Today, I’m going to tackle two completely different albums. I purchased them both on the same day, they were both recorded by an all-time favorite musician, they both disappointed me a bit but they both have some wonderful songs on them. Despite these similarities, the two records could not be more different in the emotions they convey. As such, I elected to hit them both in one post.
Adrian Belew needs no introduction among prog fans, but I’ll give him one anyway. Best known as the former frontman and lead guitarist for the mighty King Crimson, he has also worked with progressive luminaries such as Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and Steven Wilson. He has many unlikely fans, too: St. Vincent calls him her “guitar anti-hero” and Trent Reznor describes him as “the most awesome musician in the world” (and I don’t disagree). His uncanny guitar antics and absurdist songwriting make him a favorite among those, including me, who desire to hear something a little out of left field. Of course, I was surprised when he announced that his next album would be comprised of pop songs.
Once you get used to hearing the guy from King Crimson sing early-2000s pop-punk, with appropriately avant-garde guitar solos, this is a strong album. The album consists largely of major chords and up-tempo beats, yet the lyrics are often sad, even cynical. My favorite tracks include “Everybody’s Sitting,” a bleak observation of the digital age, the optimistic “Although,” and the tongue-in-cheek “Road Rage.” “Lobsters And Hypocrites” is largely spoken-word and fairly goofy, but if you like 1980s KC numbers like “Neurotica” and “Dig Me,” this will surely please your ears.
Nevertheless, I have a couple complaints. The pace of the album never changes. There are no ballads. And this is really a shame, seeing as how Adrian can write a beautiful ballad. (“Matte Kudasai”? “Walking On Air”? “Eyes Wide Open”?) And so you should probably be in the mood for something upbeat when you listen to this one, because upbeat is exactly what you’ll be hearing for the next thirty minutes. To me, it seems a bit incomplete as an album; a little more like a compilation or a playlist. Also, he plays all the instruments himself: power to him. But he’s not a great drummer, and certainly not on the level of Bill Bruford or Pat Mastelotto. He’s decent, but you can tell he’s really a guitarist. Still, you have to admire his independence. In an age when music is largely mass-produced by teams of professionals, this guy has released a heck of a good album that he basically made by himself. (Send this to your local Top 40 station!)
“Now for something completely different…”
Whereas Adrian Belew’s album was unrelentingly upbeat, this is the polar opposite. There is no good news here, no hope, no positivity. There is only…DARKNESS. It kind of reminds me emotionally of a Riverside album, although the actual music is much closer to Porcupine Tree.
Tidehouse is yet another project by the great (you’ve probably never heard of him, but I think he’s great) Simon Godfrey. His brother Jem is famous as the singer and keyboardist for Frost*, but you’ll find that Simon’s extensive discography deserves a fame of its own. His bands Tinyfish and Valdez, as well as his solo project, Shineback, showcase progressive roots with an electronic twist, coupled with brilliantly melodic songwriting and strong vocals. (Regular readers may remember that Dial by Shineback earned my first-ever 10/10 rating.) While his work in the past has often been melancholy, none can equal What We Don’t Own, We Can Burn in that respect. You don’t get to come up for air.
Aside from the meandering closer “Pagan Sail,” however, this is a strong record. The best tracks include the opener, “Cartesian Diver,” the avant-garde title track, the mysterious “The Hook In The House,” and the thrilling “Rain At Tangier,” a heartfelt tribute to the late Mark Hollis of Talk Talk. Like Shineback, Tidehouse is characterized by catchy melodies, atmospheric synthesizers, and cool chord changes.
My only complaint here is the same as my beef with Pop-Sided: there’s not a lot of variety. Regardless, this is an excellent album which any fans of Porcupine Tree, Riverside, or Simon Godfrey’s various musical ventures needs to try.
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Find Tidehouse online: