The Bears: The Bears (1987)

Recently dusted this little baby off for the first time in years, and was reminded what an odd (yet delightfully entertaining) curio it is.

The Bears were an on-again/off-again alternative pop band co-fronted by Adrian Belew. And this, their debut, is certainly not what one would have expected at the time from a Belew-related project. Belew was best known initially as the wickedly inventive guitarist who supported acts like Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, and David Bowie, before joining with Robert Fripp to helm the early 80s revival of King Crimson. When that iteration of Crimson imploded after three albums, he joined up with some local Ohio guys he'd done some production work for and formed the Bears.

Far from the flashy guitar acrobatics and modern prog with which Belew had been associated, the Bears' debut is far more straightforward (yet edgy) power pop, albeit with a heavily of-the-moment post-new-wave strain. The latter is both a plus and a minus; it makes the album feel a little more ambitious than the modest pop music it probably was at heart, but also gives the album a dated, gated-drums-dominated sound that can be stand-offish today. But if you're willing to indulge that '80s production, it's actually a ton of surprisingly light-hearted fun. While Belew sings and adds his distinctive guitars, the songwriting, vocal and guitar duties are shared, giving it a more full-band feel than a Belew side gig. And the songs sound a lot more like, say, the Police or Duran Duran (or even some XTC) than King Crimson.

"Fear Is Never Boring" is a terrific shoulda-been-a-huge-hit single, alone making the band more than just an historical footnote. But other tunes, notably "Honey Bee," "Raining," and "Figure It Out," are perfectly respectable modern pop songs with just enough eccentricity to make them memorable. So, yeah, a lot of this sounds (at least sonically) like fodder for the montage scene in a bad '80s film, but the songs themselves are tuneful, clever and smile-inducingly enjoyable.

Here's an audio rip of "Honey Bee":
Here's a live take on "Fear Is Never Boring":
...and a live "Figure It Out":

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