A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 18 (The ConstruKction of Light, 2000)

I’ve really slowed down on the full* King Crimson run since I started, haven’t I. It took me less than two months to get all the way through to the end of the 80s, but three or four more months just to traverse the 90s. I guess I was just really excited to tell you about my favorites like Crimson King, Red, and Discipline, but now I’ve hit the stuff I don’t know nearly as well. Weirdly enough, since I wasn’t even alive for the end of the 80s band but was actually walking around and doing shit when The ConstruKction of Light was released in 2000, go figure.

Somewhere between 1996 and 1999, the six-member “Double Trio” version of Crimson fell back to four, losing 70s/80s originals drummer Bill Bruford and bassist/stick guy Tony Levin, leaving Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunn respectively to fill those roles (now called a “Double Duo” together with guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, even though it’s just back to a regular quartet?) This nth incarnation of Crimson recorded its next studio album The ConstruKction of Light before going on tour and putting out yet another live record. Dropping the strange sound effect titles a la VROOOM and THRAK and all that nonsense and somehow finding an even more bizarre titling tic of shoving “Kc” in wherever they could. I don’t know, ask Mr. Fripp. At least they wouldn’t keep this up too long.

As for the music: it’s pretty okay. Fine. Once again — aside from a few highlight tracks, I wasn’t in love with THRAK, and the same is true here. The ConstruKction of Light starts strong with the strange but fitting strung out rock song ProzaKc Blues (again with the “Kc”, get used to it for a couple of posts) where Adrian Belew makes himself somehow sound like Captain Beefheart on Trout Mask Replica. It’s a memorable song and has some pretty nice and sadly relatable lyrics about your doctor prescribing you Jack Daniels and the title drug Prozac for your depression.

This light fun song is followed by the title track, which is also pretty damn good. Though a bit long in the beginning instrumental section, it contains some sharp double guitarwork like Fripp and Belew did in the 80s leading into a cool sung part. With my very favorite lyric in Crimson history: “And if Warhol’s a genius, what am I? /
A speck of lint on the penis of an alien.” I don’t know, ask Mr. Belew. He wrote it, not me.

Seems like a lyric Miyako would come up with. (Also, watch Hidamari Sketch, it’s good.)

Past that, the album gets a little rough for me aside from a couple of other highlights. The World’s My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum is kind of a musical shitpost, but a shitpost from massive talents is usually still pretty good, and it’s fun hearing the usually pretty serious Crimson cutting loose. With one exception, the rest passes me by, though. None of this stuff is bad, but a lot of it does feel like Crimson just reaching back into their own 70s and 80s periods to give us 00s versions of those styles, which I don’t feel is all that critical. FraKctured as its title suggests is a new take on “Fracture” from Starless and Bible Black in 1973, and they even went back again to revive the Larks’ Tongues saga with “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part IV”.

Aside from the unexpected and nicely done coda of Larks’ Tongues Part IV, none of it feels like it’s adding anything to what came before. Same for the sludgy Into the Frying Pan, though I can’t say where exactly the inspiration for that one was. The 90s? At least the closing Heaven and Earth is nice, sounding more like some of Fripp’s atmospheric/ambient work. (If I haven’t mentioned yet that he also wrote the sounds and themes for Windows Vista, I’m doing it here. From what I remember of Vista, Fripp’s guitar/synth .wav files were probably the best thing about the system.)

Well, again, none of ConstruKction of Light is bad. Like with THRAK, I think it would be easy to love a lot of this music — the trouble is I know where it comes from and there’s not much reason for me not to put on Larks’ Tongues or Discipline or whatever instead. But then maybe it’s too much to expect a band at 30 years old to continue with the hardcore innovation.

I think I said that in the THRAK post too, didn’t I? Maybe I’m getting old myself. I’m certainly over 30, anyway. Until next time in this series, hopefully sooner than last time, in which I’ll be taking on the companion live album Heavy ConstruKction.


