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|Main Category:||Prog Rock|
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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a King Crimson fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective King Crimson fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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If prog rock ever lied at least a pair of miles away from your interests, you're simply bound to get at least a couple of King Crimson albums (and one of them certainly got to be In The Court Of The Crimson King), just because listening to a King Crimson album is like listening to the very soul of progressive rock. Here was a group that managed to get away with writing totally de-personalized music - music that didn't seem to come from anybody in particular and didn't belong to anyone in particular. If we're speaking of de-personalized music, Pink Floyd is usually the most obvious candidate that comes to mind. But Pink's lack of human identity was totally artificial, caused by Roger Waters' dislike of the musical press more than of anything else. The actual music was always highly personal, especially the later albums. Same goes for most of the Reverends of art and prog rock - Jon and Ian Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Greg Lake, all of these guys were great but, dang it, they were guys, with their own worlds and psychologies.King Crimson, on the other hand, was a band in the pure sense of the word - despite its 'revolving door' structure. Come to think of it, definitely because of the revolvin' door structure! Robert Fripp was their musical 'director', but he wasn't much of a composer - his only principle seems to have always been that of putting the music before the composer. And this is the only moment that unites all of King Crimson - from the silly, lightweight pre-Crimson Giles, Giles & Fripp and right to their last crazy sonic experimentations of the Nineties. You might accuse King Crimson of pretentiousness, pomposity, complexity for the sake of complexity and everything, but 'self-indulgence' is the only of the standard epithets that sounds somewhat lame when applied to King Crimson music - because it has no 'self'. It's totally abstract, personality-free, soulless, if I might say so. Even Yes didn't go that far. Maybe it has something to do with jazz music as one of the band's strongest influences: I've always thought of middle and late period jazz as highly esoteric, 'restricted' music with little spiritual filler but a lot of undeserved gall, and the same can be really said of King Crimson. However, they're actually better - sometimes, because the band never felt itself as restricted as even the most professional and talented jazz players; King Crimson have changed quite a lot of images throughout their career. Of course, there's also a bad side to this lack of face: much too often, the band engages in boring 'art for art' sequences, resulting in the fact that, along with some of the greatest rock moments, they are also responsible for some of its most unbearable ones: whereas Fripp always thrived to be at the front line and would soak in any new influences, he was, and still is, always famous for also disregarding the conventional rules of melody to such an extent that quite a solid batch of the band's catalog can only be accessible to real diehards. But at least their tenure is totally unique among prog rockers, and if you can't help hating art rock but would like to be able to cure yourself of your attitude, King Crimson is the best candidate for you. It's unfortunate that the band never really had any big financial success (as far as I know, their debut album is their only serious sell-out); on the other hand, it saved their music from being overplayed and you can't diss them like you diss your Dark Side Of The Moon - that is, the only reason being 'I'm sick to death of it'... Lineup: this one's gonna be tough, 'cause the 'classic', Seventies' King Crimson rarely made two albums in a row with the same band members. Here I'll just state that King Crimson grew out of the 'triumvirate' of Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron; the father and musical soul of the band at all times), Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass); they joined together in 1967 and released a flop album in late 1968 (I have it and I'm even reviewing it here). After that, Peter Giles quit, replaced by Greg Lake (bass, vocals) and Ian McDonald (sax, keyboards); Peter Sinfield, the most famous lyricist in all the prog world, also became a legitimate member, probably along the pattern of Procol Harum's Keith Reid. And I'll stop right here, because I just wouldn't want to bug you with all the innumerable line-up changes; I'll confine these to the actual album reviews. All you need to know is that there are at least three main King Crimson incarnations: the 'classical-progressive' 1969-1972 King Crimson (although even that one changed beyond recognition), the 'jazz-hard' 1973-1975 King Crimson (a totally different band with a totally different style) and the 'New Wave' King Crimson that originated in 1981 and featured Adrian Belew as one of its main attractions. This last incarnation of King Crimson has recently resurfaced almost intact (in 1994) and still hangs around from time to time; I suppose we'll be hearing more from these guys in centuries to come, not counting, of course, all the innumerable archive releases they keep on issuing.
Listenability: 3/5. A
very hard choice - since KC's music is so different, the amount of listenability
fluctuates from highly accessible (Discipline) to completely unlistenable
(THRaKaTTaK). Still, there are enough solid albums in the catalog
to bring it up to a 3.
Resonance: 2/5. Fripp has always been more interested in 'exploring sonic patterns' than in linking them with actual emotional states, but when King Crimson rock, they blow you away, and when they balladeer... they blow you away.
Originality: 5/5. Even those who hate the band will have to agree with me on that one. They invented the classic brand of progressive rock, remember?
Adequacy: 4/5. One point off for the horrendous lyrics of Pete Sinfield, but otherwise, these guys are serious and they can back it up.
Diversity: 4/5. So many incarnations, so many styles tried out. Does 'Epitaph' sound anything like 'Red' or 'Thela Hun Ginjeet'?
Overall: 3.6 = B on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13
The best (and the first) in overproduced, epic prog rock. If you don't have this record, your knowledge is truly feeble.Best song: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN
Track listing: 1) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 2) I Talk To The Wind; 3) Epitaph; 4) Moonchild; 5) The Court Of The Crimson King.
The trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp (see the review of their only album in the Appendix) happily dissolved after their weird, almost crazy album flopped badly, but this actually led only to the departure of Peter Giles; brother Michael and friend Robert somehow stayed together. Even so, the change of direction was incredible: Cheerful Insanity didn't offer us even a single hint at what they'd become in just about a year. That record was funny, almost hilarious, displayed a typical British-style optimism and was also highly eclectic - I think I've mentioned the immense variety of style. This one is sad, almost tragic, displaying a sort of bitter Medieval pessimism, and is all dominated by sweeping, mastodontic arrangements of a cathartic character. In the whole history of rock music there's never been witnessed such a radical change of direction.Oh, okay, this is not Giles, Giles & Fripp, really. Three factors contribute to the general sound of the record, all three of them people, all three - new members of the band, now called King Crimson for sure. Ian McDonald brings us the new musical sound of the band - his keyboards, Mellotron, saxes and woodwinds dominate the tunes, bringing them a grandeur previously unheard of. Greg Lake brings us The Voice - being one of the most powerful male singers in rock, he emphasizes that grandeur and makes the theatrical, artificial songs almost come alive. Finally, Peter Sinfield brings us the Lyrics - meaningless, but fascinating half-fairy tale, half-Tolkien-inspired images that fit in with the music one hundred percent. On top of that, add Fripp's manic guitar and Michael Giles' precise and tasteful drumming, the glimpses of which we already witnessed on the previous record, and you get yourself a masterpiece. In fact, if King Crimson had never recorded anything but the opening track on the album, '21st Century Schizoid Man', they would still earn themselves an eternal place in the pantheon. Written, sung, and played with a staggering level of brilliancy, it is one of the most powerful apocalyptic songs in rock. The lyrics are good, and Lake manages to sing them with enough venom to be convincing; moreover, his voice is encoded by some kind of electronic gadget that makes it all the more scaring (I must add, though, that even the clear, untampered with vocals, as heard in concert on Epitaph, are just as captivating). The main rhythm track, booming and crashing, rivals the Who in volume and power; and the lengthy instrumental passage in the middle (called 'Mirrors') is simply awesome. It borrows a lot of elements from jazz, mostly courtesy of McDonald's Mellotron, but they rock; and Fripp's Hendrix-style soloing also fits the song well. Along with Genesis' 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight' and a couple Jethro Tull tunes, this is my favourite creation in the whole prog rock genre. The other tracks don't fall short of the standard, though, because the record manages to contain all of my Top Three King Crimson songs. The beautiful, oh so incredibly beautiful 'Epitaph' beats lots of classical music chef-d'aeuvres for the title of 'The Grandiose Epic', and it features Lake's most stunning vocal delivery on the whole album. Of course, you might also consider it highly theatrical and insincere, but who cares? This was the first true prog rock album in the full sense of the word; are we speaking sincerity when we deal with prog rock albums? Certainly not. So forget that and just let yourself be swept away by this 'storm of emotions'; and the opening guitar notes (are these guitar notes?) are just as moving as Eric Clapton's solo on 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' (which is a very high compliment, in case you doubt it). Finally, the title track, the most 'pretentious' one on the album, is just as good, this time punctuated by the band's celestial vocal harmonies. Who is the 'crimson king', I wonder, and why does the song activate visions of some kind of underwater fairy kingdom in my mind? Anyway, that's the good thing about Sinfield lyrics: they always mean something different to everybody. Which means they don't mean anything, of course, but that's just a game, isn't it? Yup. The song is fantastic. Finally, we have the ultra-overblown, almost ridiculously so, artsy ballad 'I Talk To The Wind'; its pomposity and almost sickening flatulence used to drive me crazy, but since then I've come to realize that the melody is awesome. I just don't pay much attention to the lyrics. Try to imagine it's a love ballad, for Chrissake, and you'll be able to enjoy it as much as I do. The only mishit on the album is another ballad, the deceiving 'Moonchild': it starts close in style to 'I Talk To The Wind', but later on is transformed into a dull, avantgarde collage of keyboard noises that seems to drag on forever. Maybe it was inspired by Pink Floyd's experiments on Ummagumma? Even so, these guys, unlike Pink Floyd, never knew where to stop: 'Moonchild' is, funny enough, the longest track on record. To tell you the truth, I should have deprived it of one point for this load of dreary crap. But I won't. Just because the other songs are so darn incredible. No wonder it made the band big stars overnight, and they were never able to top their effort - neither artistically nor commercially. Ah, but that don't matter, really. The record still holds up as one of the most monumental, important and enjoyable creations of prog rock, and this is certainly the most natural and evident place to start with King Crimson. If you don't have this record, you basically... never mind. Just think how much impact the record must have had in 1969. Virtually, it spurred all of the major prog rock bands - ELP, Yes, and Genesis among them - to further and unexplored heights. But few of these further records were able to beat the original.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1997Record rating = 7
A good archive release, if a little excessive; still, these live recordings are all inferior to the studio ones.Best song: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN (all three of 'em)
Track listing: CD I: 1) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 2) In The Court Of The Crimson King; 3) Get Thy Bearings; 4) Epitaph; 5) A Man A City; 6) Epitaph; 7) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 8) Mantra; 9) Travel Weary Capricorn; 10) Improv - Travel Weary Capricorn; 11) Mars.CD II: 1) In The Court Of The Crimson King; 2) Drop In; 3) A Man A City; 4) Epitaph; 5) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 6) Mars.
King Crimson probably hold the second place after the Grateful Dead with the number of releases 'from the vaults'. As of this review's time of writing, this is one of the more recent of those, dealing with a number of shows from December 1969, when the band was still touring in its original lineup. The version I have is the regular one that comes on two CD's; however, as far as I know, diehards can get a 4-CD box by ordering it directly from Fripp's company (no, I don't know the address). A good strategy, this: on one hand, it eliminates the need for bootlegs, on the other hand, record companies get their money's worth. Everybody's happy. Fine album title, too, although I don't think it reflects the actual state of things about the current King Crimson whose band members are still together (sometimes). Maybe that's an 'epitaph' for the McDonald-Giles-Lake incarnation of the band? Well, then it's about twenty-eight years late...As you might guess, this 2-CD set includes mostly selections from the band's debut LP. Moreover, since there are several shows (one from New York's Fillmore East and two from San Francisco's Fillmore West, including what might have been the original band's last live show), plus a couple recordings from BBS Radio Sessions, most of these selections get reprised two or even three times - there are two 'Courts Of The Crimson King' and three 'Epitaphs' and '21st Century Schizoid Men'. However, there are quite a few different goodies: an early version of 'Pictures Of A City' (here called 'A Man, A City'); some Greg Lake vocal showcases ('Get Thy Bearings', 'Drop In'); some jazz improvisations ('Travel Weary Capricorn'); and a war march ('Mars'). If you ask my opinion, I'd say that the first disc is pretty much excessive (and I don't even mention the two additional discs in the care of the record company). I usually prefer to concentrate on disc two - the complete second show at Fillmore West, which has all the three epics from In The Court Of The Crimson King, plus 'Drop In', 'A Man A City' and 'Mars'. Why? Because the first disc has all the same things (except for 'Drop In'), some of them in very bad sound quality (the radio versions hiss and crackle too much for my ears), and the only things that aren't featured on disc 2 is the stupid 'Travel Weary Capricorn', the only groovy thing about which is that they reproduce the Spanish guitar line that connects 'Wild Honey Pie' to 'The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill', otherwise it ain't impressive; and yet another jazz-rock improvisation 'Get Thy Bearings', with a brief, but good, but inessential Greg Lake vocal and a lot of elementary sax/bass noodling that you can get in spades on any other album. So let's talk about the second San Francisco show. I'd say that the band doesn't sound as polished live as it does in the studio. Of course, the music is extremely complex and very hard to play, and we have to give them credit for what they're doing. And yet, they stumble and make errors much too often for these records to match the originals - when I compare the prowess of this incarnation with later ones, such as heard on USA or Absent Lovers, the inferiority of the playing is fairly obvious. Michael Giles' drumming, so immaculate in the studio, sounds especially flat and annoying (although I suppose it's also due to acoustic reasons), and even the Mellotron isn't as fascinating as it used to be - McDonald never achieved such precision on stage as in the studio. It also sometimes seems that some of the songs, especially the lengthy improvisations, are played with the special aim of displaying McDonald's talents as a keyboard/sax player, and this sometimes gets tedious, even unbearable (like on the excruciatingly long mid section of 'A Man A City'). However, Fripp's guitar playing and Lake's singing are immaculate, and Lake aptly demonstrates his talents on the wonderful 'Drop In' (an anti-drug song, I suppose, although I don't have the lyrics). '21st Century Schizoid Man' goes off fine - they lose it on some of the faster jazzy sections, but Greg manages to preserve and even double the energy level without encoding his voice. 'A Man, A City' features a terrific jazz riff, being a worthy successor of 'Schizoid Man', so I'm even able to forgive the lengthy Mellotron doodling in the middle of the tune. And the dreary, ominous cover of Holst's 'Mars' is one of the most frightening interplanetary odes I ever heard. It's kinda hard to sit through these ten minutes of 'doo-doo-doom doo-doo-doo-doom doom doo-doo-doom', but just take a listen to it in headphones and I'll be damned if you don't remember the experience for eternity: the atmosphere is gripping and increasingly fascinating as they mount a mathematically precise 'climactic' tension that can only be compared to a similar 'calculation' in Pink Floyd's 'Careful With That Axe Eugene'. In short, just a good album. And hey, maybe it's really stupid to complain about the sound and the rough playing. That's what you should be expecting from such a record, right? So it's probably not their faults if they couldn't get all their complex equipment to function correctly before the BBC micorphones. On the other hand, it's nice to hear these flawless, but soulless studio recordings come to life on stage, even if they're a bit sloppy. Still, don't bother about buying this if you're not a diehard - get the studio record instead. If you're wild about it, don't hesitate to grab this one: three more versions of '21 Century Schizoid Man'! Ain't that close to a real schizoid paradise?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Still first class, just a little too similar in tone to the first record without being groundbreaking.Best song: PICTURES OF A CITY
Track listing: 1) Peace - A Beginning; 2) Pictures Of A City; 3) Cadence And Cascade; 4) In The Wake Of Poseidon; 5) Peace - A Theme; 6) Cat Food; 7) The Devil's Triangle; 8) Peace - An End.
One of the most confused albums in the whole history of King Crimson, this was recorded not exactly in the wake of Poseidon, rather in the wake of McDonald's and Giles' departure from the band. The latter might not have been exactly tragic since Giles was never an extremely prolific drummer, but the loss of McDonald was truly a terrible blow for the band that lost its Mellotron soul and main songwriting talent. Okay, so the Mellotron wasn't exactly lost: Fripp took over the instrument and in the process created the image of a whacked multi-instrumentalist picking the guitar with one hand and tapping the keyboards with the other. However, McDonald's songwriting was a somewhat harder task to replace, and this is where Fripp lost the battle.Another blow was Greg Lake's sudden decision to quit the band and join ELP in the middle of the recording sessions. Thankfully, he decided to fulfil his obligations by faithfully helping old friend Bob with both the bass parts and, more importantly, the singing: all of the tracks but one feature Greg's beautiful voice, and only 'Cadence And Cascade' showcases his replacement, Gordon Haskell. Other replacements include Mel Collins on sax and flute and Keith Tippet on piano; old friend Peter Giles helped on base, and Michael Giles still filled in on drums, although this would be his last appearance with the band. Not that it matters - the sooner you bring in Bill Bruford, the better. Okay, the songs. If you heard Epitaph before this one (which, strange enough, happens to be my case), you'll be glad to discover some old numbers. 'Pictures Of A City' is the same as 'A Man, A City', for one, and it sounds infinitely better in the studio than it did live: the band is well-oiled, the booming verses rock almost as hard as '21st Century Schizoid Man', and the crazy middle part is overwhelming, although the best part about the song is still the famous jazz riff that introduces the song. I still regard it as one of King Crimson's finest creations. 'The Devil's Triangle' is a re-write of 'Mars' with a little more complicated arrangement. It is said to feature three different parts, but they're not that different really, except for an unexpected change of time signature in the second half of the composition. As you might expect, it also superates the live version, and the level of consternation it produces is immeasurable, with all these creepy synth noises imitating... imitating what? An attack by aliens, I guess? Whatever, it's just a great song, tons better than anything Yes could ever hope to produce. The other compositions are new, but they're okay. There's a 'I Talk To The Wind'-style ballad - 'Cadence And Cascade', with horrendously stupid lyrics set to a nice, luxuriant, piano-laden melody. It might be deemed a little too pop sounding for King Crimson, but hey, let us not forget that 'prog rock' rarely sounds like 'rock', all of these Yes and Genesis and even Pink Floyd tunes are more 'pop' than 'rock', partly due to the domination of keyboards. In fact, this King Crimson stuff generally rocks much harder than the other prog rock bands, just because Fripp rarely let the guitar be overshadowed by other instruments. So why shouldn't 'Cadence And Cascade' sound poppy? It's a good song. The single 'Cat Food', on the other hand, is a rock song, dominated by weird avantgarde dissonant piano bursts and Lake's eerie shouting that is strangely similar to his style on early ELP records. Well, why strangely? Early ELP records belong to the same time period. The lyrics are dumb just as well, but who cares? They have been written by Pete Sinfield. That said, I'd like to prattle a little about the title track. Essentially it's just an inferior rewrite of 'Epitaph' because the melody's just the same; the main difference is that it's a bit louder, with synths and Mellotrons complementing Lake's lilting vocals where they were mostly silent on 'Epitaph'. The lyrics are also inferior; 'Epitaph' at least boasted great lines like 'the wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams', this one mostly has lines like 'Plato's spawn cold ivyed eyes snare truth in bone and globe' (Jon Anderson, let's shake hands). So you could just consider it a ripped-off step down the stairs. And yet, it has a charm of its own that's lacking on 'Epitaph'. The synths give it a more classical feel, and there's a certain grandeur, once again, which Yes could never attain, maybe because this one is more structured, well-cared-for and just more listener-friendly. I enjoy it as hell, and so should you. Fripp might not be a great songwriter, but he certainly can monkey other people's ideas with a lot of verve, and God bless him for that. The only slight letdown on the album, in fact (if you forget about the fact that at times the whole record seems like a pale shadow of In The Court), are the three reprises of 'Peace', the really pretentious one. 'I am the ocean lit by the flame, I am the mountain, peace is my name'. It mostly features Lake singing accapella, and this only makes the song more nauseating. Still, these reprises are short, and they rarely spoil the overall experience. A great, great album - yes, a big rewrite of the band's debut in general, but at least the melodies are different and at least they don't play in the AC/DC style. Get it!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 4
Rock is gone, long live pretentious pseudo-classicism! As bleak and tedious as only can be.Best song: CIRKUS
Track listing: 1) Cirkus; 2) Indoor Games; 3) Happy Family; 4) Lady Of The Dancing Water; 5) Lizard.
