(All Album Reviews by I.M. Weasel)
Young Lions, released in 1990, was the second album Adrian Belew did in a string of 3 in the late 80s and early 90s for Atlantic. While all the songs show off Belew's influence as a straight pop-rock musician, Young Lions features some of his best songs, such as the title track "Young Lions", "Men in Helicopters", and "Pretty Pink Rose". Around the same time, Belew was arranging and touring with David Bowie, so as an added treat, two of the songs feature vocal duets with Bowie and Belew, the more memorable of the two being "Pretty Pink Rose". Given that there are two songs with Bowie, and two covers (one of The Traveling Wilburys, the other of King Crimson), Belew contributes surprisingly little original material here. However, since he contributed fewer original songs, the songs that he did write are topnotch.
The album starts off with "Young Lions", showing Belew's fascination with animal noises, and also some really driving tribal percussion. The second song is "Pretty Pink Rose", the first of two duets with David Bowie. Here, Belew and Bowie trade off verses, while Belew takes his familiar role as "stunt guitarist". The added vocals of Bowie gives this song a very sexy feel to it.
The next song is a cover of a song he did earlier in his career with King Crimson, called "Heartbeat". This song, as a testament to Belew's skill as a musician, is nearly identical to Crimson's version. "Looking for a UFO" is a charming little pop song, reminiscent of something John Lennon might do. The song is rather touching, as Belew sings about hoping that something, anything, will "help us clean up our mess". After this comes a cover of a Traveling Wilburys song, which Roy Orbison originally sang, called "Not Alone Anymore". Again, as a testament to Belew's skill as a studio musician, with the exception of the vocals, this song is nearly identical to the Wilbury's version.
After that comes one of my favorite songs ever written by Belew, "Men in Helicopters". This song is one of the first in a series of environmentally-themed songs Belew would write. While the tone of the song is mostly upbeat, Belew delivers one of his most emotional and biting vocal deliveries to date. Also impressive is the "whale song" guitar solo.
"Small World" is another catchy pop song where Belew reminisces about his past, while "Phone Call From the Moon" is a lonely sounding sci-fi song about an astronaut who misses his family. The album closes with "Gunman", another duet with David Bowie. Again, Belew plays the role of the "stunt guitarist" as he did earlier on the album, but this song has a much more darker and cerebral feel to it.
Granted, Young Lions might not be the most progressive album Adrian Belew ever did, but it is one of his strongest, and most upbeat. Unfortunately, Belew's discs are not that readily available in most shops, but the fact that this was a major label release means that there are a lot of copies floating about. So if you were unable to find Lone Rhino on LP or Japanese Import CD, or Op Zop Too Wah, I would recommend Young Lions, but regardless, I would recommend this album anyways. Adrian Belew's music does nothing but make you feel good!