* Not really full because that would be insane. But I will probably write an epilogue covering important stuff I missed in the main series.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 17 (THRaKaTTaK, 1996)

Oh no, it’s THRaKaTTaK. This album seems to be a bit obscure these days — as with a few of Crimson’s more minor releases and certain old live albums, this one isn’t featured on their YouTube channel. In fact, this is yet another live album, the other regular live release by the 90s band (including the unreviewed B’Boom.) But it’s a very different kind of live album from that and the archival VROOOM VROOOM — instead of a full normal live set or two, THRaKaTTaK contains a collection of improvisations recorded by the band in various shows and compiles them on one hour-long-plus disc. And congratulations to Earthbound, because it’s no longer the worst King Crimson album I’ve heard. I’ve seen people both praise and shit on THRaKaTTaK, and while I don’t think it’s the worst album ever created or anything so dramatic, I fall much more in the second camp than the first.

You might have predicted this already from what I’ve said about Crimson’s past improvisations, sure. I’m not usually a big fan of them. But I don’t always dislike them either — I can see the value in “Requiem” on Beat, for instance, or in “Sailor’s Tale” on Islands. These are far from my favorite tracks on these albums, but at least they build atmosphere or seem to tell some kind of abstract story. There’s some sense to them. Even the live improv stuff on Earthbound might have had some potential if it had been recorded properly, and with a different singer, and if those improv pieces had just been breaks between the actual songs. Still shit aside from the recording of “Schizoid Man”, but there was something salvageable there.

No such luck on THRaKaTTaK. The album opens and closes with two minute-long renditions of “THRAK” that are just fine, no complaints there. But between them are several tracks making over one hour of janky noise, clattering, sputtering, twanging, every other sound-related verb you can think of: it’s all happening and there’s no clear sense to any of it. There seems to be barely any attempt at coordination, with the instruments instead clashing, running into each other. Occasionally the band does fall into something that approaches interesting, like a few moody sections on “This Night Wounds Time” and “Slaughter of the Innocents”  that could form an atmospheric part of a larger piece if it were in that context, but in here it’s just a very relative reprieve from a lot of bullshit. This music — and yeah, I will at least call it music, sure — does almost nothing for me. (And if you want to measure your own reaction against mine, here’s THRaKaTTaK Part I that was very kindly uploaded by some guy instead of the band itself. It’s just one small part of the album, but it gives a good idea of what almost the entirety is like.)

Yet I’m still reluctant to call this album total garbage. It’s not pure agony to sit through or anything, for one. As headache-inducing and irritating as it can be, I’d rather listen to THRaKaTTaK than some no-hook piss pop album, some radio filler autotune plastic-ass junk. But then that’s not exactly soaring praise — just because this ultra-avantgarde stuff is the exact opposite of something I hate doesn’t mean I have to like it. No, I approach this kind of pure noise in the same way as I do some styles of abstract expressionism in the visual arts, action and color field painting that produces what look to me like canvasses full of splatters or squares of color. Some people say Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 or Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series are brilliant, and I say I just don’t see what they do. If you’re a big fan of either kind of extreme abstraction in art, please tell me what I’m missing. That’s a serious request, too.

Good place to break out one of my favorite old screenshots

So maybe it’s the same with THRaKaTTaK. Maybe some people get some real emotional resonance out of this noise. But I don’t, and if my music isn’t giving me either emotional resonance or cool hooks or at the very least showoffy technical prowess, then I don’t have any use for it. I listened to THRaKaTTaK three times over the last week, thinking that it might sink in, that I might have some kind of revelation, but it never happened, so there — either I’m an uncultured swine or this stuff is just nonsense.