One of King Crimson's main features was a constant change of sound, sometimes over a period of two or three albums, sometimes in the course of one recording session. Reason? No other reason than a constant come-and-go in the studio. This one already features Gordon Haskell as the regular bass player/singer, Keith Tippet and Mel Collins have asserted their constant status, and Andy McCulloch is recruited on drums. Surrounded by this company, Fripp has radically shifted the band's sound from 'jazz' to 'classical', although the saxes and tinkling bar pianos still have a prominent part. However, this was probably the worst shift in the whole history of the band leading to its arguably worst album. By totally dropping the groovy hard rock elements of 'Schizoid Man' and 'Pictures Of A City' and refusing the 'epic' style of 'Epitaph' and 'In The Wake Of Poseidon', King Crimson have suddenly become something that Yes would become in a couple of years, only with worse musicianship and far fewer musical ideas than Close To The Edge. True, technically speaking Lizard is an advance over the style the band found itself stuck on with In The Wake Of Poseidon - this doesn't sound like a carbon copy of their debut record. But the shift was clearly made from 'epic' to 'avantgarde', and where earliest Crimson pictured flashing majestic panoramas, Lizard just paints a big question mark, despite the ambitious song titles.The melodies are getting more and more complicated, so that their debut album already sounds like children's games compared to this one. But complicacy doesn't mean beauty: much too often it seems to me that the band was just absent-mindedly jamming in the studio and stuffing the record with any sound sequences that seemed to have at list a tiny bit of cohesiveness. The instrumentation is deadly dull: Fripp's guitar is usually buried deep down under the pianos, flutes and Mellotron, and these sound tired and flat as well. Even if he did manage to get over 'Cadence And Cascade' on the last record, Gordon Haskell eventually turns out to be a horrible singer, at least when put next to Lake: apparently the band soon became aware of the fact as well - which resulted in Haskell's leaving the band before it even had a chance to tour the album. Even on the album itself, they often do a lot of tricks to mask Haskell's lack of good voice: 'Dawn Song' is almost uncomfortably quiet, 'Happy Family' has Haskell's voice encoded by goofy electronic effects that sound totally murky and cacophonic, unlike the far superior experience with Lake's voice on 'Schizoid Man' (which proves that electronic encoding only enhances the power of a truly powerful voice and makes a disgusting voice sound even more disgusting), and 'Prince Rupert Awakes' even has a guest star - none other than Jon Anderson himself. It's no coincidence, in fact: I already said that this is the most Yesish-sounding album in Fripp's entire career. As for the actual songs, only one has something close to a memorable melody, which is the album opener, 'Cirkus'. Sinfield's lyrics are at least three thousand miles below 'monstrous' (another major flaw of the album: the lyrics throughout don't have the least sense or even cohesiveness, once again bringing Jon Anderson to mind), but the song itself is somewhat pretty in its eeriness, and the short, but heavy guitar/Mellotron interludes between verses are one of the few moments of genuine majesty on the album. However, the three other songs on side 1 don't go anywhere at all. 'Indoor Games' is a vague lightweight imitation of 'Pictures Of A City', but it has none of the elements that made the latter so ear-pleasing: it's quiet, slow, and so dang monotonous it makes me wanna go to sleep on the spot. Perhaps it's Haskell's sore throat that irritates me so much, but I have yet to hear this sung by a more skilful singer to convince me of the song's worthiness. 'Happy Family' is essentially a jam with the already-mentioned electronic Haskell vocals (one of the worst examples of voice encoding in my life, in fact). And the short, but totally unsubstantial ballad 'Lady Of The Dancing Water' is certainly no 'I Talk To The Wind'. Darn it, it's not even 'Cadence And Cascade'. The second side is even more bloodcurdling - in a certain sense. It is entirely occupied with one lengthy, multi-part suite - namely, 'Lizard' (there we go with these early Seventies' sidelong songs again). Starts off fine: 'Prince Rupert Awakes', even if it is sung by Anderson, is just a standard, catchy pop song, a significant piece of relief after the brain-muddling pseudo-classical bullshit of the first side. Unfortunately, that's only about four and a half minutes of the whole side. The rest is mostly dominated by more lengthy instrumental jams, centered around Fripp's Mellotron and trying to sound pompous and awesome - but ultimately failing. A couple of moments here and there might seem attractive, but these are just small drops in a sea of boredom. What composer they were trying to rip off is beyond me, since I'm not a big specialist in classical music, but whoever he was, he wasn't very good at his job. I do admit that 'Prince Rupert's Lament' is kinda atmospheric, though, and for some strange reason 'Big Top', the final short bit of the whole piece, is structured as a... as a dissonant waltz speeding up with the 'chewn tape' effect in the end. A funny, if a bit retarded, hoot. Funny how both sides of the album start out promisingly and then only degenerate more and more. Anyway, skip this album if you're a big fan of '21st Century Schizoid Man'. However, if you're a diehard prog worshipper that feeds daily on listening to 'Karn Evil 9' and 'Close To The Edge', this might be just for you. You're warned.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971Record rating = 5
At least this time the pretentious pseudo-classicism is pretty. It works on the ear-wobbly level.Best song: SONG OF THE GULLS
Track listing: 1) Formentera Lady; 2) Sailor's Tale; 3) The Letters; 4) Ladies Of The Road; 5) Prelude: Song Of The Gulls; 6) Islands.
Another year, another line-up: Gordon Haskell is gone forever (let us not lament the fact) and is replaced by Boz Burrell, or simply Boz, on bass and vocals. Why was it so that every Sixties/Seventies King Crimson line-up had the bassist singing up there? Idle question, but fact is, Boz ain't much better than Haskell, and it's a good thing he stayed for one and one album only - the last one of the First Crimson Epoch. Another replacement is Ian Wallace on drums, and Keith Tippett is only marked as a 'featured player'.The album itself continues Fripp's careful progression as a composer - he's the only songwriter on the whole album, with Sinfield contributing the lyrics, as usual. Apparently not quite satisfied with the sound of Lizard, he decided to get even weirder on the album, combining his classical excourses with unlimited avantgardism and sound experiments that on a technical level probably were innovative for his time, but on the practical side they rather belonged to 1967 with its 'every noise that hasn't been put on a record before is art' principle. The result is a total and absolute commercial and artistic failure, as you might suggest? Well... mostly so. To start with, the first seventeen minutes of the album don't offer us even a single truly effective musical idea (and that's most of the first side, if you're bad with numbers!) 'Formentera Lady' starts as a mellow, sentimental ballad with an uninteresting, but pleasant melody, like another 'Moonchild' or something from the barrel, but in just a few minutes it is transformed into a horrible, head-splitting atonal mess with multiple off-key choir vocalists and God only knows what else they managed to insert there to make it even more unlistenable. But just as you're ready to take a large breath and say 'it's all over', you get carried away into the seven-minute long 'Sailor's Tale' (an instrumental, contrary to its name), that makes you sit through seven more minutes of the same stuff, the only slightly entertaining moment being a bizarre Fripp guitar solo that doesn't get me clap my hands and stomp my feet in ecstasy, of course, but at least pretends to have some musical value. This is one of the most universally hated King Crimson products of the epoch, and I sincerely believe that most people who diss it totally just haven't had the nerve to sit through the entire album after that seventeen-minute long torture. A pity, this, because it really gets better later on. There are four more songs on the album, after all! And it looks to me like they decided to shove all the experimental garbage upfront and leave the good stuff as a tasty bone for good doggies that managed to get over the psychological shock. If I had the opportunity to give these two parts of the album two different ratings, I'd give the first part a 2 (thanks to that Fripp solo) and the second part an 8 or even a 9, because some of the numbers are dang beautiful. First of all, there's Fripp's wonderful 'Prelude: Song Of The Gulls', a pure classical composition that could have maybe suited even Vivaldi were he to ever wander into Fripp's recording studio one summer day. I know, of course, that most classical compositions written to rockers are usually shameless rip-offs, but even so, they're often talented rip-offs, and 'Song Of The Gulls' is one of the most talented rip-offs. A couple of rockers, on the other hand, diversify the atmosphere so that it doesn't sound like 'The Symphonic Music Of King Crimson' or anything like that. Here I must state that Sinfield is the one that amazes me most of all on the album: he suddenly turns away from hallucinogenous, meaningless, pseudo-epic word combinations, and pens a couple of truly clever, although certainly not 'progressive', texts. 'The Letters' is a tale of two women battling over one man with quite unpredictable results (see for yourself), and it's a good one; and 'Ladies Of The Road', the most harsh song on the album, deals with the roadies and their, er, kinda immoral relations with band members. I don't know whether Sinfield wrote of his own experiences or he just created an abstract picture, but that's none of my business, I just like the song that rocks almost as hard as anything they did before. Finally, the closing title track, another nine-minute suite, has none of the band's current experimental chaff: it's just a keyboards/horns-driven ballad with charming lyrical imagery and a gentle, oh so gentle and lovin' melody. Unsubstantial? Sure, but why does everything have to be substantial? You can just relax to the song and let yourself be carried away to some imaginary island of yours. The horns at the end are absolutely gorgeous, I say, and you gotta believe me. Here's a song that a band like, say, Yes, could never have imagined just because it would sound much too simple and naive for them. (Instead, they prefer feeding us on trash like 'Siberian Khatru!' Oops, sorry there, just a little humorous tease for loyal Yes fans.) Great, if only they could get Lake to sing the song instead of Boz... So you know, I'm just a little bit puzzled-over-dee-dee, over this album, because I can't really say whether the total breakdown of this first King Crimson 'movement' was a good or a bad thing. They could really do some good music, even in this state, and even with Fripp as main songwriter. Then again - bring on the Bruford/Wetton line-up for the more acknowledged musical triumphs. Then again, maybe not.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972Record rating = 2
Dumb collection of bad quality freestyle jazz improvisations: no worse choice could have made for their first live album.Best song: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN
Track listing: 1) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 2) Peoria; 3) The Sailor's Tale; 4) Earthbound; 5) Groon.
This, no doubt, is the strangest item in the rich King Crimson catalog. A live album released in 1972 to commemorate the Collins/Wallace/Burrell lineup, it is out of print now and only available in the States as an import copy or, nowadays, but not for long, in Russia as a pirated edition. I was extremely glad that I was able to snatch a copy, but now that I finally assimilated this piece of plastic, I'm really not as happy, and I fully understand why it is out of print and has even less chance to reappear on the market than the far superior USA (reviewed below).First of all, it's the sound quality. You know, I'm no sound quality lunatic. I don't go around putting down superbly written records just because the level of hiss on them is so great that you can faintly hear a few crackles on the highest volume level. I don't blame live records for crowd noises or anything like that; and I'm the least likely person to lower a record's rating just because an awesome melody was badly realised by an unskillful producer. But this is different. Most of this record sounds like it was recorded on a tiny tape recorder shoved deep down into the pocket of an audience member somewhere in the back rows (which it, more or less, was). The sound level jumps up and down all the time until your ears go totally berserk. The mix is horrendous - the drums overshadow everything else, so that Fripp's guitar is often left completely overboard. And this in 1972, when the recording techniques were, after all, significantly above the Live At The Hollywood Bowl level! Was this a joke or something? Okay, I can understand the fact that they could simply have no decent live recordings around; but that doesn't mean you have to throw all the bootleg-level crap you have hanging around on the market instead. Dumb. Still, maybe I could get over with it (after all, I've heard worse sound quality on a couple older live records), if not for the song selections. Apart from the opening track, which I'll deal with later, all of the selections are crap. The only 'old' composition is a short extract from 'Sailor's Tale', the one where the band has some atonal fun with the mellotron, so that even if it's not more than four minutes long, it's totally ear-destructive. The other three tracks are all new, and one could hope for something exciting and entertaining. Instead, both 'Peoria' and the title track turn out to be half-baked, clumsy jazz/funk jams with endless guitar/Mellotron/sax solos and improvised vocals and scat singing from Burrell who tries very hard to be the next Louis Armstrong but seemingly fails. Taken together with the fact that the overall sound quality is below acceptable, the numbers are plain nasty. Come on now, if I want to put on a good jazz record, I'll certainly stick to Armstrong or Ellington or anybody else, and if I want some good funk, I'll stick to Sly. There is just nothing, nothing at all to redeem the songs, particularly 'Peoria' which doesn't even feature much guitar at all - just a few erratic wah-wah riffs from Fripp that are rather conventional and never stunning. But even they pale in comparison to the horrendous, fifteen-minute audience-mockery on 'Groon'. Formerly available as a relatively short B-side to 'Cat Food', the song is here transformed into a two-part suite, whose first part represents yet another cacophonous jazz improvisation, culminating in an obligatory drum solo from Ian Wallace, and whose second part is an atonal mess fit only for a tone-deaf masochist. Looks like Fripp and Mel Collins just took some time to smash their instruments in a very painful and cruel way, while Wallace continued his drum solo while letting all the sounds pass through special electronic devices. Needless to say, this is an offense to my ears, my soul and my fingers as I type this review, and I thank the Lord that this particular Crimson lineup didn't really last that long. In all, I'd be ready to give the record a defiant 1, if not for one factor that redeems it. The record opens with such a kick-ass version of '21st Century Schizoid Man' that not commemorating its presence on the record with an up-pushing of the rating would seem a sacrilege. Sure, it's all poor sound quality, but if you get through that, you'll notice that Boz does a fantastic impersonating job, with his screeching, metallic vocals managing to almost overshadow Lake's voice (although the half-successful distortion of his vocals is just plain unnecessary), and Fripp plays some incredible, speedy, breath-taking solos (again, you have to almost dig them out from underneath the drums, but please do so). Before giving way back to the main melody, the band leads us through an entire series of furious climaxes which leave you breathless. Indeed, the record is worth owning for this track alone - many people consider it the definitive live version of 'Schizoid Man', and I can hardly find any counterarguments except for sound quality. Of course, nobody would shell out megabucks for an album with one good song; but if you see somebody throwing the CD out of the window, make sure you're standing under it, and you're guaranteed at least eleven minutes of pure thrill. Of course, if you're one of the S&M types, you'll get all forty-five minutes of it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973Record rating = 9
A fine, nearly perfect collection of experimental superprofessional jamming - like everything King Crimson did ever since.Best song: LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC PART TWO
Track listing: 1) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One; 2) Book Of Saturday; 3) Exiles; 4) Easy Money; 5) The Talking Drum; 6) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two.
I'm still a bit stumped as to what concerns this record (and most of the following ones, in fact). It presents a completely new King Crimson; in a certain way, one might even argue that not until Larks' Tongues In Aspic did Fripp find the stable formula for the band that would finally set it in a definite and unique niche of its own. Of course, this is partly due to the new lineup: ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford brings in a hard-hitting, polyrhythmic, precise style of drumming unsurpassed by anyone (yes, he plays drums better on the live 'Schizoid Man' than Giles could ever hope for!); new bassist John Wetton has a talent for songwriting and the strongest voice since the happy young days of Greg Lake; and violin/Mellotron player David Cross is at least highly distinctive. (The bizarre, eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir also plays on the album, but he left before it was even released, or at least before they started touring it; his wild stage antics have become a legend among Crimson fans, but he still remains a mystery to the somewhat less educated fan - like me). But this is only one part of the story.The other, the more important one, is that Sinfield is no longer a member of the band - at this point he quit and took the place of court lyricist for ELP (Brain Salad Surgery). And the new 'textwriter', Robert Palmer-James, doesn't really have a single chance to have any influence on the album. Because from now on the lyrics don't play any part on any King Crimson record. The band concentrates on the music - more than half of the album is purely instrumental, and the lyrics on the sung tunes are not only meaningless, they're even imageless, weak half-parodies on cumbersome prog ravings or bleak social critique ('Easy Money'). But nobody gives a damn. The band is now completely faceless, churning out one lengthy, hard-rockin', experimental jam after another. And probably the only two aims that they had while recording this album were a) making the music as complex and diverse-sounding as possible (like Yes) and b) giving the band members a chance to have as much self-indulgence as possible (like Yes! like Yes!) Still, I must say that I'd much rather listen to King Crimson's self-indulgence than to Yes self-indulgence. The reason is simple: King Crimson music might be just as convoluted and hard to digest, but at least it isn't pretentious. Yes did everything to put you on, to convince you that the things they did were 'high art' and 'mystical philosophy', while in reality it was little more than a fraud. Fripp, Wetton and Bruford just sit there and play their instruments. I'm not head over heels in love with the album, but at least I'm never offended by it, while I'm certainly offended by, say, Tales From Topographic Oceans which invite me to not just enjoy the music (which I don't), but to give in to the music, to feel cathartic about it. Yes want you to break your head while meditating on the hidden sense of their albums' titles; King Crimson just pick a title that has no meaning at all, and I doubt whether even the most dedicated fans ever tried guessing the esoteric semantics of the expression Larks' Tongues In Aspic. Jon Anderson can go to hell for as long as I care; Robert Fripp can stay a while. Especially considering the huge number of exciting musical ideas presented herein. Larks' Tongues In Aspic is certainly not an album for memorizing, less much for singing along. But while it's on, you might just as well get your kicks out of it - it took me a long time, but now I sure do. None of the actual 'songs' are bad, except for maybe the slightly throwaway ballad 'Book Of Saturday' that has never managed to fascinate me, sounding rather muffled and timid against the rip-roaring background of everything else; still, it's short and not at all unpleasant. Not so with the lengthy, slow, bombastic 'Exiles': the main theme on here is terrific, highlighted by an exciting, sensitive violin melody from Cross; I feel that with Lake replacing Wetton on the operatic, 'Epitaph'-style vocals, and with the omittance of certain chaotic passages that don't really mar the impression but seem to take a bit more time than necessary, the number would have been a true classic. 'Easy Money' is also a good one: it starts out with a weird, 'disrupted' rhythm pattern that, taken together with Wetton's eerie singing, kinda presages that New Wave sound, and soon turns into a moody, ominous Pink Floydish rocker - much better than that band's 'Money', actually, both in terms of musicianship and creativity. However, it's the instrumental compositions that do the job. Experimental and freaky, they are nevertheless excellent mood setters - and there's a certain mathematical precision about the way they are built up that hasn't ever been matched by any band. There isn't any particular "mystical feeling" about them, but there are at least three redeeming factors: a) the wonder of their construction, b) the strange catchiness of most of the themes, c) they rock! In parts, they rock harder than your average Led Zeppelin, verging on the Sabbathy edge of heavy metal; and the metallic themes are so intricately woven into the general pattern that you can't but wonder at the band's intelligence. 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part I' opens the album on a high note: the haunting percussion, Fripp's roaring guitar tone and David Cross' pleasant (not distorted, as in the beginning of 'Formentera Lady') violin create a, well, 'melody' that you can be entertained by while doing something useful like playing Doom or picking your nose. The mounting of the tension is supreme: the percussion seamlessly flows into the violins, Fripp adds a few guitar lines of "warning", and the band launches into its mastodontic heavy metal schtick - only to revert to the dangerous-sounding violins again. Creepy. But 'Talking Drum' and 'LTIA Part II' are even better. 'Talking Drum' slowly builds up over seven minutes from a simple repetitive bass/percussion pattern to a wild, painful, Eastern-influenced fast rocker dominated by schizophrenic violin and paranoid guitar, which bleeds on your nerves until it all comes down to a blistering crash and resolves itself in the band's signature tune, 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II'; here Bob suddenly turns into Ritchie Blackmore and delivers an unabashed hard rock tune, partly relieved by Dave's violin and the little 'larks shrieking' in the middle. The introductory riff is one of the classic "prog riffs" of all time and is just great to headbang to - 'nuff said. All in all, the record takes some getting used to; I know I only managed to value its preciousness after a long long while. But strange enough, it now seems pretty accessible to me. Actually, the big problem lies in the chaotic structure of some of the instrumental parts. Once you've sorted that out, the melodies suddenly appear to be catchy and exciting, not to mention innovative at the same time. While there may not be a lot of "meaning" on here, music-wise the album has it all - from gritty first-rate hard rock to the shimmering violin beauty.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1997Record rating = 5
A totally excessive live release. The band is kinda feeble, too. Nobody needs this record.Best song: EASY MONEY
Track listing: CD I: 1) Easy Money; 2) Lament; 3) Book Of Saturday; 4) Fracture; 5) The Night Watch; 6) Improv: Starless And Bible Black.CD II: 1) Improv: Trio; 2) Exiles; 3) Improv: The Fright Watch; 4) The Talking Drum; 5) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II; 6) 21st Century Schizoid Man.
