It’s a heartening story. Adrian Belew has rasped and wailed, sometimes weirdly, as a guitarist for David Bowie, Talking Heads, and King Crimson, not to mention his own cult band, the Bears. But he also has made four solo albums — and now with his fifth he has found his own secure voice.
It’s not necessarily a distinctive singing voice. Belew can sound like both Bowie and David Byrne. Nor is he always a distinctive songwriter; his music jumps from style to style. The title cut sounds vaguely like latter-day Talking Heads (complete with busy, quasi-African beat); a song called ”Looking for a U.F.O.” sounds like a ’60s pop pastiche, the Beach Boys crossed with the Supremes.
But against all odds, Young Lions sounds refreshing, even sweet. It sounds that way even when Belew’s virtuosity reigns unchecked: Thanks to the miracle of overdubbing, he plays not just guitar, but also bass, drums, and nearly every other instrument heard on the album. He sounds centered; his characteristic wackiness has been transmuted into uncomplicated yearning. Even his UFO song is really about his hope that someday — though we may need aliens to teach us — we’ll learn to run our world better.
Belew also sings love songs that, in some world slightly more twisted than ours, conceivably might be called pop. Then, just when you think you’ve heard everything, he soars like Roy Orbison, arching with no strain at all, through the refrain that Orbison sang in the Traveling Wilburys’ ”Not Alone Anymore.”
The best Bowie imitation on the album is staged by Bowie himself, who shares vocal and writing credits for two songs. One, ”Pretty Pink Rose,” lends Belew some helpful grit. The other, ”Gunman,” which closes the album, sounds like a grim outtake from Bowie’s own most recent record, the heartless Tin Machine. Up to then, Young Lions had been anything but heartless. ”Gunman” drags it momentarily — but only momentarily — down.