Well, those two aren’t mutually exclusive either, are they? It’s also worth noting that THRaKaTTaK being stitched together from several live shows, it doesn’t represent anything like the actual live 90s Crimson experience, so at least they weren’t torturing their audiences with this cling clang shit for an hour at a time. But then that raises the question of why it’s all compiled here to torture the completionist listener.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 16 (VROOOM VROOOM, 1995/6, 2001)

I’m really tired of posting about these live albums I have and not being able to provide links like I can with the studio albums. B’Boom: Live in Argentina is a regular-release live album of the newly reformed King Crimson at their first live show since their Three of a Perfect Pair tours in 1984. The album also bears the title “Official Bootleg” — apparently there was a different set of illicit recordings sold that were of horrible sound quality (worse than Earthbound even?) so the band decided to put their own recording out to stamp that one out, but fuck me if they’d ever bothered to post it on their YouTube channel with most of the rest of their catalog.

Well forget that album, because there’s an archival release called VROOOM VROOOM that’s actually on Crimson’s channel, so I’ll write about that instead and will also simply link to the whole album above rather than pasting individual songs this time as there are so many of them on this double-CD release. Even if I don’t have much to say about these pieces individually, since I’ve written about most all of them in their studio versions, but then live Crimson is pretty different from studio Crimson as we’ve seen throughout this run of albums starting in 1969.

That difference is to the band’s advantage here, because I like the live stuff from their 90s incarnation somewhat more than their studio work. While THRAK had its highlights, I’m not the biggest fan of its sound — it’s fine, but a lot of the album feels “metallic” in a way I don’t like all that much, or at least not when the songs aren’t interesting. These live settings add a lot to that sound, however. Maybe it’s the improvisation on top of some of these tracks together with the bits of crowd interaction, but both the instrumentals and songs seem to have more energy live. VROOOM VROOOM contains performances from two of Crimson’s 1995/6 THRAK tour shows in Mexico City and NYC and they are consistently on in both, playing through almost all of the THRAK setlist together with a few 80s favorites like “Elephant Talk”, “Indiscipline”, and “Three of a Perfect Pair” and even a couple of 70s pieces that stuck around (“Larks’ Tongues Part II”, and even with a “Talking Drum” preceding it for once.)

And hell, it’s all good. I don’t know what else to say about the above work on this album except that I’d like to have been in the audience. Especially the Mexico City one, since they seem to know how to have a good time down in the warmer parts of the world — reminds me of my old home, even if I don’t like the heat there very much in itself. Crimson also shows what was probably always true, maybe even back in 1969, that they didn’t take themselves as seriously as they might sound sometimes, with a few funny ad-libbed bits in “Indiscipline” courtesy of Bruford’s creative drumming and Belew’s reaction (“It remains consistent… usually.”) See also Adrian’s cover of “Free as a Bird”, the “lost Beatles song” that got dug up and put on the 90s Anthology series of Beatles outtakes and alternates — this particular take was apparently on John Lennon’s unfinished raw version that gets filled in with some humming. A nice contrast with the show’s heavy pounding instrumentals, just Mr. Belew on a piano if that’s him playing, and it goes over well with the crowd.

Aside from a couple of thankfully very short clangy improv pieces and the drum duets I still don’t like all that much like “B’Boom” (though they might be interesting to the drummers for the technique) I like VROOOM VROOOM enough that I’d recommend it over Crimson’s 90s studio work, since it 1) sounds better to my ears and 2) contains all the best 90s work anyway like “Dinosaur” and “Walking On Air”. I still prefer Absent Lovers as far as Crimson live releases go, but considering how perfect that one is, that’s no dig at this album. It just makes me regret not dedicating a post to Absent Lovers, being an archival release — a rule I set at the beginning of this post series I’ve broken in this post. Shit, I shouldn’t have set any rules for myself at all back then.

At least that issue is about to be solved: since Discipline Global Media was created around the next big period of Crimson activity starting in 2000, they become the “regular releases.” Before making it to 2000, however, we have that other live album left to cover I mentioned earlier, and it’s quite something. Prepare yourselves. Until then!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 15 (THRAK, 1995)

Now I’m in an awkward position. I wonder if fans felt this way around 1995 when THRAK came out, because it absolutely makes the previous year’s EP VROOOM obsolete. The only songs exclusive to the EP are Cage and “When I Say Stop Continue”, two of the less interesting ones to my ears, so there’s not that much reason to buy VROOOM today since THRAK contains its better material along with a lot of new stuff. Unless you’re a King Crimson completionist, that is, and good fucking luck to you if that’s the case. You have a lot of live albums to buy.