Out of the three recent double-CD archive releases (I'm not counting the obscure made-on-order-only tons of DGM archive packages), this one baffles me most of all. While Epitaph presents us with an interesting, raw, enthusiastic side of the earliest incarnation of the band that's otherwise unavailable, The Night Watch offers us more or less everything that we already had before. The recording is taken from a single show played at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in November 1973, featuring the Cross-Wetton-Bruford lineup. About half of it consists of the recent material from Larks' Tongues, and the other half later appeared on Starless And Bible Black - I mean, not just the songs, but these exact live versions from this exact show (with a few overdubs now and then). Add to this that much of these songs also appeared live on 1975's USA (reviewed below), and you get a record whose existence is, roughly speaking, unexplainable.But anyway, who am I to understand the deep delvings of a mind as twisted and uncontrolled as that of Mr Robert Fripp? A nobody. So I patiently go, shell out my hard-earned roubles for this package (approximately four dollars in the U.S. equivalent), and sit through a couple of listens before shelving it deep, deep, deep, deep, deep... sorry. The show is not bad, by any means. What mars it is the feeling that the band is feeling slightly uneasy, for no particular reason. Thus, I'm not at all impressed by the obligatory '21st Century Schizoid Man' closing the show. First of all, I now understand fully why they had to distort Wetton's vocals on the official live USA - without the overdubbed distortion, he just can't collect himself to rise to the heights that Greg Lake once used to ascend - even if their voices are very similar. And what is '21st Century Schizoid Man' without the aggressive metallic booming voice but a weak parody? And the lengthy instrumental passage is boring - first time ever in a 'Schizoid Man' version. Not to mention that Cross was simply sleeping at his Mellotron - there's naught to capture your attention but Fripp's guitar, and even Fripp cannot last forever. And he's playing just an okayish solo. Okayish. Not the wild apocalyptic licks of old, just a normal guitar solo with a lot of distortion, but pretty generic. As if he had something with his fingers going on. Pathetic. As a result, the tune sounds thin, underarranged and not at all as impressive as before. Otherwise, the record is still plagued with problems. Since I already reviewed Starless, I won't drab about stuff like 'Fracture' or 'Starless And Bible Black' or 'Lament', etc.; check them out in the following review. As for the Larks' Tongues material, well, they mostly just duplicate the album - there's everything but 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part I' (pity, that: I'd prefer they keep off 'Book Of Saturday' and some of the improvs). 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part II' is here, and it's done well, but lacks some of the crunch they managed to deliver almost red-hot in the studio. I must confess, though, that the psycho build-up of 'Talking Drum' which is then resolved into 'Part II' is carried from the studio into a live entourage with gusto; but since it was so calculated and mechanically precise from the very beginning, there's hardly any difference between the live and studio versions. On the other hand, the sung songs are sometimes improved: 'Exiles', for instance, is done with inspiration, and manages to impress me even more than the studio version. And 'Easy Money' is a real treat. The only track that can't be found anywhere is 'The Fright Watch', some sort of sequel to 'Night Watch' which did make it onto Starless And Bible Black; as is usual with King Crimson improvisations, it isn't a heck of a lot of fun if you're not a diehard, what with the dissonance, noises and stuff, but in this particular case it functions as a 'prequel' to 'Talking Drum' which, in turn, functions as a prequel to 'Part II', and the whole sequence should probably be enjoyed as a single, multipart "experience" with its series of climaxes and 'breakdowns'. Even if it also tunes up the boredom factor. In any case, unless you really feed on atonal instrumental passages, listening to the album in one sitting is excruciating - the vocal sections take only about a fifteenth part of the whole record, and the rest, as usual, is jams, jams, jams and jams, dissonant, rambling, clumsy, erratic and many of them - particularly those that don't raise any special emotions - horrendously dated. And, like I said, 'excessive' is the word. This is the definitive throwaway live album, intended exclusively for completists. Since it's double, you won't lose anything by rejecting it and acquiring both Larks' Tongues and Starless And Bible Black instead, especially since there are no 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part I' or 'Great Deceiver' here, both of which are so great. I surmise nobody really dies to hear 'The Fright Watch'? Oh, actually there's one more thing: it's very very nice to hear Fripp's stage banter (unless it's not Fripp who's talking). He's soooo gallant, saying 'thank you' all the time and complementing the ladies in the audience. Of course, this only punctuates King Crimson's status as an 'elitist' band, absolutely unfit for a stadium show or something like that. Well - at least the sound quality is acceptable.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974Record rating = 4
More of the same, with even less inspired and much more atonal jams. I just don't see no particular reason why I should have to sit through it.Best song: THE GREAT DECEIVER
Track listing: 1) The Great Deceiver; 2) Lament; 3) We'll Let You Know; 4) The Night Watch; 5) Trio; 6) The Mincer; 7) Starless And Bible Black; 8) Fracture.
I can really think of few starts as deceptive as the intro to Starless And Bible Black. No sooner do you push the Start button that you're totally taken aback by a thunderstorm of sound: lightning-speed heavy guitar riffs, monstrously fast drumming and, above all, a superior David Cross violin line that kicks the shit out of any casual listener! 'Wow', you think, 'they're back! This is the record I've been waiting for since In The Court! Keep it up, boys!' This is 'The Great Deceiver', one of the best successes of the Wetton-Cross lineup, a terrific tune that's matched by interesting lyrics on commercialized religion, a goofy Wetton tone and masterful changes in key and tempo. If all the album contained but this one song, I'd easily have given it a much higher rating. Unfortunately, such is not the case.You know, after re-reading my original review of Larks' Tongues, I became somewhat angered with myself - it seemed I had dedicated most of it to thoughts on the general appeal of the 1973-74 lineup and said too little about the music itself, maybe just one small paragraph. So I set out to rewrite it... and found out I couldn't (I did rewrite it later on, but that's another story). I just couldn't write about this music, because I didn't know what to write about it. Well, turns out that Starless And Bible Black is a far more complicated case. If I were a musician, I could prattle about key changes and staccatos and weird chord progressions and all that stuff, but I'm not a musician and I don't pretend to be one. And as for the emotional level, these songs just don't raise any emotions in me, neither good nor bad. It's like modern jazz, you know: one might admire the technical and professional level of the musicians and witness the new trends and inventions, but it never gets me to feel anything. Same goes for most of Starless And Bible Black, a pseudo-studio record (most of the tracks were recorded live, with the audience dubbed out and some instrumental backing dubbed over) that continues in the vein of Larks' Tongues but has only maybe about half of the impact of that one (not that its impact was enormous in the first place). Instead of compact, concise musical pieces, Starless concentrates on the band's live improvisation, and the only thing it turns out to prove is that avantgarde could be pretty exciting and tame in the hands of experts when harnessed in the studio, but it can also be messy, pointless and self-indulgent on stage. (Unfortunately, the same disastrous experience would be repeated twenty years later: Starless relates to Larks' Tongues more or less like the horror of THRaKaTTaK relates to THRaK). Thus, if time has altered my initial scepticism towards Larks, it has only worsened my feel towards this incoherent mess. It does have one more fine tune, of course, which is 'The Night Watch', an enthusiastic ballad very much in the vein of what the Moody Blues were doing about three or four years ago. But the rest is weak: there's just one more 'song' in the traditional sense of it, a hard rock ballad ('Lament') that ain't impressive at all, and almost thirty minutes on the record are devoted to instrumental jams that just don't sound good to me. Some of them are even nasty, like the stuttering, constantly falling apart 'We'll Let You Know', an ill-planned and badly performed groove. The second side is entirely dominated by two compositions: the nine-minute title track and the eleven-minute 'Fracture'. Both are extremely similar in that they're multi-part and you never notice when one ends and is succeeded by another. The effect is similar to what they did before, but everything is a step less tasty, a step more clumsy and therefore two steps less exciting. 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Parts 1 & 2' at least boasted interesting riffs, cleverly intertwined with violin patterns and constructed so as to let everybody know when to climax and when to relax. These two jams are messy to the point of being annoying, and while the effect at a concert might have been amusing or even breathtaking, I just don't see what should I expect from these on a studio record. I'll be careful enough so as not to state that they suck (because I'm really not sure), but one thing's for certain: after listening to this album four times in a row, I'll probably put it on the fifth time somewhere next Spring. Or the Spring after that. Or even later. At least, I'll live out the rest of the twentieth century without having to enjoy 'Fracture'. (Which reminds me: does everyone remember clearly that the twenty-first century actually begins in the year 2001 and not in the year 2000, as the ignorant mass media people all teach us? Boycott these ceremonies, people, they're putting you ON!) That said, I quite enjoy 'Trio', a luvvly classical excourse that's probably a trio because Bruford doesn't drum on it. It's nowhere near as good as 'Song Of The Gulls', but at least it gives us a chance to breathe in some real music before immerging us again into the complicated world of brainless prog rock. On the whole, even if you adored Larks' Tongues In Aspic (and there's a good chance you would), there's a high probability that you will dread this album anyway. Of course, if you're one of those audacious avantgarde freaks who only acknowledge King Crimson and Throbbing Gristle and think that you have moved far beyond the conception of "ordinary song", feel free to indulge Even then, maybe a better choice would be to acquire Night Watch, from which most of these tunes were taken, and just forget this record ever existed in the first place.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974Record rating = 9
Better, because the jams are mostly structured and melodical, and there are good songs here - hey, this might be their best in a long time!Best song: FALLEN ANGEL
Track listing: 1) Red; 2) Fallen Angel; 3) One More Red Nightmare; 4) Providence; 5) Starless.
Even less tunes on this one - it boasts but five tracks. Less members, too - Cross quit in the middle of the sections with the band carrying on as a trio (they even have their portraits on the front cover, quite an unusual treat for a King Crimson album; in fact, quite an unusual treat for any prog band album). But certainly better in quality than SABB and maybe even better than LTIA; at least, this is inarguably the most easily accessible and immediately likeable record of the band's entire "prog-metal" period. I thought primarily that this was the result of a somewhat more careful and attentive approach to songwriting, but turns out that I was wrong: parts of it were recorded live just as well as parts of SABB. Well, guess some things just can't be solved easily, can they? Anyway, live or not, this album is more listenable than its predecessor because it is mostly music, not just pointless and uninspired jamming. It's also tremendously heavy, maybe the heaviest album the band ever did, and that provides a level of energy that was often missing earlier when you needed it so badly. Of course, heaviness is not a virtue by itself - you have to think of good riffs and clever production, and that's on here, too.The first side on here is pretty much spotless, aside from a couple overlong solos, but you just have to get used to these things when you're dealing with King Crimson. The title track is a great rifffest: beginning with a captivating ascending guitar line, it is soon metamorphosed into a convincing heavy melody that is, while not fast enough to get the laurel wreath of 'Great Deceiver', nothing short of genius. Kurt Cobain would be proud of that fat guitar/bass interplay, that's for sure. Then there's 'Fallen Angel', yet another Moody Blues-ish ballad sung quite convincingly by Wetton. In the hands of Justin Hayward this song might have been turned into a medieval-stylicised, romantic chef-d'aeuvre; here it just feels good and kinda awkward, but it works all the same. Also, Wetton's vocals are suspiciously reminiscent of Lake's (I guess he should have had no trouble with singing 'Schizoid Man' on stage even without the distorted vocals), and this gives the song a certain ELP feel, so maybe that's why I like it (I mean, it gives it the Lake feel, not the Emerson feel). It does take some time to enjoy the overlong jam session in the middle, and the song could have been far more great and hard-hitting in a shorter, abbreviated version; but eventually, its grim, spooky noodling grows on you, creating stately gothic moods the likes of which you could previously only find in obscure Krautrock compositions. Finally, 'One More Red Nightmare' is one more classic, based on another, though this time a bit more lackluster, heavy riff, but what gives me the shivers about the song is the way Wetton sings the lyrics: his usual 'careless', a trifle intentionally off-key vocals, quite often irritating otherwise, make the tune totally! It's about fear of flying, as far as I can see, and the rushed, speeded, stuttering vocals, together with the refrain 'one more red nightmaaaare!', really give the impression of a paranoid fear of something. I get so excited that I don't even notice the usual solo wanking all over the place. Unfortunately, the second side starts on a really low note (the one that costs the album one rating point - sorry Red lovers), the usual trademark of 'bad Crimson': 'Providence' is the same kind of atonal, messy jam that 'Fracture' was on the last record and even worse. Recorded with Cross still at the violin, it mostly features bits and pieces of drums and bass recorded over this stupid "violing" that seems to drag and drag on forever - just more dated experimentation. A bad idea that reduces the album to much less than forty minutes of listenable music. Oh well, at least we have 'Starless'. You might think it's horrendous just by looking at the running time - 12:18. Don't worry, it isn't. A rare case when a lengthy King Crimson jam is endurable in all of its lengthiness. Apparently an outtake from the previous album (although it really is hard to talk in terms of outtakes when we deal with constant mixtures of new studio tracks and live improvisations), it should have appeared there instead of the far inferior 'Starless And Bible Black'. A dark, bitter tune, it's probably the closest they ever got to replicating the bliss of 'Epitaph' (Fripp even uses the same guitar pedal he used on the intro to 'Epitaph'). There are tons of beautiful, emotional guitar lines, Wetton's singing has never been better, and the lengthy solo passage is breathtaking. It seems that Fripp keeps repeating the same note on his guitar over and over, but he manages to build up the tension so well that I'm left almost stunned - just because of the very nature of this paradox: this is maybe the simplest musical idea that Bob has ever put to life and it works so much better than tons of far more complicated ones. Actually, the whole album, except for that wretched 'Providence', is simpler and more 'available' than the previous two, and it shows that even if the Frippergang's main purpose was to experiment with song structure, chord progressions and bizarre instrumentation in the wildest mode possible, they hadn't still gone as far as to forget the basics of songwriting business entirely. Red, more so than any album since In The Court Of The Crimson King, demonstrates that they still knew how to make great simple tunes and that King Crimson was still a band making music, not just weird, psychic (psychic, not psychedelic) background noises for one-day consumption. Would they take notice of their 'reincarnation', you think? Unfortunately not. Fripp disbanded the band shortly after, saying they'd turned into dinosaurs and their place was in the trash bin - more than two years before the punks reminded all the others of the same. Silly thing, really - if he'd disbanded the band after Starless, I'd certainly understand that. But disband them just as they were becoming used to writing and performing good music? Man, these proggers are one weird bunch of starpers!!!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975Record rating = 6
A decent live album, showing how much CRRRUNCH they actually could deliver on stage...Best song: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN (as usual)
Track listing: 1) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II; 2) Lament; 3) Exiles; 4) Asbury Park; 5) Easy Money; 6) 21st Century Schizoid Man.
