In 1980, when I bought Second Edition—originally released in a metal canister as Metal Box in 1979—I enthusiastically played it for my friend Keith Fillmore, whose observation was, “I would not buy this!” It isn’t for everyone, obviously, but I think it is a brilliant record that’s totally smothered in innovative, adventurous, and inventive guitar work by Keith Levene.
On the track, “Poptones,” for example, Levene employs sadistically raw, open-string major-7 arpeggios that recall “Midnight Cowboy” played with a velvet ice-pick. For “Albatross,” he produces cinematic jangles enhanced by the metallic sound of his aluminum-neck Travis Bean guitar. His innovative voicings—which venture from strangely beautiful to extremely dissonant—still sound jarring and captivating to my ears today. I believe The Edge was greatly influenced by the underrated Levene, and I wonder if Andy Summers was listening, as well.
Second Edition was unlike anything I had heard before, and I loved how it stubbornly disregarded commercial ambitions. The album continues to be one of the most highly influential records in my guitar life. Levene taught me to take full advantage of the freedom one-key vamps offer by stretching the harmony into a bold, unique, and unrestrained statement. You can hear Levene’s influence on my own tracks, “I’ve Got Blisters on My Fingers” (from 2010’s Orange) and “Heaven Is Creepy” (from 2014’s Dream Dictionary).