That said, my feelings about 90s Crimson, at least in the studio, didn’t change that much upon my relisten to THRAK. It’s better — about half of it is more or less enjoyable, and that’s not a small amount considering the album’s nearly hour-long runtime. That was the CD age: kids today won’t relate, but many bands back then didn’t seem to realize just because you have the ability to make your album 70 minutes long doesn’t mean you should.

Thankfully, that doesn’t quite apply to King Crimson. There’s nothing truly unpleasant on THRAK, but the album does range in quality. We’ve already addressed the opening instrumental VROOOM, now for whatever reason divided into “VROOOM” proper and the coda as Coda: Marine 475. The title track is also a carryover, along with Sex Sleep etc. and One Time, and they’re all just as fine or okay as they were on VROOOM.

As for the new stuff, it’s once again a mixed bag. The two best songs on the album run right after the close of the “VROOOM” coda. Dinosaur is a pretty fine catchy rocker with lyrics featuring a dinosaur lamenting its fate but that also might be about something other than a literal dinosaur (since old bands used to be and maybe still are called dinosaurs, and Crimson was 25 years+ old at this point) and with Adrian Belew doing his best John Lennon impression in the verses. By contrast, Walking On Air is another romantic song, but a stronger and more distinctive one than “One Time”. The other standard song on THRAK is People, which is pretty ehhh. A little generic-feeling, and with that sort-of-approaching social commentary that again feels weird out of Crimson.

I prefer light social commentary from my anime these days. I would also say this is an extra-fitting screenshot to fit the “dinosaur” theme but I think she’s supposed to be a Godzilla.

Aside from the two two-part interludes (Radio I and II are total wastes; Inner Garden I and II are very short, interesting tries at capturing a sort of gothic feel that aren’t terrible) we have the album-exclusive instrumentals left: the drum duet B’Boom, which I don’t care for too much, and the “VROOOM” variation VROOOM VROOOM (these fucking titles, man.) The closing “VROOOM VROOOM” isn’t bad and even contains some fun quotes from “Red” in the middle, not a bad way to go out.

So again, THRAK is pretty all right. A little disappointing in how underwhelming it is compared to their 70s and 80s work, but 90s Crimson wasn’t the same band, anyway. It feels like they were no longer progressing quite as much at this point, either. This version of the band is sort of accurately described as a blend of the 70s heaviness/fullness of sound with the 80s precise instrumental work, but when you think about it, no previous version of the band could have been described as a blend of older Crimson styles or “70s Crimson plus or minus whatever.” That’s not the case at this point. I’m not sure if that will change in their 00s releases, but I hope it does — I’d take a failed experiment from King Crimson over a repetition or mixing of older styles. Then again, maybe they’d earned some repetition after so much innovation.

Anyway, if you’re interested, just listen to THRAK and see what you think. “Dinosaur” and “Walking On Air” are enough to make it worthwhile along with the pretty decent “VROOOM”-related pieces, anyway. For what it’s worth, I could see someone totally new to Crimson loving this stuff — my problem is I started with Crimson King and already had Red on fairly regular play by the time I got to THRAK.

Next up are two live albums out of this 90s Crimson, one of which is a good time and the other of which is… you’ll see. Until then!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 14 (VROOOM EP, 1994)

Note: VROOOM seems difficult to track down either online or in physical form. But given that most of it’s already on the following full-length album, it might be just as well. Still not sure why this EP isn’t on the main Crimson channel with the others, though. Maybe they forgot about it? Well, just wait for the THRAK post coming up with all the usual links that are missing this time.

Following the release of Three of a Perfect Pair and a lot more touring, King Crimson was again done for good. This time there was again no reason to think they’d ever return — all four guys involved had enough of their own stuff going on to keep busy, and there was probably the sense that this version of Crimson had done everything it could and had to return to the mists of time as usual.