A live recording from the band's 1974 tour, featuring the four-person lineup (with Cross on violin, that is). Actually, that's all. What can be said about an averagely good King Crimson live LP that's not particularly illuminating but at least a huge improvement over Earthbound? Okay, since it seems to be currently out of print and I don't know if it will ever reappear, what with all these innumerable releases from the vaults, I guess I could just as well say a few words about it.The material mostly draws on Larks' Tongues In Aspic (as if this should surprise you), plus one title from SABB and the obligatory 'Schizoid Man' (it's a well-known fact that Fripp had renounced everything from the 1969-71 past epochs except for that one tasty cookie); besides that, there's also a previously unpublished jam called 'Asbury Park'. The track selection could've been better of course (where the hell are 'Great Deceiver' or 'Night Watch', for instance?), but then again, it could have been worse (no 'Fracture' or title track from SABB, thanks Heaven; come to think of it, that would be a strange thing to include them since they were already recorded live from the very beginning). As it is, the album manages to look almost totally inoffensive. 'Asbury Park' tends to drag, of course, like most of their jams of the epoch, but that's only one serious flaw; even so, it's only a miserable seven minutes long, and it has some pretty invigorating solos from Mr Fripp, without any of those pointless stop-and-start pseudo-meditative passages of SABB. On the other hand, the amount of energy is truly vitalizing, and even if the Larks tunes aren't performed as flawlessly and don't look as polished as on the studio record, this is fully compensated by the 'raw feel' that brings them to life on stage. Now I know I'm talking cliches here, but what the hell am I supposed to do if I can't express it any other way? 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two' rocks and shakes, with Fripp punching out those power chords with even more anger, force and distortion than in the studio - and I love the way they start the album, with those quiet, relaxative Mellotron sounds coming out of nowhere and then Fripp lashing out with that famous riff with all force. Makes you really jump out of the chair - that is, if you're not used to the overall style of King Crimson. 'Lament' goes down easily, with Wetton's singing more acceptable than on the original; and even the one song I haven't previously been fond of on Larks' Tongues, 'Exiles', reveals some hidden potential that I haven't been aware of either (which makes me appreciate the original even more now). All of a sudden, these violins and singing sound so attractive, so majestic, sad and moving, that I'm really ready to acknowledge this tune as a major masterpiece. Have to warn you, though, that it sounds a bit more messy, with Fripp throwing in more feedback than required... Like it, still. The second side gives you your long-desired 'Easy Money' and it's good, real good - that's one of the best tunes on Larks' Tongues and it's also better live. A little. But, of course, the highlight is 'Schizoid Man' again: since this song is unarguably the best one in the whole King Crimson repertoire, that just means that, however good the other selections might be, I just can't wait to hear it in the encore section. And they do it just fine - a trifle slowed down, pr'aps, but that's no problem. Wetton has his vocals distorted like in the original which makes them completely undistinguishable from Lake's (notice that the distortion is listenable, unlike the ruining of Burrell vocals on Earthbound), and Fripp rips out a terrifying solo (as usual). Classic and a fitting end to a satisfying live record; and it's also the last time you'll get to hear a live 'Schizoid Man' on a legit King Crimson live album. I'm not even sure if the Belew lineup ever tried this one live - probably not. Then again, I'm not a specialist when it comes down to all the gazillions of live records Fripp is distributing to Crimson diehards through his Discipline label, so you'd better ask an official expert. Finally, just to make a respectively fitting end to this review, I'd just like to say that the record also shows how much they've improved their live reputation since the early days: just listen to the performing level on Epitaph and compare it to what they're doing here. Fripp might have always been good, but Bruford's drumming is immaculate compared to Giles' weak, feeble work on the early concerts, and Cross was a great support to the band as well. Quite a lot of this improvement is due to technical perfection of their sound equipment, of course (you have to make this adjustment in respect to the 1969 concerts), but this shouldn't conceal the fact that this band is still much more tight and self-assured than all the previous incarnations. And one more note: since the album is out of print, what you can get more easily (at least, as of the time of writing of this review) is either (a) The Night Watch, reviewed above, or (b) the box-set Great Deceiver, with extracts from about four or more performances by the Wetton-Bruford lineup, that probably includes every song they performed live with that lineup in three or four versions. This could definitely keep you occupied till the end of your life. As for me, my limited financial resources and general snubby attitude towards overpriced unreasonable box-sets prevent me from purchasing Great Deceiver, and I have taken a solemn vow to stay away from the "Discipline-approved" 'rare' KC live records (simply because I don't want to end up with KC albums occupying half of my collection), but I'm perfectly happy with my trusty Night Watch and USA copies, so no need to bother.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992Record rating = 8
Now you don't even need to look up 'superfluous' in the dictionary.Best song: ...errr... APPLAUSE & ANNOUNCEMENT, I guess?
Track listing: CD I: 1) Walk On... No Pussyfooting; 2) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two; 3) Lament; 4) Exiles; 5) Improv - A Voyage To The Centre Of The Cosmos; 6) Easy Money; 7) Improv - Providence; 8) Fracture; 9) Starless.CD II: 1) 21st Century Schizoid Man; 2) Walk Off From Providence/No Pussyfooting; 3) Sharks' Tongues In Lemsip; 4) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One; 5) Book Of Saturday; 6) Easy Money; 7) We'll Let You Know; 8) The Night Watch; 9) Improv - Tight Scrummy; 10) Peace - A Theme; 11) Cat Food; 12) Easy Money; 13) It Is For You, But Not For Me. CD III: 1) Walk On... No Pussyfooting; 2) The Great Deceiver; 3) Improv - Bartley Butsford; 4) Exiles; 5) Improv - Daniel Dust; 6) The Night Watch; 7) Doctor Diamond; 8) Starless; 9) Improv - Wilton Carpet; 10) The Talking Drum; 11) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two; 12) Applause & Announcement; 13) Improv - Is There Life Out There? CD IV: 1) Improv - The Golden Walnut; 2) The Night Watch; 3) Fracture; 4) Improv - Clueless And Slightly Slack; 5) Walk On... No Pussyfooting; 6) Improv - Some Pussyfooting; 7) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One; 8) Improv - The Law Of Maximum Distress Part One; 9) Improv - The Law Of Maximum Distress Part Two; 10) Easy Money; 11) Improv - Some More Pussyfooting; 12) The Talking Drum.
First and foremost - this rating you see in bold blue numbers means NOTHING in the case of this particular review. Or, rather, it just means that whatever we might say of this monster, it's at least unique in a most unique kind of way, and the relatively high rating primarily serves as a means to draw one's attention to this stuff. Plus, it's not that often that I review boxsets, because they're for the most part way above anything I can afford, and this is one lucky exception - for the sake of all the diehard Crimheads in the progressively-oriented city of Moscow, it has been issued in standard form, on 4 CDs, unfortunately, without the 68-page booklet that it normally comes equipped with. So I can't have the pleasure to read all the deep elitist remarks of Mr Fripp on all the stuff he made open to the public through this boxset... not that I'd really wish to, of course. Say, did you know that before having an interview, Mr Fripp has to let all his interviewers pass a certain 'test' to see if he/she is actually qualified to discuss music problems with His Highness? Not that I'm offended - in fact, this hilarious attitude (utter rigid conservatism in manners), contrasted with innovativeness and thorough experimentation in music, really makes Mr Fripp one of the most curious beings on the musical scene.Okay, review now. The Great Deceiver is a four-CD boxset containing a series of recordings from live shows of the Cross/Wetton lineup in late '73 and '74 (no Muir era recordings on this one, unfortunately). These seem to include both several complete shows and minor excerpts from smaller ones, six shows in all. No need to say that Deceiver is exclusively aimed at the most devoted Crimheads, so it's actually even useless to accuse Fripp of putting out such a superfluous package: you have the studio albums, you have USA, you have Night Watch, you have a bunch of other fan club-only recordings, and now this. Of course, Fripp is right when he states that 'I have anticipated not many Crimheads having 'Great Deceiver parties' and listening to the box set in its entirety' (although, to be honest, this here reviewer listened to it twice without a break - and the boxset does contain about five hours of music, no less), but I wonder then what made the old boy release it on the general market, not as one of those endless 'DGM-only' fan club releases. Ah well, pointless bickering. That said, I'd like to say that for five hours of music, I'm surprised that there are as few repetitions here as possible. Sure, there's four different versions of 'Easy Money', but that's about it: none of the other songs are repeated more than twice, and there's even only one version of '21st Century Schizoid Man' - I could easily stand another one. Of course, you'll find all the standard material you've heard on the studio albums and live albums before - 'Exiles', 'Lament', 'The Night Watch', 'The Great Deceiver' (only one version, unfortunately, inferior to the breathtaking punchy take on Starless And Bible Black), 'Talking Drum', 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two', 'Book Of Saturday', 'Fracture', etc. Big surprises would include 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part One': earlier live albums didn't have that one, and while I somewhat lament the clear production and studio trickery of the original recording, it's still carried over with gusto, with the tension from Cross' Gothic violins and Fripp's violent metallic guitar roar built-up perfectly. Also, there are two takes on 'Starless' from Red; the album was only in a stage of preparation while the concerts were performed, so, unfortunately, we don't get to hear 'Red' or 'Fallen Angel', but 'Starless' is beautiful, with Fripp having already developed the infamous crescendo guitar line. Another big surprise is a Wetton-sung version of 'Cat Food' - a bit sloppy and less driving than the studio version, but still a pleasure to hear. Finally, there's one hidden little gem that should be carefully picked out of all the chaff, dusted, treasured and admired: 'Doctor Diamond' is a song that was originally bound for inclusion into Red, a multi-section, multi-mood mini-suite that goes from ominous bluesy riffage into a scary 'noodly' mid-section that, to me, seems far more concentrated and atmospheric than most of the pointless 'noodling' sessions these guys have produced. A huge part of the set, of course, is devoted to the band's improvised pieces - in fact, these are the only way to help the record avoid monotonous mind-numbing repetitions of 'standards'. Then again, most of these improvs are just the same atonal guitar/violin noodling we already know so well, so I guess it all still sounds pretty monotonous. Sometimes Bruford establishes a solid rhythmic groove, like on 'Tight Scrummy', and then this stuff is easier to appreciate, but often, as on 'A Voyage To The Centre Of The Cosmos' or 'Is There Life Out There' or just about anything else, it's just chaotic 'avantgarde jamming' that either takes you deep down your subconscious or just does nothing to you. For the most part, it does nothing for me; one of the funny titles, 'Clueless And Slightly Slack', is a perfect epithet for this style in general. Then again, I guess all of this stuff just deserves some serious, repeated listening. It's no good to pack all the various improvisations on here into one stinkin' bag and cast it into the ocean. Different pieces, slightly different moods, I guess everybody will find something on here more or less to his liking. This, actually, might just as well have been Fripp's intention - during these improvisations, musicians were always looking for the 'ultimate moody groove', and more often they failed than succeeded, but the very process of the search might seem exciting to some. So hey, if you're a man of search rather than a man of result, just go 'head! This is really a strange, bizarre, unique experience, and at the very least it beats the hell out of THRaKaTTaK. Minor complaints would include - too few stage banter (I just love hearing Fripp in his oh-so-British emploi, and he says 'fuck' in one of the speeches! Isn't that enough of an incentive to buy the album?) and a weird principle of track sequencing. Nothing ever fades out - they just cut the recording off and after a pause break in the next show. That's kinda annoying, especially considering these long pauses and the fact that most of the tracks have wrong timings listed. And ending the whole set with such a sudden cut-off from 'Talking Drum' is really anti-climactic - wouldn't we expect another 'Larks' Tongues, Part Two' to end the show instead?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981Record rating = 9
The 'new look' King Crimson, with economic elements of New Wave thrown in to add to the old prog sound.Best song: MATTE KUDASAI
Track listing: 1) Elephant Talk; 2) Frame By Frame; 3) Matte Kudasai; 4) Indiscipline; 5) Thela Hun Ginjeet; 6) The Sheltering Sky; 7) Discipline.
Either Fripp was disappointed by his solo career (for the failure of which nobody but him was to blame), or he just tried to think of something different, but fact is, in the early Eighties he got back Bill Bruford, recruited the promising New Wave singer/guitarist Adrian Belew and bass/'stick' wizard Tony Levin and with this lineup resuscitated King Crimson for the third (fourth? fifth? that's debatable) time. Of course, this sounds nothing like the King Crimson of old: neither the First Version of the band with its orchestral grandeur and lyrical pomposity, nor the Second Version with its hard rock crunch and atonal jamming. Even Fripp's guitar sound has changed radically (only on 'Indiscipline' does he deliver a few jarring guitar lines resembling the energy of old). In the meantime, Bruford has obviously assimilated quite a fair amount of World Music to make his playing sound as ethnic as possible: check the drumming on the title track and on, say, Yes' 'Close To The Edge' and tell me it's the same person. Levin's bass is popping and bopping as never before; in fact, if there's anybody responsible for the 'danceable' elements in the new King Crimson, it's primarily Levin. And, finally, Belew contributes the 'psycho' atmosphere: he's credited for 'elephantosity' on the record. With his bizarre, intriguing guitar parts and totally meaningless, cabbalistic lyrics, unpretentious at the most, he certainly makes sure this is gonna be a totally unpredictable listen.The songs themselves, by the way, are uniformly excellent. There was a time when I'd pat this record on the back and dismiss it for being 'flashy', but not having any real messages or even hooks; fortunately, time heals stupidity, and now I perfectly understand why some, most notably Wilson & Alroy, rave about the album as being one of the best albums of the entire decade. Actually, hooks abound on here: the thing is, they're not "jumpin' at you" at the right moment, rather they're simply concealed within the seemingly monotonous (but actually hypnotic) riffs and complex rhythm patterns. As for the 'message' - Discipline is definitely not just a polygon for displaying chops; it's an atmospheric, impressionistic record that fuses ethnic motives, New Wave, British eccentricity and 'academic' professionalism with a flare. Just about every song has something to offer, and while the moods are not that different from each other, that's no big problem - it's one of those albums that "hammers" its point inside your brain instead of running all over the place. This 'hammering' is most obvious when we deal with the groovy instrumentals, like the eight-minute 'Sheltering Sky', very moody and sometimes reminiscent of the Stones' 'Heaven', or the ethnic-sounding 'Discipline' with some catchy, pleasant guitar lines repeated over and over again to create a perfect environment for your eardrums (they can seem simplistic, but I'd like to see you and your pal take your six-strings, sit in front of each other and try reproduce that stuff! Would be easier to memorize a twenty-minute Jimmy Page solo, I'd warrant that). The 'sung' tracks, however, aren't really different, because the lyrics are few and (like I said) meaningless (but fun); moreover, quite often Belew doesn't sing at all, going for rambling, incoherent 'monologues', like on the opening 'Elephant Talk' or the single hard rock tune 'Indiscipline'. Actually, 'Elephant Talk' consists of Belew reciting some entries from a thesaurus on the word 'talk' (while Fripp adds funny 'elephant' noises), while 'Indiscipline' has same Belew reciting extracts from a letter from his wife (while Fripp adds a heavy rhythm track). The best of these, though, are 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' (an anagram for 'Heat In The Jungle') and 'Matte Kudasai' ('Please wait' in Japanese). If anything, these two tracks are the most close to what I'd call a 'song' here, as opposed to 'musical surrealism'. 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' is a great rockin' shuffle built on Bruford's polyrhythms (ooh, what a cool word) and strong singing from Belew. As if that weren't enough, from time to time Adrian goes rambling off and telling a strange story about his recording the sounds in a street and a cop arresting him for strange activity. Again, the song has an 'ethnic' feel to it, especially in the chorus, but that's not necessarily a bad idea, after all. It has a good, solid melody. And 'Matte Kudasai' is the 'balladeering part' of the album: a slow, heavenly chant, emphasized by Fripp's synth guitars and again pulled off mostly due to Belew's talents as a singer. It's probably the most 'Crimsonian' track on the album, and my favourite. Actually, on careful listening one can find traces of old King Crimson even in the weirdest numbers. If you substitute the mellow guitar tone on 'Discipline' for the hard rock crunch of the 1973-74 King Crimson version, for instance, what you get is pure King Crimson... then again, 'pure' King Crimson never possessed that kind of brilliant guitar interplay that we witness in the title track. Still, do not rush out and buy this album; or, if you do decide to get it, prepare that it will be slowly, slowly and meticulously growing on you. You have to get a serious taste for emotionless, technically flawless and grotesque music in order to appreciate it. (Not that this music is really 'emotionless' - but it has such a weird approach to 'emotions' that you gotta get used to it). The keyword here is energy: 'Matte Kudasai' and maybe 'Sheltering Sky' can be appreciated for pure beauty, but all the rest clicks primarily when you go after power - this is real powerful stuff, with all these precise, crunchy riffs banging into each other and such an intelligent and well-thought over use of special effects that it makes your head go spinning. Power is the key! Although running ahead, let me point out that most of these numbers became far more powerful on stage - it's one thing to hear the Crimsons glue together this piece of studio eccentricity, and another thing to hear them bash these songs out as an actual four-piece live breathing unit, as if their lives depended on it...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982Record rating = 7
They don't sound like they're in for grandiose diversity, now don't they?Best song: HEARTBEAT
Track listing: 1) Neal & Jack & Me; 2) Heartbeat; 3) Sartori In Tangier; 4) Waiting Man; 5) Neurotica; 6) Two Hands; 7) The Howler; 8) Requiem.
More of the same, just a little worse. Actually, just a little better, too. There's a little more songs (actually, one more), and they're generally shorter: even the instrumental jams don't sound like they were destined to go on forever. Also, somewhat contrary to the eccentric spirit of Discipline, some of the selections finally demonstrate the presence of some actual, realistic aim - I mean, not all of this record sounds as if it were made by four groovy hip dudes who decided to get weird in the studio with little else on their minds just because desperate times called for desperate solutions.Some of the songs are intricate, extraordinary love ballads; some are devoted to description of social psychosis, and only a few are, well, just pure avantgarde. In fact, even if the melodies on Discipline were generally stronger and fresher, it was still essentially a 'rehearsing' record, a testing of water. Now that the water has been found warm enough, Beat is somewhat more mature: the band has found a solid musical basis and now they are actually trying to incorporate some meaning and even some philosophy inside their musings. Too bad, then, that the actual compositions on this album can hardly be taken on the same level as the ones on Discipline - the melodies and harmonies are either deeply derivative, or significantly less memorable. In fact, the starting track, 'Neal And Jack And Me', picks up right there where we were left with 'Discipline'. I once had both records placed on one CD and I practically couldn't notice the break between the two songs: both are built on that esoteric Fripp/Belew interplay that some find entrancing and some consider egotistic. Me, I like it, but building two different songs on exactly the same rhythm pattern doesn't say a lot about creativity. Taken on its own, 'Neal And Jack Me' can be haunting, romanic, melancholic, misanthropic even if you want to incorporate that sense inside it, but in the general context of KC's work it pales next to some of its more ambitious and original neighbours. The actual highlights of Beat are two Belew ballads. 'Heartbeat' is one of the best-known King Crimson classics of the era, usually saved for the band's uplifting encores at the time. It's a pretty, not too experimental New Waveish pop song, which means it's 'beaty' and danceable (and extremely pretty, too, with that haunting middle-eight - 'I remember the rhythm, oooooh, the rhythm we made...'), but never banal. And as for 'Two Hands', with lyrics by Margaret Belew, that one might even sound a wee bit sentimental for King Crimson's standards, but the song's complicated structure redeems it. The rest of the songs give us back the trippy, schizophrenic King Crimson: in particular, 'Neurotica' is an absolutely nutty tune, with its mesh of city noises, mad guitar rhythms and Belew's paranoid narrative hitting hard - granted, not as hard as 'Thela Hun Gingeet', but close. Special attention must be paid to 'Sartori In Tangier', a classy instrumental that somehow ties in New Wave, disco and Eastern motives and can only be characterized as a "psychotic dance trip", in my opinion. There are few compositions in this world that are equally excellent to dance to or to meditate to, and this is the kind of composition that requires both things to be done at once. If you can't imagine that process, it's not your fault. And 'Waiting Man', while not displaying flashes of astral brilliance (it would be seriously improved upon in the live setting), is an imaginative piece of meditative music as well. There is a low point, too, though - the closing track. I don't care that it's called 'Requiem'; it sounds like anything but a requiem. Rather it reminds me of Crimson's worst early excesses like 'Fracture' or even 'Moonchild': a six-minute lengthy, stupid jam where they seem to try everything at once and nothing actually happens. At least numbers like 'Indiscipline' on the last album had their subtle dynamics - with tension mounting and tension falling, excellent crescendos and surprising stop and start sequences. 'Requiem' just throws us back into KC's ugly dissonant past. Oh no, you can never trust these guys. Every time they make a consistent record, they have to have at least some major fuck-up on it. Blah. Since I really wouldn't know how to analyse this kind of product further, let me just sum up: approximately half of this album is an improvement over Discipline since it has an evident "philosophic edge" that was totally missing earlier, and approximately half of it is worse since it is the same Discipline motives without any kind of progression. Anybody who's wild about Discipline should get this, and even if you happen to get this before Discipline it ain't no crime. Question is: what is a crime? Is recording a song like 'Requiem' a crime, for instance? I vote 'Yes' and give the album a 7. King Crimson, be warned in the future!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1984Record rating = 8
More overtly 'pop' with good effect: it seems that both Belew and Fripp are better represented on this one.Best song: THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR
Track listing: 1) Three Of A Perfect Pair; 2) Model Man; 3) Sleepless; 4) Man With An Open Heart; 5) Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds); 6) Industry; 7) Dig Me; 8) No Warning; 9) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III.
