit pop-like in a certain respect, because it certainly is catchy. But like everything Adrtian Belew does, the song seems simpler than it is. There is a rich depth and breadth to this song, and it just feels really good and positive. This is a great song to groove to!
Big Electric Cat
Have you ever felt like a big electric cat? Yes, it's another winner and one of the best songs on the CD. This one is rhythmically powerful while allowing the listener to groove into a compelling melody line and with plenty of room to solo and be creative by the trio members. We love this song because there seems to be lots of things going on, but Belew especially requests of his musicians that they do not overplay. Here is a song where the three find a perfect balance.
Three Of A Perfect Pair
While we haven't had the opportunity yet to dig more deeply into the lyrical content, it's clear that Belew is up to his semantics again with this King Crimson cover! But isn't that a sign of a good songwriter, when the lyrics themselves just grab your interest? And isn't it even better when the title makes you want to hear the entire song? Well, in fact this song is better than than the cool title. This is another upbeat, powerful and enjoyable number. As we compare the current trio version to the original King Crimson one, the most striking difference is how Belew compensated for performing as a trio versus a quartet. The original version is a bit slower, tempo-wise, and opens a little more space for Robert Fripp's playing. It's also more tightly structured, which underscores the free-jazz comparison for the current power trio. It seems that the Slicks add an extra level of aggressiveness while the original sits there in the pocket and grooves.
Thela Hun Ginjeet
Like the prior track, we were delighted to compare the current version to the King Crimson original. As much as we love vintage King Crimson, the lower octave vocal doubling by Tony Levin in the original makes that version feel slower, although the trio version does seem a bit more uptempo, generally. Bruford's playing is somewhat more articulated and theory driven compared to Eric Slick, who just powers through improvisationally, again making the newer version more aggressive. Julie, too, takes creative liberties here without overplaying, adding some bass harmonic depth that we hadn't heard before. We think you'll love the new version! We're not certain at all what the title means, but we do know that this song is an excellent encore as well as closer for the album. The syncopated opening melody line has just enough edge to really make the listener feel like grooving on this one. The entire album is a musical experience that we feel will one day be viewed as a vintage classic. This great song closes a great CD, and has made us serious fans of The Adrian Belew Power Trio. If you haven't yet availed yourself of this fine music, go out and buy this CD!
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