[Review] Adrian Belew: Lone Rhino (1982)

With a curriculum vitae to kill for (David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, King Crimson), Belew slays on this surprisingly poppy debut.

Kronomyth 1.0: Out standing in his field.

Adrian Belew’s reputation as one of alternative music’s leading guitarists was built on albums by David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads and, most recently, as the guitarist/vocalist for the re-kconstituted King Crimson. His signature guitar sound included a sort of animal squall that became the centerpiece for songs like Tom Tom Club’s “L’elephant” and Crimson’s “Elephant Talk.” That sound is stamped all over his debut as a solo artist, Lone Rhino.

Although Belew’s exotic guitar work and half-spoken vocals lend the music a certain artistic high-mindedness, at the heart of the artist is an affection for simple melodies, producing a kind of warped pop effect for much of the album. “The Momur,” “Adidas in Heat,” “Swingline” and “Stop It” are catchy at their core, skewing familiar rock & roll and swing motifs to suit Belew’s particular talents. In fact, Belew’s style is a unique amalgam of past influences, borrowing bits of Bowie (the digital buzzing of “African Night Flight”), Tom Tom Club’s layered percussion, and Robert Fripp’s alternately frenetic/transcendental arrangements to flesh out his ideas.

As an arranger, Belew proves to have a knack for smooth and swift movement, handling the drums himself while fretless bass player J. Clifton Mayhugh and pianist Christy Bley support the shifts from airy instrumental segues to well-grounded rock structures. Lyrically, Belew can be smartalecky (“Adidas in Heat”) or surprisingly sentimental (“The Man in the Moon”), delivering the words in a competent manner despite a somewhat limited voice.

Although the record didn’t generate a genuine hit single (“Big Electric Cat” comes closest to qualifying), there are a number of songs that remain among Belew’s best, including the title track and the over-caffeinated “The Momur.” Because Lone Rhino bears a close resemblance to the “new” King Crimson’s most accessible music, it adds little to that band’s body of work other than to show that Belew may have been the most commercially minded of the four. The likely beneficiary of stockpiled songs, Lone Rhino remains the best introduction to Belew’s catalog, and should appeal to art pop fans and adventurous guitar aficionados.

Original LP Version

A1. Big Electric Cat (4:51)
A2. The Momur (3:45)
A3. Stop It (2:45)
A4. The Man In The Moon (3:45)
A5. Naïve Guitar (3:58)
B1. Hot Sun (1:29)
B2. The Lone Rhinoceros (3:57)
B3. Swingline (3:25)
B4. Adidas In Heat (2:44)
B5. Animal Grace (3:58)
B6. The Final Rhino (Audie Belew/Adrian Belew) (1:24)

All songs written by Adrian Belew unless noted.

The Players

Adrian Belew (guitars, effects, drums, percussives, wood flute, lead vocals), Christy Bley (acoustic piano, vocals), William Janssen (alto/baritone sax, vocals, wood flute), J. Clifton Mayhugh (bass/fretless bass guitar, vocals, wood flute) with Audie Belew (acoustic piano on B6), Stan Hertzman (chant on A1), Stan Silverman (chant on A1). Produced by Adrian Belew; engineered by Rich Denhart and Gary “Plattski” Platt; re-mix engineered by Gary “Plattski” Platt; executive produced by Stan Hertzman.

The Pictures

Photography by Sukita. Rhino photo by Kojo Tanaka. Inner sleeve drawing by Margaret Belew. Make-up by Chiaki Shimada. Stylist by Yakko Takahashi.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in July 1982 in the US (Island, IL/CS 9751), the UK (Island, ILPS 9675), Germany (Island, 204522) and Japan (Island, 25S-48) with lyric innersleeve; reached #82 on the US charts.

  1. Re-packaged with Twang Bar King on 2-for-1 compact disc on October 18, 2004 in the US (Gott Discs).
  2. Re-packaged with Twang Bar King on 2-for-1 compact disc on August 3, 2009 in the UK (Beat Goes On).
  3. Re-released on remastered, limited edition compact disc in 2002 in Japan (Island, UICY-9237).

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