Oh yeah! They took my advice! This album, the last of the famous 'triad', doesn't actually sound different enough from both Beat and Discipline. But, taken in general, the songs are better constructed, more memorable and with a certain gritty edge that Beat in particular seemed to lack. This one also marks a change in album composure principles: the first side is mostly donated to Belew who continues to develop his songwriting skills, while the second side is mostly devoted to Frippertronics and alternate style instrumental jams. Whether this is good or bad for easy listening, that's not up to me to decide; personally I don't mind (although burying a perfect short pop number like 'Dig Me' in between two lengthy, noodling instrumental suites doesn't seem a particularly good idea to me). What's obvious is that by this time Belew's and Fripp's style were starting to become practically incompatible. Discipline shows that both of them initially started out from the same platform - love for new technologies and weird, half-crazy New Wave instrumental pop sound. However, Belew had slowly metamorphosed into a more 'conventional' rock/pop singer and composer, veering towards traditionalistic song structures and attractive, tasteful melodies, while Fripp was growing more and more nostalgic towards his past, especially the hard rock sound of the Bruford/Wetton line-up. This explains why the two sides of this album sound so different, you'd never guess they belonged to the same record. Needless to say, the band fell apart shortly after the TOAPP tour, and it took ten years more before Fripp and Belew would reconvene again...Nevertheless, let's get back to the songs. The Belew side is pretty much all great. It starts with the ominous title track, featuring the most rich vocal harmonies on the choruses that Adrian had ever mastered before that, and the song is truly emotionally resonant, even if the lyrics are meaningless (it's probably supposed to be a love song, but the lyrics don't really make more sense than the title). The only thing that gets on my nerves sometimes is that the melody is once again built on the same guitar interplay that we already had on 'Discipline' and 'Neal And Jack And Me'. Still, the vocals overshadow the melody here, and it's fairly impressive. 'Model Man' isn't as good, but once again, Belew's singing is terrific - besides developing his musical taste, he's obviously developped his singing abilities as well. The lengthy 'Sleepless' is mostly memorable for the groovy bassline (Tony Levin is king!); if not for the bass on here, it would be forgettable. And finally, 'Man With An Open Heart' is the closest to Eighties pop they ever got - the song might just as well be recorded by Genesis, but it wasn't. Instead, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy some more cool guitar lines and smooth singing; this bouncy ditty is the catchiest on the record, and although prog fans will probably twirl their noses, me the 'good music' lover welcomes it with open embrace. The second side is patchy, though - anyway, you might have predicted this opinion of mine cuz it was obvious from the previous reviews that I'm not the biggest fan of Fripp jams. Indeed, two of the tracks on here rank right there with 'Fracture' and 'Moonchild' again. 'Industry' is a seven-minute noisefest that's based on a booming march rhythm re-borrowed from 'The Devil's Triangle' (which, in its turn, was stolen from 'Mars'), and, frankly speaking, who needs a New Wavish re-write of 'Mars' and what for? And 'No Warning' is just a mess with no particular aim as well (at least that one is short). But - this time the lottery ain't so unlucky: 'Nuages' is cool and moody, with beautiful Mellotron passages and Fripp using that groovy guitar tone that he first experienced on 'Epitaph'. The song certainly matches its title and, well, you could put it on a cloudy day, get into a chair and relax and fell all good and a little sad, but everybody needs to get a little sadness now and then, eh? Whatever... And the closing 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III' is indeed so: it sounds like a modernistic update on 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II', with Robert even using a similar guitar riff in the beginning. Not that it's very heavy, but it is certainly one of the few tracks in the whole 1981-84 catalogue where Fripp allows himself a little bit more distortion than usual ('Indiscipline' is the other one). To this you should add the little 'Dig Me', the great 'lost' tune that I already mentioned, with one of the few interesting lyrical concepts of this mark of the band: it is depicting the laments of an old automobile lying in a heap of rubbish and complaining about his fortune. Again, great singing job from Belew on the choruses (the verses are spoken, in his old manner). And hoopla, you got yourself a near perfect album - if it weren't for Fripp overdoing the job... Still, I must insist that the better numbers on here overshadow almost everything on Discipline; only it's less consistent, so both get the same rating. Like I said, the band dissolved soon afterwards, to reconvene only in 1994 to form the next incarnation of King Crimson. But they did play several concerts in 1984, and my next review will be dedicated to one of them. Not that you'd care... although you definitely should.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1998Record rating = 10
A fantastic live record. You won't believe me until you hear it, of course.Best song: it's like, ya know, trying to find the perfect angel...
Track listing: 1) Entry Of The Crims; 2) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III; 3) Thela Hun Ginjeet; 4) Red; 5) Matte Kudasai; 6) Industry; 7) Dig Me; 8) Three Of A Perfect Pair; 9) Indiscipline; 10) Sartori In Tangier; 11) Frame By Frame; 12) Man With An Open Heart; 13) Waiting Man; 14) Sleepless; 15) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two; 16) Discipline; 17) Heartbeat; 18) Elephant Talk.
WOW! Who'd ever had thought Fripp had such great stuff lying in the vaults for almost fifteen years - and sure enough, it would be hard to believe this fact because recently he's begun to throw out one archive release after another, multiplying them like cockroaches. However, amidst all this stuff like The Great Deceiver (a hyper-expensive boxset), Epitaph (which is good, like I already said, but hardly overshadows In The Court) and hundreds of special DGM offers, don't miss the modest 2-CD Absent Lovers set. Recorded in Montreal, at the final show of the 1984 tour (and therefore, the last concert by KC's Second Movement), it's absolutely phenomenal. Now I may have my complaints against some parts of the previous studio albums as boring, atonal or just uninspired, but I virtually have nothing at all against anything on here, apart from a couple minor problems. The band sounds like a furious, bombastic monster: they rip into the numbers with such force, zeal and, okay, taste, that I really have nothing left to do but to be left speechless and motionless for one hundred minutes.No, don't expect any surprises in the track listing. Apparently Belew was not quite suited to singing older King Crimson material (or maybe it was Fripp that took the word 'progressive' in its radical meaning and was trying to get rid of the older stuff), so there are only two numbers from the 'past' - the instrumentals 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part II' and 'Red'. Not that they suck or anything - they're performed with as much zest and inspiration as anything else, and the bombastic grungy riffs of both tracks cut through your eardrums like never before. The rest is all comprised of stuff from the last three studio releases. But what a selection! As if they managed to predict my taste, they intentionally underrepresent Beat (playing just 'Heartbeat', 'Sartori In Tangier' and 'Waiting Man', which are all right by me; no stupid 'Requiem' or 'Howler'! Youpee!), concentrating instead on Discipline and TOAPP. All the complaints about filler material are gone: they either omit it or make even the original filler sound interesting - 'Waiting Man', for instance, which I never seemed to notice on Beat, gets a ferocious 'rainy/fiery/astral' guitar solo and features the band members playing off each other like mad, and 'Industry', one of the most disturbing instrumentals on TOAPP, is fully compensated by Bruford's top peak energy and the inspiring, brilliant guitar interplay. After all, the Crims are masters of the crescendo, and this particular incarnation of the Crims proves it one hundred percent. And where the original could sound a bit thin and shallow and underproduced, it acquires a whole new layer of bombast - 'Sleepless', for instance, will totally blow you away with its dark, nightmarish atmosphere, particularly if you listen to it in headphones. There are a couple of things that kinda irritate me, like the opening instrumental 'Entry Of The Crims', a typical KC atonal mess of feedback and stuff; it probably made a good concert opening, but on record it just sounds like the band tuning up for six minutes (which they probably were). I'd certainly prefer to hear 'Nuages' or 'The Sheltering Sky' instead, but that's me, and no stupid six-minute intro is going to prevent the adrenaline level from rising at the frantic, raving beat of 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part III' which then without a break transforms itself into an even more frantic and raving version of 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' that rips the original to shreds and spits it somewhere off in the distance (they omit the spoken parts of the studio original to concentrate entirely on the playing, and that's all right by me - Belew's chuggin', gritty rhythms beat the crap out of the thin-sounding original). Then... oh, but do I really need to go into details over this album? I mean, I was so sceptical about the studio material because it sounded kinda fake to me - you know, guys being weird in the studio and wanting us to appreciate their weirdness for no particular reason. In the live context it all somehow manages to come to real life - maybe the 'live' vibe does have some meaning, after all. To sum up: this is a must have for those who, like me, are pleased by this version of the band but twirl their noses at the Fripperfiller. The level of energy is incredible, and the technical ability of these guys is beyond all praises (can you really believe that all these complicated riffs of 'Discipline', twisted drum-machiney sounds of 'Industry' and super-speedy, funky basslines of 'Sleepless' are played live, without overdubs? Well, that's what Fripp tells us, at least). For those who love our Crimson hard and rockin', there's the oldie 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part II' with Fripp churning out his 'pa-dam-pa-pam-pam-pa-pa-dam' riffs as if he were still young (no offense, Bob); for those who love it weird there's the clumsy (in the good sense), bizarre 'Elephant Talk'; for those who love it nice and gentle, there's the beautiful 'Matte Kudasai'; for those who love it atonal and chaotic there's the mighty 'Indiscipline'; and for those who love it modern and poppy, there's the groovy Genesis-style 'Man With An Open Heart'. And finally, for those of you who have a PC (and a PC thou dost have, for else how would ye be a-readin' through this review?), there's a surprise on disc 1! What are you waiting for? Grab this now before it's out of print and you have to fill in a form for Fripp's DGM in order for it to be sent to you!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1994Record rating = 5
Too small, too insecure, although it is King Crimson and most of the songs rock.Best song: SEX SLEEP EAT DRINK DREAM
Track listing: 1) VROOOM; 2) Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream; 3) Cage; 4) THRAK; 5) When I Say Stop Continue; 6) One Time.
Don't know 'bout everybody else, but this 'third movement' of King Crimson just doesn't thrill me nearly as much as the previous ones. For some unclear reasons, this brief reincarnation period of 1994-96 adds two more players - Trey Gunn on stick (did they really have Levin to play bass and Gunn play stick at once?) and Pat Mastelotto on percussion (doubling Bruford?) This 'double trio''s main intent was to recapture as many sides of King Crimson as possible, the primary goal being a wish to combine the hard-rockin' mid-Seventies King Crimson of Red with the 'heavenly' New Wave King Crimson of Three Of A Perfect Pair. Add to this Belew's maturation as a skilful pop songwriter, and one could only imagine what kind of crushing, mind-blowing result they could have reached.Unfortunately, the Third Movement just doesn't have as much innovative potential and mind-blowing audacity as the previous two - maybe because the Crimson well has finally run dry, or maybe because rock music's well in general has run dry, hard to tell, but fact is, VROOOM adds some good songs to the King Crimson legacy, but hardly any new ideas. While the band itself probably considered this little EP so successful that it pushed them on towards recording a full-fledged album that came out next year, I myself can only consider it a 'so-so' effort. It isn't exactly short (after all, thirty minutes of music was quite well for a solid LP in the Sixties, so this is anything but a single's worth of material), but, short or not so short, it just doesn't have enough good material to make me go wow. Actually, there is one beautiful ballad on here - the sad, soulful 'One Time' with Belew successfully pulling off a "McCartney in his late Eighties' mood", with a dreamy melancholic atmosphere and production values that come dangerously close to adult contemporary but never quite reach that generic level. And there's also one good rocker - the riffy, driving 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream', where Fripp again demonstrates what it is to be a real guitarmaster, blazing out his hard-rocking chops like there was no tomorrow. The song is a real masterpiece from beginning to end, with Belew doing his best Mick Jagger impersonation with distorted vocals on the paranoid verses and contrasting it with the mysterious chanting of the title in the 'chorus'. And have you heard that Belew scream in the middle? Beats the stuffing out of Robert Plant any day of my life! More like Iggy Pop, if you axe me. A minor pleasant surprise is the one-and-a-half-minute madness of 'Cage', which sounds exactly like all those frantic early-Eighties paranoid rantings, but faster, more hard-rocking, and with Belew doing a funny rap of sorts. This track alone, which can't be found anywhere else, somewhat justifies the existence of this EP, but, of course, such a short running time won't be particularly enticing for the potential buyer. Apart from that, though, the EP is unsatisfying. The title track is just too twisted for my tastes - it does have enough rocking power not to make me fall asleep, but it starts nowhere and goes in the same place. It doesn't even have a memorable riff, and overall sounds like a multiinstrument band take on 'Red'. 'THRAK' is more of the same, while on 'When I Say Stop Continue' they fall back into the trappings of dissonance: for the most part, the track doesn't have any kind of well-established rhythm, and the only interesting thing about it is somebody (Belew?) shouting 'Okay, come to a dead stop! One, two, three, four!' at the end. They rock all right, and Bruford bashes and thrashes all over the place as usual, and sure enough I cannot accuse them of anything concrete, but they just sound aimless. Lack of clear, understandable riffage is a serious flaw, which cannot really be compensated by any amount of virtuosity or distortion or loudness. I don't want to seem bickering here - I really consider this move to be rather regressive, although by no means do I want to say that I loathe anything on here. Maybe only 'When I Say Stop, Continue', which is really atonal and really reminds me of the good old days when the boys would fill half of their live performances with stuff like that (as well as of the upcoming THRaKaTTaK). Both 'VROOOM' and "THRAK' have their good sides - and the decision to add a real power punch to their sound was probably much welcome by old Crimheads who remembered the band's hard-rocking mid-Seventies days. But melody-wise, none of them really improve on 'Red', well, you know how it goes. That's the bad news. The good news is that even a mediocre King Crimson record is still miles ahead of most competition, and also that the Crims do not at all sound like old farts - maybe they rock in a conservative rather than innovative way, but they still have it, and their schtick hasn't transformed into a dumb nostalgic rehashment of past glories. Thus, this and particularly the following record can easily be recommended to most Crimheads as simply another stage in the band's career. Unexceptional, but solid.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995Record rating = 6
More of the same, but there are more songs, and this makes for a more diverse listen.Best song: WALKING ON AIR
Track listing: 1) VROOOM; 2) Coda: Marine 475; 3) Dinosaur; 4) Walking On Air; 5) B'Boom; 6) THRAK; 7) Inner Garden I; 8) People; 9) Radio 1; 10) One Time; 11) Radio II; 12) Inner Garden II; 13) Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream; 14) VROOOM VROOOM; 15) VROOOM VROOOM: Coda.
The 'big' follow-up to VROOOM, this, again oddly titled, album includes most of the tunes from the single (except the forgettable 'When I Say Stop' and the unforgettable 'Cage' - heck, it was but a minute and a half long, guys, what the heck did you leave it there for?) and adds about twenty/thirty minutes worth of new ones. Since I already said all I wanted to say about the old ones, let's discuss the new ones.Hmm, well, actually, there isn't much to discuss, because the 'new' ones are mostly in the same vein: beautiful ballads, solid, but not particularly innovative rockers, and ultra professional, but extremely dull jams. The jams this time, besides the title track and 'VROOOM', include 'B'Boom' and 'VROOOM VROOOM', the most groovy thing about which is still their title. Golly, do you think they spent most of their free times reading comic strips? Anyway, no matter how much time I spend listening to this stuff, it still escapes me like a moth from the palm of my hand. Worst thing is, they're all so similar that I don't even notice when, for instance, 'B'Boom' suddenly turns into 'THRAK' (as if somebody cares in any case). All I distantly remember is that 'B'Boom' incorporates a not especially original drum solo - and I thought Bruford thought enough of himself so as not to engage in such unworthy actions. And try as I might, I can't distinguish that crucial difference that separates 'VROOOM' from 'VROOOM VROOOM'. Can you? And why the heck did Fripp feel the need to cut 'VROOOM' into 'VROOOM' proper and 'Coda: Marine 475'? Hey, why didn't these guys spend more imagination on music rather than these clumsy song titles? Now the ballads are an entirely different matter - Belew is king indeed. Apart from the already mentioned 'One Time', he gets to perform what is arguably the best track on here, the moody, gorgeous 'Walking On Air'; this time it has the atmosphere of a solid George Harrison number, and so much the better, because there's pretty few things in this world that can surpass the beauty of a solid George Harrison number. And it's not just the calm, soothing melody and Adrian's wonderful singing, it's almost everything about the song that's beautiful, ending with Levin's 'mystical' bass lines. There are also a couple of minor efforts here that are not as memorable, but still please the regular ear ('Inner Garden I', 'Inner Garden II' - becalming, relaxative acoustic shuffles). And the rockers are interesting, well, some of them, at least. Actually, one of them - the dreary 'Dinosaur' with real dinosaur noises (ha!) and Belew's soulful wailing about him being a dinosaur and somebody digging up his bones. Gee, wouldn't that be meaning they were ironizing about the band's resurrection in a new epoch? Could well be, but, anyway, whatever the lyrics, the song is good. Creepy, impressive, atmospheric, even sincere-sounding, one might say. Or maybe it is good because of the lyrics, and if only they'd bothered to set some of their jams to lyrics as well, I'd be of a somewhat higher opinion about the album. Or maybe it isn't. Because the other rocker, 'People', a little in the Police/Sting style, simply doesn't cut the mustard for me - they sound so strained, and there's so little real energy, that it's just sour. And as for its final section with its repetitive 'majestic', sad riff, it reminds me of a pale copy of the Beatles' 'I Want You', but it also seems that the band almost sleeps through the entire piece. Like Mr Fripp set his fingers into the appropriate position and while doing his mantraic ding-ding suddenly forgot to watch over his conscience being fully tuned in. (Frankly speaking, most King Crimson instrumental passages sound like the band is on autopilot, but it's one thing when your autopilot is God, and another when your autopilot is pure undeified intuition. Did that make sense to ya?). In any case - the resurrection of the band seems like a crazy thing to me. Previously, each time Fripp took a decision to revitalize King Crimson, he'd wait until he received some new fascinating ideas (or at least recruited some new people with new fascinating ideas), so that every new debut album broke some new ground. In The Court broke a lot of new ground, and Larks' Tongues In Aspic ushered in a new conception of instrumental rock music, and Discipline also struck us with a virtually new, 'Progressive New Wave' sound. But THRAK has nothing of the kind - no new ideas or anything. Just everything heavier than everything was before, nothing else. In fact, Adrian could have easily put the best songs on a solo album, because Fripp and Bruford's presence on the album is just plain unnecessary. Everything truly 'Crimsonian' about the record is either dated or boring. Maybe you understand the purpose of this album? It isn't even a cash-in - it couldn't have been one, as there aren't that much King Crimson fans in the world nowadays. Still, the ballads are good, the fully-shaped rockers are excellent, and the record is well worth owning at least for the songs I mentioned. Discard the pro forma instrumentals, and the rest of the numbers will be sitting inside your head and humming their little cute selves to you for the rest of the week. Don't spend too much money on them, of course, but that goes without saying... don't spend too much money on anything unless it happens to be salvation which isn't evaluated in money anyway. And please someone tell Fripp for me to dig and retrieve a couple more amusing sonic effects - he's too darn repetitive on here.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995Record rating = 7
Another good live album, but with few surprises this time.Best song: LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC PART II
Track listing: 1) VROOOM; 2) Frame By Frame; 3) Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream; 4) Red; 5) One Time; 6) B'Boom; 7) THRAK; 8) Improv - Two Sticks; 9) Elephant Talk; 10) Indiscipline; 11) VROOOM VROOOM; 12) Matte Kudasai; 13) The Talking Drum; 14) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two; 15) Heartbeat; 16) Sleepless; 17) People; 18) B'Boom (reprise); 19) THRAK.
Subtitled 'The Official Bootleg - Live in Argentina', this 2-CD release (not archive this time) again shows us that King Crimson are first of all a superb live band rather than anything else. Practically every new composition of theirs is superior to the studio releases - Bruford's percussion is sharper, Fripp's guitar more energetic, and Belew's singing more aggressive and distinctive than on THRAK. You can't help but wonder if they really used the studio exclusively as a polygon for their live shows, and the studio album as a pretext for touring.Indeed, while I felt almost no interest towards their new instrumental approach on THRAK, the live versions of 'VROOOM', 'B'Boom' and 'THRAK' on this record come across as nearly revelative - it isn't that you just got to admire the technical efficiency of these guys, it really gets you going! Maybe if they speeded them up a bit, it would be even better, but even in slow tempo the songs still deliver a lot of crunch. And 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream' never sounded that good. The only thing that bugs me a little is why they had to include two versions of 'THRAK' and a reprise of 'B'Boom' instead of playing a couple classics. By the way, does anybody know if the new KC line-up ever played 'Schizoid Man' live, and if so, why hadn't they still released a version? Just curious... Ah, well, they probably never have because it's hard for me to imagine Adrian Belew roaring out 'Neurosurgeons scream for more!' in that icy-cold mechanic robotic mercyless voice. Not that Belew never gets raunchy, but some jobs just aren't made for some people, I guess. Anyway, the older 'classics' (that is, songs from the 1981-84 period) assume a slightly different air on here, possibly because of the two extra players. They sound more complex and a little bit too 'technical' for my ears, although that's still a minor complaint: 'Matte Kudasai' is as gorgeous as ever, 'Heartbeat' is as rhythmic as ever, 'Sleepless' is as bass-stunning as ever, and 'Elephant Talk' is as elephantine as ever (although Fripp uses some other kind of gadget nowadays which doesn't resemble an elephant's bellowing as faithfully). You can't go wrong with the classics, although I do get the feeling that King Crimson, and Fripp in particular, aren't among those bands that like to endlessly replay the old hits - there's a naggin' feeling in my guts that much of this stuff, as immaculate as it is technically, was still played pro forma, just to satisfy the crowds, most of which were possibly fans of King Crimson's early Eighties' period. (I dare say not too many Crimheads from the early Seventies had survived all the metamorphoses in the band's sound - those that were mad about In The Court and Larks' Tongues In Aspic would be more than icy-cold about Discipline, normally). 'Indiscipline', in particular, almost seems rushed here - once they would revel in its dissonance, perfectly build up the tension, thrilling the audience in a masterful way, but here, the moments of tense expectation are reduced and Belew seems to 'get on' with his delivery, speeding up the song and somewhat ruining such a delicate experience. Heck, why play the song at all then? It's hardly a Crimhead favourite anyway. The other songs get occasional re-arrangements, such as 'Sleepless', which becomes a bit funkier and less moody - you put on your headphones and see what happens. The version from Absent Lovers took me on an entire thrilling journey through the subconscious, this one, well, this one, I guess, just rocks, 'sall. But don't get me wrong: I'm not knocking this stuff, I'm only saying that at this point they're more comfortable with the new material than with the old one. However, just to satisfy everybody possible there's still a 'blast from the past' - 'Red' again, and 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II' are preceded by 'The Talking Drum' - not the best selection you could imagine (quantitatively, I mean), but a jolly good reminder of the past anyway. And as for 'Larks' Tongues', this here is the definite live version of the classic, with Fripp punching out the intoxicating, distorted chords of the main riff as if his very life depended on the strength he was putting into the effort. When the middle riff comes in (the one that's the grungiest of all), be sure to lower your volume. What else can be said? Nothing, really, except that, once again, if you're interested in this period of KC, this live album should be your buy and not the seriously flawed THRAK. I still don't like it nearly as much as Absent Lovers just because of the lack o' shine and also because it's a little bit too heavy in the aimless jam department, what with those two reprises of 'THRAK' and all, but even the jams are enjoyable just because they're so, well, 'hardcore' should I say? Possibly. You can headbang to 'em if you wish. Nice alternative to AC/DC in case your psychics is too mild to handle the Young brothers. Oh! The only thing that really strikes me is the titles they've been giving their albums. Just look at the latest discography - VROOOM! THRAK! B'Boom! (and we haven't yet arrived at the definitive live King Crimson album of next year, either). Doesn't it make you feel afraid somebody will mistake it for schizophrenic ravings when looking through the discography?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1996Record rating = 0 [duh]
Another live album. Quite a lot of surprises, but these are the kind of surprises that make you rush to the used bins back again.Best song: THRAK
Track listing: 1) THRAK; 2) Fearless And Highly THRaKKed; 3) Mother Hold The Candle Steady While I Shave The Chicken's Lip; 4) THRaKaTTaK Part 1; 5) The Slaughter Of The Innocents; 6) This Night Wounds Time; 7) THRaKaTTaK Part II; 8) THRAK (reprise).
The closest analogy I could have thought of so far to this album is George Harrison's Electronic Sound (the one where he fools around with his newly acquired synth for about forty minutes or so). This is another live album (although I don't quite understand if it's live in the studio or live at a concert; in the latter case I pity the audiences indeed), but this time the only 'song' material is a version of 'THRAK' split in two parts, one of which begins the album and the other of which closes it. The version itself is good, and even if their instrumental compositions of the epoch are not among my favourites, it does sound impressive in the company of the other stuff. It rocks!However, the rest of the album (and it's more than forty minutes long) is all devoted to one lengthy improvised piece (okay, it does have six different 'parts' which all have separate headings like 'Mother Hold The Candle Steady While I Shave The Chicken's Lip' and 'Fearless And Highly THRaKKed', but essentially this doesn't mean anything except that you'll be able to move the CD laser head to any part of the improvisation you like), and the word 'horrible' is too shallow, too short and too innocent to describe my feelings. Maybe a couple braindead Crimson devotees will appreciate this bunch of noise-making; indeed, I know of a review site whose owner gave the album a five stars just because he felt it was great, although its greatness escaped him at the moment. Obviously, he thought that if Fripp and company thought enough of this jam session to release it on an official CD, it should have been great - whether anybody liked it or not. To me, though, it just proves that Fripp and company have gone so berserk that they thought they could get away with anything by the time, even such a monster. Essentially, what you get is a mess of the usual atonal, dissonant jams in the fine tradition of 'Fracture' and 'No Warning'. However, this time there is nothing to save you and to distract your attention: the pieces go on and on, and there is no way to escape from the wailing feedback, dissonant piano lines, stick noodlings and drum barrages - other than turning your CD off. Which I finally did - pardon me, but I refuse to listen to this tripe more than once in a lifetime. Anybody who thinks this album is great: your comments are welcome! Teach me something I'm not aware of! In the meantime, if you happen to be a millionaire, you're welcome to raid the world's CD stores and burn every copy of the album in existence. Sad, isn't it? To start King Crimson's career with a best album and top it off with a worst? Let's just hope the guys will reform one more time and come up with something truly creative and more sense-making. Update, a year and a half later: What do you know, time heals old wounds and makes new ones. Which means that I brought myself to listening to this stuff again... and felt exactly the same way I felt before. I give you this: as a certain 'curious' phenomenon, it may be interesting just to see what a bunch of highly talented and professional musicians can muster once brought on stage and given proper equipment and set in a proper mood. Many of the individual segments here do sound 'musical' and could work well within the context of a certain song. For instance, the raging, chaotic segment in the middle of 'This Night Wounds Time' would sound great, I think, within the context of a large melodic piece with an apocalyptic flair. Same goes for many, many other parts. But that's it. They just sound like parts, as if you actually took a dozen people, tore them limb from limb, threw all the bloodied peaces in one heap and said, 'hey, I brought you a dozen people like you requested'. I didn't request DISJOINTING them, for God's sake! Yeah, I assume that if the stage had been occupied by a bunch of talentless pretentious "art punk" students, the results wouldn't be even that interesting, in other words, it could be worse. But as it is, what we get is just a curio, a pointless, senseless demonstration of 'talent'. This stuff goes nowhere, triggers no emotions, breaks no new ground (modern classical composers had all this stuff figured long before anyway) and only mars the band's reputation. The only thing I have to say - thanks a lot, Mr Fripp, for not putting this stuff on the B'Boom release and separating your live show schtick into the pleasant/accessible part and the unpleasant/ inaccessible part. Oh, and by the way, I suppose I should have added that these improvisations, direction-wise, are at least ten times less entertaining than the improvised stuff that King Crimson used to do in the mid-Seventies and is captured on Night Watch, Great Deceiver, etc. At least back at that time, the guitar tones weren't so nasty AND, the most important thing, the improvisations at least carried a certain mood which was developed and expanded throughout the improvisation. It might have seemed ugly and monotonous, but it was moody, and you could associate with it if you really wanted to. Here, it's just a bunch of guys making noise that means nothing. And nobody's guilty but Mr Fripp.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
...goes the King Crimson machine. No introduction necessary... no experience needed.Best song: FUCK YOU, MR FRIPP! FUCK YOU!
Track listing: CD I: 1) VROOOM VROOOM; 2) Coda: Marine 475; 3) Dinosaur; 4) B'Boom; 5) THRAK; 6) The Talking Drum; 7) Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part II); 8) Neurotica; 9) Prism; 10) Red; 11) Improv: Biker Babes Of The Rio Grande; 12) 21st Century Schizoid Man;CD II: 1) Conundrum; 2) Thela Hun Ginjeet; 3) Frame By Frame; 4) People; 5) One Time; 6) Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream; 7) Indiscipline; 8) Two Sticks; 9) Elephant Talk; 10) Three Of A Perfect Pair; 11) B'Boom; 12) THRAK; 13) Free As A Bird; 14) Walking On Air.
So what? Once again I'm forced to write a review of the friggin' five millionth live King Crimson album? Oh whatever you please, Sir Fripp. How come you haven't been knighted yet, your snobby English gentleman attitude and all? Aw shucks, when was the last time you actually did mow your lawn?The eeriest thing about this album is that those two guys on bikes that look like identic twins also look like a copy of our Russian president Vladimir Putin. I'm really tempted to think there's some encoded message to the Russian government within, but the closest thing to an encoded message out there is Adrian Belew's weird wordless mutterings on 'Free As A Bird' which I never could decode. So scrap that. The most annoying thing about this album is that since I've already written a review of B'Boom, there's very little I can say about these recordings that I haven't already said. Look, I just read some guy's Italian description of my site which was very flattering and all, yet one of the minor complaints he was throwing off at me is that the reviews are so long I keep repeating myself. Now okay, I acknowledge that flaw. But I have a worthy example before my eyes - Mr Fripp apparently sees no problem whatsoever in repeating himself. If the number of live versions of 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II' in my current posession has already surpassed a dozen, how come I'm not allowed to plagiarize myself? Especially when reviewing live King Crimson albums, for that matter? Okay, okay. So this is - big surprise - an archive release of the "double trio" 1995-96 world tour. Two discs. I'm pretty sure if you join the Frippheads at the Discipline site, there's an additional two available by mail order and an additional five hundred and seventy six if you volunteer to mow Fripp's lawn, but I personally have a life to live and it's admittedly too short to concern myself with everything these guys have in store. I'm just swallowing what the Russian pirates offer me, you understand (take that Mr Fripp! Yeah, you're being pirated by obnoxious Russian guys! Being ripped off! Demoralized! Humiliated!). Disc one was recorded at 'Metropolitan Theater Mexico City August 2,3,4 1996' and disc two (subtitled On Broadway) was recorded at 'Longacre Theater New York City November 20, 21, 22, 24, 25 1995'. Funny thing is, there's almost no overlap between the two except for the 'B'Boom/THRAK' pairing, but since these are not actually complete shows, that's no friggin' surprise. Now if you were to order the five hundred and seventy six supplementary discs and there'd be no overlap on that set, then we'd be talking. Would we, Mr Fripp? Could we? In any case, a lot of the tracks are overlapping with the B'Boom release, and while it seems to me that the sound quality is overall a teensy-weensy bit better on VROOOM VROOOM, it's no sufficient reason to hold a tribal celebration anyway. There's a bunch of improvs that certainly weren't present on B'Boom, including a really cool drum battle between Bruford and Mastelotto called 'Prism' - one of the best drum-only tracks in the Crimson catalog, I'd say. There's also a live version of 'Neurotica' from Beat, if you're interested: not sure if any other live Crimson record has this track, but it wasn't among Crimson's best in the first place, although, as usual, any material from the Eighties recorded live improves on the studio one twentyfold. Hmm, what else? The live 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' kicks ass, but seems a bit more chaotic than the more concise version on Absent Lovers, and for some reason they decided to actually stick the spoken monologue bit from the studio original on it, but in the form of a pre-recorded tape, which isn't too interesting. There are also the final two tracks which are pretty nice - first, Belew singing 'Free As A Bird' over a minimal piano accompaniment (see a different, but similar version on Adrian's own Belewprints), emphasizing the 'ooh-oohs' and 'mmm-mmms' instead of actual sung lines as if he were impersonating John Lennon sitting at a piano and improvising the song, and then a beautiful, and rare, live version of 'Walking On Air'. But, of course, the major exciting thing, and reason No. 1 to own this record, is that Disc 1 ends in a live rendition of '21st Schizoid Man'!!! A track that was all but never played at Belew-lineup concerts, for all I know; no surprise that the tequila-drenched Mexican audiences give a huge uproar of wonder and appraisal as the first chords echo through the theater. Not that it's one of the best versions I've ever heard, and it's understandable why Belew doesn't perform it more often - his voice lacks the power and grittiness that Greg Lake and John Wetton did have. But still, the band runs along nicely, and the very fact of its inclusion is a huge boost for the typical Crimson fan, or so I think. For everything else, please see my B'Boom review. Sorry for taking up so much of your time, too, but if I didn't spend enough time kissing Mr Fripp's ass on here, I'd certainly be deemed a rough ungentlemanly villain. Can I mow your lawn now, Mr Fripp, sir?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2000Record rating = 6
Old Man Fripp goes retro - this sure sounds like King Crimson, but isn't "retro" kind of an anti-Crimson thing?Best song: PROZAKC BLUES
Track listing: 1) ProzaKc Blues; 2-3) The ConstruKction Of Light; 4) Into The Frying Pan; 5) FraKctured; 6) The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum; 7-9) Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part IV; 10) Coda: I Have A Dream; 11) (Project X) Heaven And Earth.
Okay, so the guys did reform. And put out one of the most controversial albums of their entire thirty-year plus, four-stages-plus recording career.The "double trio" is no more, which seriously harms the sound - Levin and Bruford are out, leaving Trey Gunn to mimic all the parts of one of the best bass players in the business and Pat Mastelotto to wreak havoc on his set of electronic drums. Yeah, all the drums on here are electronic, but, frankly speaking, that doesn't bother me - electronic drums are not drum machines, it's still a guy pounding, and Mastelotto is a good enough pounder, though nowhere near as technically gifted as Bruford. That said, the band does lose a certain important bit of flexibility. However, that's not the main problem. The main problem, as has already been stated many times, is that ConstruKction Of Light is the first album in a row that really adds nothing to King Crimson's legacy. At least the early Nineties' stage of KC looked like a nifty hybrid between the heaviness of Seventies' King Crimson and jerky New-Waveishness of Eighties' King Crimson; this album essentially just sounds like the same early Nineties' King Crimson with a thinner sound. I admit one thing - the production on the album is immaculate, with shining resplendent guitars and thick gutsy bass and every note in its rightful place. But it's still a thin sound, and not something we haven't heard before. Even more irritating, there are endless references to the past. Almost every track on here can be traced back to a certain 'predecessor' or 'bunch of predecessors' from older albums. Take the title track, for instance. If you haven't heard anything else by King Crimson, you may admire it. But essentially, it's just a showcase for Fripp and Belew to trade weird interweaving ethnic guitar licks in the exact same style as they had already displayed previously on 'Discipline' (the song) and its numerous offshoots like 'Three Of A Perfect Pair', etc. What the heck is that? I don't care that this time around, the 'weaving' is constantly interrupted by complex drum breaks and grumbly bass diddling; it's still the same old schtick. Relief only comes at the second part of the song, where Belew adds some weird overdubbed vocal tracks which are a gas to listen to. Likewise, 'FraKctured' is certainly reminiscent of 'Fracture', a similar nine-minute long monster which I do like a little bit more than the "original", mainly because the guitars are sharper and I like Crimson's New Wave production style better than Crimson's mid-Seventies production style, but who cares, it's essentially the same atonality blast. The guitars are REALLY powerful, and for any band of lesser stature this interplay could only be dreamt of, but unfortunately, KC had already set a certain standard for themselves, and this isn't up to the standard. Finally, I'm not really sure what to do of 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part IV'. How many parts does the song need, actually? Especially considering that this time around, Fripp didn't even bother to compose an original melody - essentially, it's just 'LTIA Part II' and 'LTIA Part III' re-written and re-arranged "two thousand style", whatever that would mean. So essentially there are just three numbers here that I would really eagerly recommend to Crimsonians. 'ProzaKc Blues' is hilarious: for the first and last time in their lives, the Crims embark on a BLUES number, which they, of course, fuck up to total unimaginability, with weird drum and bass tempos contradicting each other and Belew's vocals distorted so that they start to resemble an old bluesman's growl. This, I admit, is something the guys never tried before, although it doesn't exactly open new dimensions of music-making, if you know what I mean. Then there's 'The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum', a heavy rocker firmly in the vein of the better rockers off THRAK, whose only fault is the too deeply buried vocals (which brings up the question - where the heck are Belew's vocals at all? they're all distorted and buried and growley and I miss dem ballads). And finally, the coda that leads off 'Larks' Tongues', blatantly called 'I Have A Dream', is pretty nice and pretty unusual, too: King Crimson go for an ultra-pompous majestic kind of sound that approaches 'cathartic', a thing they never did before. Yes did that. Genesis did that. But King Crimson? They never had anything like 'Wurm', and here they actually try to do it. And more or less succeed, although the stupid electronic drums get a bit too much in the way. Overall, though, I'm ready to side up with the critics and that part of the fans who called the album a disappointment. It's not bad - even the tracks I dismissed aren't really unlistenable - but after a four-year break, one would expect a rejuvenated and refreshened version of the band punch out some new musical revolution or something. Instead, they just get back to the already explored basics. Well... then again, who really has the guts to blame those guys, the only progressive rock band that managed to successfully defy the Eighties? We don't always have to be that inventive, you know. So just give 'em their due and buy this album and the five hundred live albums through DGM so that Robert Fripp could spend the rest of his days basking in artistic and financial freedom and negligently spit on you, the uneducated uncivilized unmannered bastard you are, from atop his high tower.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2000Record rating = 7
Ample proof that the Crims work better on stage. At least, there's somebody they can take away a camera from!Best song: yeah, out of three discs, right.
