A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 6 (Earthbound, 1972)

Earthbound is fucking terrible.

Now, to address anyone arriving here through a Google search who might be confused (especially considering this is supposedly a site about video and PC games first, at least when I started out) — I’m not talking about the SNES classic JRPG also known as Mother 2. I regrettably haven’t played that game, so I can’t comment on it, but I’ll take everyone else’s words for it that it’s a masterpiece.

This is not a masterpiece or even close to it, however. In 1972, after breaking apart for the third time, King Crimson put out this live album, their very first, and it’s hard to imagine them doing much worse. Almost everything about this Earthbound is awful: the track selection (with exactly one exception) is ridiculous, the sound quality is atrocious, and some aspects of the performance are so irritating you might believe these guys were trying to piss you off. Even Crimson themselves seem to realize all this: the album’s been beaten up by fans I guess for 50 years now, and it’s the one I can’t find any trace of on their YouTube page or even anywhere else. But idiot that I am, I own a copy. So no links this time — but then you’re not missing out on much anyway.

Earthbound was recorded during Crimson’s tour in support of Islands, their 1971 studio album. Islands was mostly decent, or at least I thought so, so it’s a shame the band couldn’t do it more justice. But then it’s barely even represented on the album aside from a short clip out of “Sailor’s Tale”, hardly the highlight of that album. Aside from the opener, in fact, this “Sailor’s Tale” bit blends in with the rest of this bullshit, because it’s almost all instrumental jamming. Now Crimson instrumentals can really be excellent as we’ll see soon, but these aren’t. At their best, they’re pretty okay jazz noodling with some cool Fripp guitar and cool Mel Collins saxophone lines — these guys make small parts of these jams acceptable at least. These bearable stretches sound like music that would be fun to get drunk to in a jazz club or a street party maybe, where you have a rowdy atmosphere and you’re not really paying attention (the second piece “Peoria” especially.) But why not play some of the actual songs off of Islands? Like “The Letters”, or even “Ladies of the Road” — that one is pretty damn nasty and could work in this context.

But no, it’s almost all jamming. And yeah, Fripp and Collins are both excellent musicians, and it sounds like Wallace is too, but because of the quality of the recording (recorded on cassette from the back of a Volkswagen truck in the rain — this is according to the album’s liner notes) you can’t even properly appreciate their talents as a band all together. The sound mixing is all fucked, with Collins’ sax blaring in the foreground and sometimes drowning out everyone else at times, especially when he really freaks out on it, which is a lot — so even if I’d like to enjoy some of the aimless jamming, I can’t.

And even if you can get past all of the above, there’s fucking Boz Burrell. I think I said something nice about him in my Islands post, but I’ll take it back, because he decided to scat over some of this jamming and it is awful. I’m happy that he quit to form Bad Company after this, and I’m sure he is too, since he presumably made tons of money with that band considering how huge they got.

Artistic integrity is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills on its own, does it?

I’ve only complained about Earthbound up until now, but there is one track that saves it from the trash can: the opening rendition of “21st Century Schizoid Man”. The guys were still playing this song live, and good thing, because they do a great job with it. Even Burrell has enough sense not to fuck it up with his stupid scatting. Of course it’s still buried behind the album’s shitty sound quality, but the song’s excellence shines through anyway.

If it weren’t for the opener, anyway, Earthbound would get an F, but instead it gets a D-. Nice work, guys. Maybe they really just didn’t care, being broken up and all. Or maybe they were contracted to release a live album and threw out some crap because of legal obligations. Thankfully, we now have a better live recording from this period in the archival release Ladies of the Road, so you might ask why bother covering Earthbound at all? Because 1) this is one of the regular releases in the King Crimson discography, and I said I’d cover every one no matter what, and 2) they’re still selling the damn thing, in a 50th anniversary edition this time which I don’t own and never will.

So rest in peace King Crimson version 3 (or 2.1? 2.2? I don’t know the official counting method.) Now on to something far better — I hope you’ll look forward to it!

4 thoughts on “A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 6 (Earthbound, 1972)

  1. Fuck me.

    I mean – you’re not wrong. I just got through the live version of 21st century, and it’s fun even if it sounds like complete it was recorded in a trash can. Like…a metal trash can. Holy shit that is not a good live recording.

    God it just – why. Why the fuck does every single track sound so shit. XD

    • Oh, you sought out it. I’m sorry. Earthbound really does suck, and I can only imagine that it was an afterthought after yet another rough breakdown. Still doesn’t excuse it though, since they apparently did have actually decent sounding recordings from this tour lying around.

      • Yeah – every other album was easy to find on the band’s YT page (or the record companies? Same difference). Earthbound though – I had to find a fan made one with videos from all over the place, and…lmao. It’s so bad sounding XD

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