And yet, ten years later, Crimson reformed for the fourth time (fifth? Sixth?) This version 5 or 6 or whatever of Crimson included the entire 80s lineup plus Trey Gunn on bass/stick and Pat Mastelotto on drums, creating what would become known as the “Double Trio” since each of the instruments were doubled. In addition to touring with their older material, this Double Trio recorded new originals starting with the EP VROOOM in 1994 (and no, I don’t know what this title is about — 90s Crimson would name all their albums and some of their songs after sound effects for some reason that Robert Fripp can probably explain in his usual esoteric way.)

I wasn’t sure whether I’d dedicate an entire post to VROOOM until now, the reason being this is a short 30-minute album that contains a lot of overlap with the following year’s full-length release THRAK. But it does contain two exclusives as well, and listeners had several months to mull over VROOOM before THRAK came out, so we may as well take it separately.

And for the very first time, I don’t have a lot of strong feelings about a King Crimson album, either positive or negative. This stuff is mostly just fine, not especially exciting or disappointing. Before now I’d never heard VROOOM specifically, but I do remember picking up THRAK when it was still relatively new (meaning five or six years old instead of 27… this post series just made me feel extremely old too) and while I’ll reserve judgment of the full album for the next post, I remember feeling more or less the same way then about this material as I do now aside from a few notable highlights.

This feeling is especially strong coming directly off of that 70s and 80s work. The 90s “Double Trio” Crimson is often described as a blend of the band’s 70s heaviness with its 80s precision rock style. I get where that description comes from: they are heavier than the 80s band with a bigger sound with their six-man lineup, but Belew is on vocals and Bruford and Levin are on the rhythm section as before. However, it feels to me more like this intended blend of the 70s heaviness and 80s precision led to a slight watering down, at least in their new work.

VROOOM starts promising: the opening instrumental title track is an interesting look at what these guys could do at the time, and I like that descending coda. The following song “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream” is also a nice rock piece with a rare pissed-sounding delivery from Belew. Kind of sounds like Radiohead at times (or I should say Radiohead sounded like them. No doubt Thom Yorke and co. were influenced by these guys in general, and The Bends wouldn’t be out until the following year.) Though it is funny for the now well-established Crimson in their advancing age to be singing about such subjects, especially in the extremely short Primus-esque song “Cage”. Are you guys really living in a cage in the USA? I find it hard to believe. Weird as hell to get anything approaching social commentary on a King Crimson album too.

The only other decent song on VROOOM is “One Time”, which is one of Adrian’s nice romantic-sounding tracks. Its structure and production make it feel uncomfortably close to the dreaded adult contemporary genre (see solo Phil Collins) but Belew is more than tasteful enough to avoid writing something truly cheesy, so it’s all right. That leaves the final instrumentals “THRAK” and “When I Say Stop, Continue”, and well — they sure are instrumentals by King Crimson. I don’t know what else to say about them. Except that I can see “THRAK” making for good boss battle music in an RPG or action game. See how gaming has destroyed my brain? Then again, it gives me another way to appreciate music I might not as much otherwise.

There’s VROOOM. Not bad, but also not an album I’d recommend hunting for, especially considering what would come along in the following years. I’m not even sure why Crimson bothered with an EP when they were more than established enough to just record a full album, even after a decade-long hiatus — isn’t this more for new acts who want to prove themselves or hardcore bands who write minute-long songs?

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 13 (Three of a Perfect Pair, 1984)

By 1984, the Belew/Bruford/Levin lineup was still together: the longest-lasting version of Crimson to date, though apparently things were getting pretty rocky during the Beat sessions. Good thing Fripp and Belew patched things up, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten Three of a Perfect Pair.