Track listing: CD I: 1) Into The Frying Pan; 2) The ConstruKction Of Light; 3) ProzaKc Blues; 4) Improv: Munchen; 5) One Time; 6) Dinosaur; 7) VROOOM; 8) FraKctured; 9) The World's My Oyster Kitchen Floor Wax Museum; 10) Improv: Bonn;CD II: 1) Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream; 2) Improv: Offenbach; 3) Cage; 4) Larks' Tongues In Aspic: Part Four; 5) Three Of A Perfect Pair; 6) The Deception Of The Thrush; 7) Heroes; CD III: 1) Sapir; 2) Blastic Rhino; 3) Lights Please (part 1); 4) ccccSeizurecc; 5) Off And Black; 6) More (And Less); 7) Beautiful Rainbow; 8) 7 Teas; 9) Tomorrow Never Knew Thela; 10) Uboo; 11) The Deception Of The Thrush; 12) Arena Of Terror; 13) Lights Please (part 2).
Once upon a time, Robert Fripp used to make modest live albums like Earthbound and USA, which were cheap but were never able to capture the essence of a King Crimson live show in a complete way. Now, in the age of digital technologies and economic prosperity, Robert Fripp does not resort to half-measures. The 1995 tour saw a double live album, B'Boom. The 2000 tour now sees a triple live album. Okay, give 'em their due, they never released a triple live album when Yes and ELP were doing that. So give 'em more money! And seeing as this is not an official KCCC (King Crimson Collectors Club) release, I just had to buy it, you know, even if it was limited-edition and all that. I just needed desperately to see if they still got it. You know, the youthful spirit. The pioneering flame. The innovative spark. The signs of life, dammit.And sure they got 'em! Triple live album or no, this is significantly nicer than the studio counterpart. The triple format gives the band the advantage of making this their 'collective B'Boom+THRaKaTTaK in one package': the first two CDs feature 'the regular set', with just a small bunch of mostly melodic improvisations, while the third one is entirely dedicated to the band's trademark atonal improvs. Thus you can just assume that you're overpaying and discard the third CD entirely like some sort of 'Apple Jam' that really doesn't belong. On the other hand, you might actually give it a listen! I know I did, and one thing I'm sure of is this is so dang better than THRaKaTTaK. Only a few of the improvs, in fact, give the impression of being conceived with the sole aim of proving that "we can make any random kind of noise and get away with it anyway"; more often, there's some real intent beyond these things, which again reverts us to the good old days of wankin' away on all those mid-Seventies shows. Plus, tracks like 'ccccSeizurecc' feature some really ferocious jamming, tracks like 'Arena Of Terror' sound exactly like that good old stuff like 'Voyage To The Centre Of The Cosmos', etc. And there's even a subtle incorporation of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' into one of the more chaotic jams, entitled 'Tomorrow Never Knew Thela' (unfortunately, the reference to 'Thela Hun Ginjeet' seems to be a fluke; I, for one, never noticed the possible similarities). I don't want to say that all this stuff makes the third CD any more listenable than THRaKaTTaK, but it sure makes it less intentionally offensive and I don't even use it as a major 'rating lowerer'. I'm just such a very, very nice person. Almost as nice as Robert Fripp, who's so amazingly nice he confiscates every camera in sight. (More on that below). But the first two CDs, well, rule. The songs off ConstruKction Of Light, and that album is reproduced here on stage in its entirety, mostly sound better if only for the fact that they're live. Even 'ProzaKc Blues', while it does lose the hilarious vocal distortion effects, seems lively and inspired to me - and Belew makes it obvious that it wasn't all distortion, because he sure can concoct a mean hoarse growl all by himself. It's a bit strange that they kick off the set with 'Into The Frying Pan', one of the weaker numbers off the original, but weak or no, you just gotta pump up the volume and all the problems are gone. Besides, over the course of this album you'll probably be able to get used to the lack of Bruford - Mastelotto is nowhere near as fluent in his drumming as the old Drum God of Prog Rock, for sure, but you gotta understand, this time KC are in for a different kind of groove, the kind of groove that focuses on "sound variety" more than "sound precision", and so all the musicians are trying to extract as many sounds from their material as possible. Thus, Mastelotto is a better candidate for 'electronic pounding' than Bruford; and as for Fripp and Belew, they bring an entire new life into the term 'guitar wiz' - see Fripp toying with his 'piano guitar', for instance, on several songs, a trick he probably inherited from Belew's Guitar As Orchestra album. In any way, it's all exciting. Apart from that, there are numerous surprises, although, granted, not as much as I'd wish it to be. We all know that King Crimson don't like to go way back in the past, so most of the 'oldies' here are "Nineties' Oldies" - songs from THRAK, that is. 'VROOOM', 'Dinosaur', 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream' (a reworked version of that one that makes far more and better use of the loud/quiet alternations), and 'One Time' for a little sappy ballad change. A particular surprise is Belew's acoustic take on 'Cage', a song thoroughly expanded from its original version (although it's not such a big surprise for those who are familiar with Adrian's solo catalog - an acoustic rendition of the number was originally recorded for Belewprints). Then there's also a fully acoustic solo Belew rendition of 'Three Of A Perfect Pair', and the biggest surprise of all: Bowie's 'Heroes'! And a pretty damn cool version, too, if you ask me - oh, and again, not that much of a surprise considering that Fripp actually worked with Bowie and Eno on the Heroes album twenty-three years earlier. The funniest line, of course, is 'I, I will be king... Crimson' (how could Adrian refrain from such an obvious adlib? HOW???), but I dare say nobody will be offended, since Belew and Bowie had worked together quite a bit and Belew was quite influenced by Bowie - borrowing many of Bowie's antiques, too. Finally, another nice surprise is that the second CD in the set is computer-enhanced - it actually contains a 40-minute video of King Crimson's Rome performance in June 2000. For some reason, the damn thing doesn't want to work without a password to get which you'd have to register at Discipline through the Web, but save your time - the only thing Mr Fripp was intelligent to come up with was to make a "hidden" directory on the CD which your straightforward stupid Gates-enhanced Windows can't handle. So find yourself a DOS shell like Norton Commander, copy the file to your hard disk and enjoy all forty minutes with no stupid password! Tee hee. Nice video, too. Mastelotto is fat. Fripp is grey-haired. Belew sports a cool red acoustic. Too bad they don't do 'ProzaKc Blues' on there, but you do get to enjoy some shitty improv as well as 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream', 'VROOOM', 'The World's My Oyster Soup Blah Blah Blah Blah', 'Cage' and 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part IV'. Packed in together with the coda. Oh! But what's that whole nasty fascist deal with the 'no pictures' stuff? At least in the video we just see Fripp coming out to the mike and saying 'no pictures', and a nice-looking (but equally fascistic deep inside, don't trust nobody!) Belew popping tension and saying 'please don't take no pictures, we're all ugly'. But the third CD actually has the guys revelling in their totalitarian instincts - 'Lights Please' is just a track in which Fripp says 'lights please' and then proceeds to order somebody who just took a photo to give up his camera, with the band actually stopping playing and everything going on halt. And then they really go on and put this stuff on a regular live CD? Not a bootleg one? Do they take pride in these actions? I don't care if Mr Fripp sports an immaculate British pronunciation, he's just a pompous asshole in this particular occasion. Nothing else.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2002Record rating = 5
Yeah, alright, I take the hint. Happy me that I never paid full price for this.Best song: HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU HAVE TO BE HAPPY WITH
Track listing: 1) Bude; 2) Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With; 3) Mie Gakure; 4) She Shudders; 5) Eyes Wide Open; 6) Shoganai; 7) I Ran; 8) Potato Pie; 9) Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part IV); 10) Clouds.
A fun, but totally rip-off EP carrying the rip-off practice of the VROOOM EP to new levels. Granted, fewer tracks from this material made it onto the "regular" ensuing album Power To Believe than the ones from VROOOM that made it onto THRAK (there I am talking goblin language again), but geez, look at the material itself. Three actual "new" songs; one live performance of an already available song; one "hidden" sound collage of studio banter and rehearsing; and lots and lots and lots of minimalistic atmospheric ambient snippets. That's gotta be the new King Crimson record for all ye faithful who have not the patience to wait for the full-fledged CD.Well, at least for some weird weird reason the Crimson lineup hasn't changed: the Belew/Fripp/Gunn/Mastelotto combo is still at it, so apparently either Fripp is getting old and less cranky or there's some deeply rooted bond he's developed between himself and these guys. (Or maybe they just completely lack egos, unlike a guy of Bruford's type, which makes for a non-conflict situation). So, if you're not offended by Pat Mastelotto's scary looks, you'll probably be wanting more of that 2000-era sound... ...and you get it, which means this is a decent, but not overall consistent, experience. The best track by far is the title one, a self-conscious parody of "nu metal" or whatever the kids call it, laden with tons-of-steel-heavy-riffs, frantic, hysterical Belew vocals, parodic lyrics ('and when I have some words, this is the way I'll sing... and now I'm gonna write a chorus!'), and a surprisingly light and signature-tricky, uh, chorus. From a pure intellectual standpoint, the trick is rusty and old and suits the likes of Weird Al Yankovic better than the likes of King Crimson, but on the not-so-pretentious-side-of-things, Belew has always had a gift for parody, whether it be Dylan ('Flakes' on Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti) or old bluesmen (last album's 'ProzaKc Blues', of course), and this song is great for a laugh, too, not to mention it actually kicking ass like any respectable "nu metal" thing should. I am less happy with 'Eyes Wide Open', written in the typical paradigm of a Belew acoustic ballad, but not too heavy on either hooks or true excitement. The guitars sound rather lazy and hazy and all sunshine-daisy on that one, and play some contorted and unemotional phrasing, as if somebody took 'Three Of A Perfect Pair', slowed it down, threw out the easily identifiable structure, eliminated the angst, and added a stupid adult contemporary Latin-tinged midsection. And 'Potato Pie' is a good song, but a bit too chaotic to be a true classic like 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream' or 'Dinosaur': there's too little melody and too many stop-and-start tricks and improvised moments for it to be memorable. In terms of texture, it's sort of a blues rocker turned upside down, with Belew's bluesy soloing probably the best element about it: in case you doubted it, the man can play the blues when he wants to, he just almost never wants to, and when he does want to, it takes you ages to realize he's playing the blues. I'm still not too sure personally. So, perversely enough, the other major higlight of the record is the live version of 'Larks' Tongues Part IV', available here for all those who were unwilling to shell out hard earned cash for the three pompous discs of Heavy ConstruKction. Belew and Fripp seem to have chosen the definitive version here, with overdriven, speedy playing that they don't really allow themselves too often - check out the crunchy fire-breathing solo around the fourth minute, for instance, that's some heavy stuff out there, the likes of which Fripp rarely plays outside of '21st Century Schizoid Man'. Not that the track is a huge improvement over the two versions of the track already known to me, but it does seem more powerful, supporting the hypothesis that Crim material only gets juicier and juicier with the passing of time. As for the interludes, well... these are mostly complete throwaways, like a bit of electronically treated accappella singing, for instance ('Bude' - lots of tracks sport Japanese titles for reasons unknown), or two minutes of static Frippertronics ('Mie Gakure'), etc. It's not offensive or annoying having them around, but obviously they're just space fillers to boost the overall track number. And then, at the end of 'Clouds', you get a "hidden" sequence of isolated guitar lines, jokes, tiny bits of scrapped songs, and what-not all intertwined with each other with no particular purpose, even featuring a single choral vocal line from 'In The Court Of The Crimson King' at the end of the tune. And that's all. If you ask me, that's not the best preview they could have imagined, but hey, that's what they say right there in the title. Which, of course, conceals a secret message of hate, despisal, and chauvinism towards every single King Crimson fan in the world, because Robert Fripp is no less than Satan in disguise. Who else but Satan would be condoning a "parody" on "nu metal" anyway?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2003Record rating = 6
Don't have any anyway, but at least it's not an official "disappointment" this time around.Best song: undecidable. By the thinnest of hairs still existent on Adrian Belew's head, maybe DANGEROUS CURVES.
Track listing: 1) The Power To Believe I: A Cappella; 2) Level Five; 3) Eyes Wide Open; 4) Elektrik; 5) Facts Of Life; 6) The Power To Believe II; 7) Dangerous Curves; 8) Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With; 9) The Power To Believe III; 10) The Power To Believe IV: Coda.
This doesn't work too well, I'm afraid. On the positive side, you have all the standard Crimsonian acclaim you can dream of. Immaculate sound and production, immaculate players, amazingly complex and subtle compositional skill, and above all else, a staunch lack of any desire to conform: King Crimson are definitely still at it.On the negative side, that's exactly what I'm afraid of in the first place. This record, just like its predecessor, shows that King Crimson as a major creative power does not exist any more. No, it's not a carbon copy of ConstruKction, and not at all a carbon copy of THRAK. But with every new album, it seems like Fripp's ability to serve as the "guru" of all things avantgarde and 'progressive' grows thinner and thinner. I can't help but describe the differences as anything more than "cosmetic" - slightly different production, slightly, very slightly different sonic textures (this time, for instance, partially due to Trey Gunn's embracing the "Warr Guitar", an instrument that can function as a normal guitar or as a bass guitar whenever you want it to), and, of course, slightly different melodies. Slightly. With any band but King Crimson, I might have overlooked that. Hey, I don't mind AC/DC, after all. But AC/DC have had "Changes Suck" embroidered in huge gold letters on their banner since the day they were formed. King Crimson, on the other hand, have always followed the policy of "Nothing But Changes" - it could be surmised that Fripp was "reinstating" the band when, and only when, he felt quite assured it had enough potential to radically reinvent its sound. I can only surmise that age has finally caught up with the inexhaustible Sir Photophobert; Power To Believe is just another desperate attempt to show the world that King Crimson are still avantgarde, although by their own standards, they are so pathetically "mainstream" now it almost hurts. This is, so far, the most predictable album by the band - which, as I can see, pleases quite a few of the fans, those who want "more of the same", but definitely does not please me, so bear with it. Worse is the realisation that not a single song on here is going to hold up as a classic. At the very least, 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part IV' reworked the already explored topic in a way that managed to render it memorable. Here, none of the instrumentals have anything remotely resembling a 'memorable theme'. Conceptually and stylistically, there are, just as last time around, obvious nods to the band's past: the constant "reprisals" of the title track with its minimalistic ambientish Belew-sung lyrical snippet remind one of the 'Peace' theme from Poseidon, while the dark crescendo of 'Dangerous Curves' is just as evident a throwback to 'The Talking Drum'. (Yeah yeah it's got a different crescendo, all you Crimheads. It's still dark, and it's "rolling", and it's growing, and it's becoming ever more intense. That's all I need to know here). But that's neither a good nor a bad thing by itself. Other than that, it's just standard Crimson fare. There are jaw-dropping Red-style and THRAK-style solos as well as nimble and smart Discipline-style guitar interplay a-plenty, and, of course, a plethora of leaden metallic riffage. Remind you of anything? Yeah, sure. And I don't know about you the highly and fully personal reader, but I sure know that I do not feel any impetus nowadays whenever I hear the patented Crimson trick of having a dingley-dap ding-ding-dingley-dap "soft" guitar part suddenly transform into a thrash-boom-bang riff that, for the umpteenth time in Crim history, tells us the Apocalypse is not too far off. It's never far off, but somehow it never really begins. I can't even name any favourites this time around. It's so goddamn superb to the very last note as far as form is concerned and so goddamn rehashed to the very last note as far as substance is concerned that, as a result, I like everything equally - which is "uhh, this is kinda good". 'Level Five', previously available for fans on the live EP of the same name, kicks things off like you'd expect 'Red' to kick them off. Tons of tricky time signatures, Mastelotto reverting to acoustic drums mostly (by now I guess he's technically as good as Bruford but somehow the soul seems to be missing, unless you never look for "soul" in King Crimson in the first place), and Belew soloing with lots of echo and reverb as if he were sitting on a sleazy little cloud somewhere above all the others and the same kind of guitar interplay they were doing on the previous album where one melody is played by two guitars alternating with each other and it's good! And it rules! A cool thing to do. But it's a cool thing that Fripp and Belew could do in their sleep. For their level, it's not much more than a pleasant trifle. And that leads to another problem - I can't tell these goddamn instrumentals one from another. Okay, I sort of remember that 'Elektrik' had more of that twangly 'Discipline'-like guitar interplay. (But after that it was the usual technical decision: "okay, now we're very very quiet... AND NOW WE'RE VERY VERY LOUD! Suck on that, Kurt Cobain's ghost!"). Then the second version of the title track was ambientish, okay. It had a lot of percussion on it, which means it incorporated 'Shoganai'. Arguably it was the most unusual track on the album - the band had, of course, already engaged in a lot of ambient-like textures before, but this one is very electronic-based and... Yeah, but here's the thing: Tangerine Dream have been doing this kind of stuff for decades now. Why in the world I have to dump my highly treasured seventy-plus albums of Edgar Froese's synth masturbation in favour of this seven-minute long "tribute" is way beyond me. 'Dangerous Curves', as I've already said (and I'm sure you already heard it mentioned in a million independent sources because objective facts travel with light speed, heh heh), borrows the "conception" from 'Talking Drum', as well as - partially - from 'Devil's Triangle', and I guess I was really entrapped by the tune - which seems to have some sense of direction, alone out of everything else. Again, though, with all of Fripp's experience, I have a hard time imagining it took them more than half an hour to conceive it, give birth, and cut the umbilical. And the third and fourth versions of the title track, well... the third version is an "ambient-meets-industrial" kind of thingy, and the fourth version is an "ambient-never-gets-to-meet-industrial" kind of thingy. 'Nuff said. Oh yeah, there's also the more "songlike" material. The version of 'Eyes Wide Open' is fuller produced and better sounding than the one on the EP; the version of 'Happy With A Lot Of Blah Blah Blah', on the other hand, is shorter and thus more sucky (I mean, it's relatively more sucky - it's still a hilarious tune!). 'Facts Of Life' is the only "new song" here, and it's a decent Belew-sung rocker, certainly nowhere near as good as 'Dinosaur' or 'Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream'. There you have it. To cut a long story short (hello there gentle reader, this last paragraph is for all those who have scrolled down to it without reading the rest of the review - I can't imagine anyone actually sitting through all of this crap), nobody is denying you your freedom of interpretation. You can listen to this and scream: "Hey there! Our favourite grumpy boys are doing it again! Hip hip hooray for progressive heroes that still refuse to sell out!" Or you can be grumpy yourself (like me) and whine: "Whoah now, our boys have definitely ran out of stunning new ideas. Ripping off Tangerine Dream is pathetic." Or you can rise a step higher and marvel at how this album is both things at the same time. By all means, get this if you run out of decent Crim material and still want more, but if you only want to get three or four Crim albums in all, don't make this a high priority. I guess.
