I don't much care for masturbatory guitar virtuosos. You can play really fast, Mr. Van Halen? So? What really matters is the guitarist's ability to integrate with other instruments and -- in the case of Adrian Belew -- go completely off into left field, then come back still grinning a nerdy grin.
He has worked with everybody -- Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, King Crimson -- but he's also had a fun (but slightly spotty) solo career. He's an accomplished drummer and pianist, often playing most (if not all) his own instruments. He has a beautifully quirky personality that encompasses both joy and tragedy...though usually joy.
He's achieved massive critical and niche success, yes. But actual fame? Ironically, the closest he came to being a rock star was with a goofy pop song about how he'd been UNABLE to achieve stardom, despite working his butt off. A duet with his daughter, it illustrates Belew's "cute" side.
After the Belew-fronted incarnation of King Crimson toured with Tool they came back with a new sound (and album) that is decidedly NOT cute. Here's the meta-song, "Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With."
Albums to buy? Definitely Mr. Music Head (one of my favourite albums, BRILLIANT songwriting if can get past the aforementioned "Oh Daddy") and any one of his recent "side" albums (why not start with "Side One?") Avoid "Young Lions," his post-Music Head stab at stardom that today sounds too cheesy even for Belew. For fans only: Guitar as Orchestra. Sure he can make his guitar sound like an orchestra, but that doesn't mean he should.