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Adrian Belew – Lone Rhinoceros (90s – 96)

May 14, 2010

So what did I listen to in the early Nineties when I wasn’t listening to commerical radio? I’ve previously mentioned the decidedly non-classical Classic FM drive program, but the program was destined to be wound up due to being too popular. (I’m serious – the presenter was promoted to a non-music program.) My eager ears instead tuned to Radio National’s The Nightly Planet – a late night compendium of world and adult contemporary music playing partly the same artists. But the same station also provided a major leap in my musical knowledge, in the form of Tim Ritchie’s Sound Quality.

Sound Quality was just what I was after: a program of truly experimental music. Ritchie played electroncia, minimalism, ex-prog rockers, dub and general weirdness. As a presenter Ritchie was, and is, technically crap: he’d stumble over words, change sentences half way through, forget where he was up to and starting the wrong track.

However, his presenting style hardly mattered because for the first time I learnt a radio presenter could be engaging if they were interesting. At a time when commercial jocks were getting slicker but with less to say (even back announcing songs was disappearing), warbling Tim Ritchie was a talking encyclopedia.

So, for instance, it was from Ritchie I first heard of Adrian Belew. I learned Belew once played with Talking Heads, whose chart songs I already knew, plus King Crimson and Frank Zappa, both already my to-listen list.

With such an introduction, an acoustic “Lone Rhinoceros” was not what I expected on a program of beats and glitches. “Rhino” was originally an electric rock song recorded on Belew’s 1982 solo debut. Just over a decade later, he re-recorded it on The Acoustic Adrian Belew. Stripped down, bare, simply guitar and voice, Belew’s tale of a zoo’s resident/inmate sent shivers up my spine. That he could use the word faeces with a straight face gave the song soul and the zoo soulessness.

At the time I was mostly interested in instrumental music as an escape from the awfulness of early Nineties pop. Belew taught me the song could be just as emotionally affecting as any piece of funk or jazz. For his part, Ritchie placed the tune alongside current experimental music as if challenging listeners to deny the song form didn’t belong. It belonged, of course, and still does.

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