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An excellent video of the KC 1984 tour, filmed in Tokyo. It's just your average concert captured on tape, but ultimately that's what makes the video so enjoyable: apart from a stupid special-effect-loaded opening 'Three Of A Perfect Pair', all the rest is just live performances, solidly filmed and quite visible, and this means that you'll be returning back to this video again and again. The band is outstanding in action, especially the contrast between the dancing, 'slightly mad' Belew and the quiet Fripp sitting in his well-polished suit and spectacles and playing phenomenal guitar lines. Sometimes Belew's conduct seems slightly excessive, and the outfit he's wearing is kinda ridiculous (but that's just me clothing tastes), but one gets used to that. And have you ever seen the 'stick'? Well it's here, as well as everything else. If you ever wondered how on earth the Crimsons play their instruments with such a wide range of sound and effects, here's, like, the answer to all your questions. And they only use a synth on the opening track (courtesy of Levin, who otherwise mostly sticks to sticks (ha!) and bass).The track selection is predictable, of course (almost coinciding with Absent Lovers, although there's no 'Red' and 'Discipline', while 'Entry Of The Crims' is replaced by 'No Warning'), and the level of performing is a little bit lower than on that classic release - it seems that Belew is often busy posing before the cameras instead of playing, while on AL he was concentrated on his playing as it was being recorded on audiotape. So a couple of tracks don't sound as good on here as they can ('The Waiting Man', for instance, hardly does anything for me in the video version). But that's just minor quibbles - like I said, watching the band in action is an incredible experience, much more heart-warming than having to see Yes, for instance, or the Moody Blues. Go get the video if you can, it'll be worth your money. And hey! Bill Bruford is wearing 'the same suit that brought you Larks' Tongues In Aspic'! Now that's what I call 'traditionalism'!
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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
There are about a million and one solo projects by various King Crimson members, past, present and possibly future ones, and I have not the least intent of reviewing even a tenth part of these. As of now, I only have two records directly related to the KC moniker, one of which is a historical necessity for every Crimson fan and the other one an unjustly forgotten minor gem. I guess that some of Robert Fripp's stuff might also be hugely recommendable.A separate topic is the solo career of Adrian Belew - the guy obviously went far beyond the style of Eighties' King Crimson and has actually deserved a special, solo page.
Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 11
Lightweight jazz pop. Funny thing is, this sounds like the Kinks more than King Crimson.Best song: ONE IN A MILLION
Track listing: 1) North Meadow; 2) The Saga Of Rodney Toady - Part 1; 3) Newly-Weds; 4) The Saga Of Rodney Toady - Part 2; 5) One In A Million; 6) The Saga Of Rodney Toady - Part 3; 7) Call Tomorrow; 8) The Saga Of Rodney Toady - Part 4; 9) Digging My Lawn; 10) The Saga Of Rodney Toady - Part 5; 11) Little Children; 12) The Crukster; 13) Thursday Morning; 14) How Do They Know; 15) Just George - Part 1; 16) Elephant Song; 17) Just George - Part 2; 18) The Sun Is Shining; 19) Just George - Part 3; 20) Suite No. 1; 21) Just George - Part 4; 22) Erudite Eyes; [BONUS TRACKS]: 23) She Is Loaded; 24) Under The Sky; 25) One In A Million (mono single version); 26) Newly-Weds (single version); 27) Thursday Morning (mono single version); 28) Thursday Morning (stereo single version).
This is the only existent album of the infamous trio, and I thought I'd better review it on the King Crimson page. Not because it sounds like a natural predecessor of King Crimson (it doesn't), but just because I don't want to make a separate page called 'Giles, Giles & Fripp'. Now sue me if you think I'm inconsistent.The track listing here is endless, but it's mostly because the songs are usually separated by short Monty Python-esque gags, all united under the names 'The Saga Of Rodney Toady' (written by Fripp) and 'Just George' (written by M. Giles). While 'Rodney Toady' is a hilarious story about a fat guy who was never loved by anybody because he was so fat and ugly, told by Fripp in a strange, asthmatic tone, I can't say the same of the stupid 'Just George' ('I know a man, and his name is George'). For me, it only sounds out of place and clutters the track listing. The songs, however, rule - at least, a large part of them. To tell you the truth, this sounds nothing like the King Crimson we've all grown to know: the 'strumentation is scarce, the guitar is not very prominent and rather quiet, and they mostly stick to very simple, lightweight pop, folk or jazz arrangements. Just a couple of tracks contain atonal jamming bits a la later Crimson records ('The Crukster' - but it's only one and a half minutes long!), and on a couple songs the jazz schtick sticks out so much it can't but bring memories of some of King Crimson's saxophone-driven instrumentals, like the groovy 'Elephant Song' with its powerful brass riff. When I first heard the album, I thought I was going to hate it or at least get rid of it as soon as possible as of nothing but a peculiar historical curiosity, but more listens bring out the fun and the grooviness. The atmosphere is engaging and friendly, no desperate pessimism or world sorrow anywhere. For starters, you get your average pleasant balladeering ('Newly-Weds', with a complex time signature that shifts from moody waltzing to a pseudo-boogie style; the stately, melancholic 'North Meadow'; the somewhat draggy, but atmospheric organ-based 'Call Tomorrow'), your great pleasant balladeering ('Thursday Morning' which is often criticized for its Moody Bluesishness, but that's alright by me, the song has a fantastic melody, and I don't even mind the amateur orchestration; and what do those people hold against the Moody Blues, anyway?), and lots of other cookies. What cookies, might you inquire? Well, what can you expect out of a record like this? I mean - three young Englishmen that decided to make a record that should be at once artsy, diverse, unpretentious and funny? Now it might sound amusing, but the record belongs to a really rare category in rock music (if it is rock music, that is; but then again, if it isn't, then what is it?) It is certainly art rock, but it ain't serious in the least: a prog basher paradise! Tell me what you think of the wonderful 'One In A Million', for instance, a tricky little social commentary that is very much akin to the Kinks, both lyricswise and melodywise; its charming, gentle pop structure with the cute little flute twirls is simply enthralling. The most amazing thing is that there's hardly any attempts to sound 'psychedelic' anywhere on this record - I don't really count such minor details as the tripped out vocals on the ultra-catchy 'How Do They Know'. And, of course, just like in the case of concurrent Kinks records of the same epoch, that's precisely the reason why such a tasteful record was a complete commercial bomb. There's a lot of weirdness on here, sure, but nary a drug or 'kozmic' reference to be found. Frank Zappa would have dug these guys, I suppose... Fripp breaks through with just a couple of compositions. He really was never much of a composer, and his few attempts at pop on this album hardly have any interesting hooks, although it's interesting that 'Little Children' demonstrates his very early passion for the Mellotron. So the most significant of these is the lengthy 'Suite No. 1' that begins as a cool jazz improv and then suddenly transforms into that classical Mellotron-drenched whopper; the finger-flashing guitarwork in the first part is simply outstanding, showing us that Fripp was a guitar genius from the very start. But the main songwriters are the Giles brothers, out of whom Michael turns out to be the more gifted one: besides the already mentioned 'Elephant Song', 'Thursday Morning' and 'One In A Million', he contributes a ridiculous Twenties' music hall operetta-style love song ('The Sun Is Shining') which is so kitsch it makes me wanna drop to the floor and laugh my belly off, and the mystical 'How Do They Know' - all prime songs, even though all also relative throwaways. If it wasn't for 'Just George', almost every song of his on here would be a gem. Anyway, it's good that it was him, not Peter, that stayed on for the 'main' King Crimson. And he's a good drummer! The newly reissued CD which I happen to own also adds six bonus tracks, four of which are just alternate versions (single or mono versions), but two of which are crucial for the understanding of the development of the King Crimson sound - they both feature the added forces of Ian McDonald, with the sound enrichened by saxes and other brass tricks. Fripp's 'Under The Sky' is a rather forgettable ballad, but Peter Giles' 'She Is Loaded' is a classic, with my favourite lyrical line on the whole record ('her kisses never get better/they only get wetter and wetter'). It makes me so confused every time I hear it... For some strange reason, the song also reminds me of Queen. Something from Sheer Heart Attack, you know. That kind of groove.
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Year Of Release: 2001
Overall rating = 12
If these are "demo recordings", I can't even imagine how TRULY big these guys could have been.Best song: WHY DON'T YOU JUST DROP IN
Track listing: 1) Hypocrite; 2) Digging My Lawn; 3) Tremolo Study In A Major; 4) Newly Weds; 5) Suite No. 1; 6) Scrivens; 7) Make It Today; 8) Digging My Lawn; 9) Why Don't You Just Drop In; 10) I Talk To The Wind; 11) Under The Sky; 12) Plastic Pennies; 13) Passages Of Time; 14) Under The Sky; 15) Murder; 16) I Talk To The Wind; 17) Erudite Eyes; 18) Make It Today; 19) Wonderland; 20) Why Don't You Just Drop In; 21) She Is Loaded.
And here is another proof that we do need archive releases of every fart ever converted to a Frippertronic - you never know when exactly the hour of genius is going to strike. I know, I know, it does seem odd - on paper - to give an archive album of demos and alternate takes a higher rating than the original, but I've got several excuses. Excuse # 1, and the most important one, is that one needs to get rid of superstitions and stereotypes, and if Bob Dylan's demos from 1985 can be universally rated higher than the officially released songs from that year, I don't see why said principle couldn't apply to anybody else. Don't be afraid of demos, sometimes they are the real thing.Excuse # 2, and the nearly just as important one, is that the major part of The Brondesbury Tapes does not actually deal with Cheerful Insanity material. Starting from track six and on, all the songs actually date to the post-Insanity period, the one where the trio had already teamed up with Ian McDonald (and, as it turns out, his girlfriend, ex-Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble) but hadn't yet said goodbye to Peter Giles. In short, the CD mainly documents the "transitional" phase of the band, catching them in between the British absurdity of GG&F and the all-out prog debaucheries of King Crimson "Mark I". And this is where I'm gonna go out on a limb and say: this "transitional" band, during its very very brief period of existence somewhere on the borders of 1968 and 1969, was one of the most inventive, most promising, and simply greatest bands on the planet. In a way, greater than King Crimson itself. Too bad they never fully realized their potential. Now few people ever associate King Crimson with female artists, and if Judy Dyble were present on every track here, I'd have resented it. Fortunately, she isn't, giving the other guys a chance to bring in some humouristic down-to-earth flavour, and the contrast works well. Naturally, Dyble's singing is folkish, her being fresh from Fairport Convention and all (she really sounds eerily close to her replacement in that band - Sandy Denny - at times), but given that folk influences would be rather rare in King Crimson and practically wiped out altogether by the time of the Larks lineup, it's a nice surprise to hear them fit in so well with all the other influences. And there's a lot of influences here. There's still plenty of GG&F-ish British absurdism, of course, but then there's jazz, blues, hard rock, dream pop and God knows what else thrown into the mix. Where all these ideas ended up by the time of In The Court, and why they happened to end up at that place, is anybody's guess. Maybe Peter Giles took most of them with him - which is not very probable given that quite a few of these never-to-be-seen-again tunes are credited to Ian McDonald and Pete Sinfield. Out of all the folk-pop delights, only 'I Talk To The Wind' happened to survive, and if you liked the song's uniqueness when being surrounded with all the monster epics of In The Court, you absolutely need this album. Not only does it contain two delightful early takes on the song, one with Judy's vocals and another with Giles and McDonald singing a duo, but there's much more of the same from where it came. 'Plastic Pennies', for instance - isn't that melody godly? I could swear I recognize some of the vocal lines from that tune in late period Cocteau Twins performances. So who cares if the song's a bit underdeveloped? Under today's indie-pop standards, it probably would have been considered ruined had they tried to polish it or, God forbid, incorporate extra sonic layers. Other uncovered gems include the jazz-pop delicacy of 'Make It Today', with great sax passages from McDonald and a surprisingly complex and catchy (at the same time!) structure; 'Under The Sky', which, I confess, never attracted my attention much as a bonus track to Cheerful Insanity, but here simply radiates positive energy when tackled by Dyble; the upbeat anthem 'Passages Of Time', where you probably get your only chance in a lifetime to hear Fripp play something bolero-like; and the sophisticated jazz dirge 'Murder', presumably the last Peter Giles song to ever be recorded by the band - and a pretty gloomy one compared to Peter's usual style. Of particular interest are the two versions of 'Why Don't You Just Drop In', later - for a brief period - part of KC's repertoire, albeit rearranged quite drastically and slowed down something like fifty times (you can hear the 'new' version on Epitaph). It's quite a serious Fripp diatribe against the hippie lifestyle ('why don't you just drop in/and love the life of sin/and squirm inside your cage/you are a prisoner of your age/why don't you just drop in/and play the game to win/the rules you pick and choose/the odds are stacked for you to lose' - cool lyrics, actually, which makes me wonder why the hell these guys needed Pete in the first place), but, more importantly, it's just one hell of a mid-tempo rocker, the grittiest song on the album, and the first version has a cool guitar tone and a quirky guitar solo. Hey! The second version has another cool guitar tone and another quirky guitar solo! Don't these guys ever stop creating? For those who are more demanding and won't be satisfied with simplistic jazz-pop/folk-pop, well, you got yourself an alternate version of 'Erudite Eyes', an alternate version of 'Suite No. 1', and a slightly less experimental jazz jam on 'Wonderland', where it seems the musicians are just letting their hair down (hey, even Fripp had some back then) and enjoying themselves. And the oddest thing is, not a single track out of twenty-one is wasted; and the next oddest thing is, only one single track on here is really poorly recorded, and that'd be the first one, called 'Hypocrite', probably dating to a really early period, with a certain Al Kirtley accompanying the trio on piano. And it's still a classy Brit-pop song! Yes, I'm not forgetting that it is a demo album. That many of the songs might have needed further elaboration. That some of them might have been somewhat naive. That not all of the tracks featured here in two versions deserve to be featured more than in one. But you know what? Had they ventured to make In The Court a double album by including most of the 'shorter' tracks on here, it could have been the art rock album to end all other art rock albums before they were even begun. If Court did lack anything, it was certainly the percentage of ideas - by choosing to expand song length, Fripp and McDonald intentionally threw overboard a whole ton of first-rate songwriting. Well, today at least every one of us is able of building up the 'real' Court Of The Crimson King out of whichever little bricks he finds it suitable to employ!
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Year Of Release: 1971
Overall rating = 11
A cheerful, ear-pleasant, utterly nice listen that shows which direction King Crimson might have taken IF...Best song: FLIGHT OF THE IBIS
Track listing: 1) Suite In C; 2) Flight Of The Ibis; 3) Is She Waiting?; 4) Tomorrow's People - The Children Of Today; 5) Birdman.
This ain't a King Crimson album, but wouldn't I feel stupid if I had to make a special page entitled 'McDonald And Giles' dedicated to the review of one album called McDonald And Giles? And anyway, McDonald and Giles is exactly half of the original King Crimson, being no lesser 'founding fathers' of the band than Fripp himself. Why should this odd incarnation be denied the right to be reviewed on the main King Crimson page? What's in a name, anyway?..Well, in this case, it does have quite a lot in it, of course. The album, recorded by Ian McDonald and Michael Giles with the help of our old friend Peter Giles, sounds nothing like In The Court. More exactly, it is a return to the friendly, cheerful and slightly crazy atmosphere of Cheerful Insanity, but on a different level: this one's a real "art rock" record with obvious "progressive" elements, particularly on the longish tracks. Which means that the songs are generally longer, the lyrics are generally more complicated and the instrumentation techniques are much more sophisticated. Most entertainment is still provided by McDonald's Mellotron and saxes; however, Michael's drumming has never been better, and they exploit a handful of guests like Stevie Winwood and others, so you won't complain about the thinness of sound. What's even more interesting is that the album doesn't have a pretentious feel about it despite being dominated by two lengthy, multi-part symhonic suites. Indeed, it almost sounds inviting, and if it weren't for the fact that quite a large bit of it still sounds deadly boring to me, I'd easily call this the best 'King Crimson' album since In The Court and forever. Anyway, don't forget that it wasn't Fripp that was responsible for the band's songwriting in the first place, but McDonald in person. The problems actually started exactly when Fripp took over some of the songwriting duties, but I think I already gave a hint at that in the Lizard review... There are just five titles on the album, but that's no serious problem because even the lengthy suites all have something to redeem them (and they're all multi-part and far more varied within their own limits than, say, a particularly monotonous Yes epic). My personal favourite, though, is the beautiful, warm and gentle ballad 'Flight Of The Ibis' that's said in the liner notes to be the original melody for 'Cadence And Cascade'. May well be, but then I don't understand why did they have to change that melody because 'Flight' is much better and more moving. There's another pretty lil' acoustic ditty here in the same vein, called 'Is She Waiting?', but it's less memorable. The lengthier compositions include Michael Giles' 'Tomorrow's People' that starts out fine but then degenerates into a boring jam, and the eleven-minute 'Suite In C' that's much better - the main theme is a cool jazz number, and if you have enough patience to sit through another boring Steve Winwood-dominated jam, it ends in some funny bits of boogie-woogie playing. None of this is offensive, and some is simply great. Same goes for the controversial suite 'Birdman' that occupies all of the second side. On the lyrical/conceptual side, it's an 'inspiring' story about a crazyass inventor that dreamed of flying so much he finished building some crazyass wings machine and happily set off the ground in the sunset. Kinda like the Daedalus/Icarus story on a modern level, only without the pathetically tragic ending. On the musical side, it has moments of artsy greatness, and the sung parts are all enjoyable. Also, I'd like to mention that this is one of the best "multi-climax" tracks I've ever heard - these guys masterfully build up the tension in many of the parts, particularly with the gorgeous crescendo in the stately, awe-inspiring final part ("Birdman Reflection"), where the gradual addition of piano, low vocal harmonies, high vocal harmonies, drums, bass, organ, guitar and strings, makes up for a truly timeless listening experience. Unfortunately, it's obvious that since these guys couldn't make an eleven-minute song deserve its length, what can be said about a twenty-minute long epic? Your attention won't be gripped tight throughout, that's for sure. Pity that Robert didn't lend 'em a hand: at times, the lack of his guitar sound is particularly felt. Still, if you only go for the atmosphere, 'Birdman' is just as impressive an epic as most. Tons better than Van Der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts, that's for sure. Nevertheless I'm happy to give this album an eight for one particular reason: this is probably the only bombastic conceptual album in art rock that manages to completely stay away from the dark, disturbing sides of human nature. Basically, what it does is say to me: it's a lie that you have to be 'afraid' or 'shocked' or 'terrified' while listening to impressive prog rock. You can just engage in innocent, philanthropic fun that's both lightweight and solid at the time. It's a pity that the record buying public didn't realize this simplest of truisms back in 1971, as the album flopped badly and was forgotten immediately. In fact, I doubt if you'll be able to find it at all other than in the land of the rising sun (why do the Nipps have everything and the Yankees only have selective things? Are Japanese record companies less greedy and more album-collector-compatible than American ones? Boo! At least the copyright-mocking Russian pirates know something about good records!)
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