Perfect Pair (or Three? Abbreviating this one is awkward) is generally seen as also a step down from the excellence of Discipline but a step up from Beat (so I guess a half-step up?) I more or less agree with that; it’s not for nothing that Discipline is the last of the four Crimson albums widely considered to be extremely influential/revolutionary/etc. (along with Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues, and Red, or that’s how I count them, at least.) It’s not that this version of the band had run out of steam after its first album — Beat had some great material, but it also varied wildly in quality and had a sharp division between its first and second sides, featuring both more straightforward pop and out-there experimentation with just a little of the blending that worked so well on Discipline.

Perfect Pair has some of that issue too. In fact, it seems after Beat that the band realized what they’d done and simply decided to play up this pop/experimentation division on its next album, splitting it into a brain-inspired “Left Side” and “Right Side.” As before, the first side is poppy and catchy and radio-friendly (even if the radio ultimately might not have cared, sadly) and the second is full of weird extremely radio-unfriendly instrumentals. It’s also generally considered that the first side belongs to Adrian Belew and the second to Robert Fripp, though I doubt it’s as clear a split as that — if you know Belew’s solo work at all, he has plenty of weird experimentation to go along with his “normal” music, and the pop stuff on Perfect Pair wouldn’t work without Fripp’s guitar either.

As with Beat, I like this “pop side” more than the experimental one. So much for my hardcore prog fan credentials, but fuck it, what else can I say? Model Man and especially Man With an Open Heart are fine 80s pop songs, the latter of which definitely should have been a radio hit with its extremely catchy verse and chorus (though as with “Heartbeat”, I think it was passed on in favor of irritating dogshit like fill in the blank 80s trash hit you hear at your local grocery store. If you want another reason to turn on Publix, here it is, though this seems like more of a licensing issue.) These are all pretty straightforward love songs, too — a nice way to introduce Crimson to your normie friends to begin corrupting their minds so they eventually end up hooked on repeated listens to “Fracture”. I’m certainly not as open as the “man with an open heart” in his song, but I guess I can appreciate the sentiment in Belew’s lyrics at least.

However, the best songs on this side and on the entire album are the two that I think effectively mix Crimson’s two sides again. The title track is one of the best openers the band ever came up with, its lyrics about a dysfunctional mess of a relationship woven into that interlocking double guitar line in different time signatures trick resulting in a really special song, one of my favorites not just from 80s Crimson but from the band’s entire catalog. And Sleepless isn’t far behind with its godly bassline — cite this song as one of the reasons Tony Levin is so highly regarded; he does an amazing job here — and its tense atmosphere.

After the fourth track “Open Heart”, we’re done with all this cool bright 80s pop/rock stuff and into the dark starting with Nuages. Aside from the beat poetry ode to an abandoned wreck of a car Dig Me every piece from here on is an instrumental, and most of them (“Nuages”, Industry, and No Warning) are what I’d call proto-dark ambient with their sometimes creepy, oppressive feels. This is also predictably where the album loses a lot of listeners (or where it gains the real weirdos, maybe.)

I’m not in love with this second side either, and not even with the closing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III, that song series the band revived for some reason (maybe to bookend their career, if you start counting from Larks’ Tongues? Interesting to hear the 80s update, but I much prefer Parts I and II.) However, I also don’t hate them at all or even dislike them on the level I do some of that second side of Beat. Maybe it’s because these pieces really do create an effective atmosphere, especially “Nuages” and “Industry” — I can see them used in the context of a game with an urban/industrial sci-fi setting of some kind. If we’re on the continued hunt for “who did these guys influence,” add my bet of the second side of Perfect Pair -> modern dark ambient/vaporwave, a little of which I’ve covered on the site (see TOWERS and desert sand.) This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Fripp collaborated so closely with ambient godfather Brian Eno through the 70s and 80s and contributed a lot to experimental music through his own solo work.

Not that it makes me want to put on this second side any more than I do already. Like I said, I’m not in love with it, but I can respect what they’re doing especially on the more effective tracks like “Industry”. I think the atmosphere is effective, anyway, so if that’s what they were going for with these tracks, it mostly worked. And combined with two of the band’s best songs ever, the title track and “Sleepless”, and a collection of pretty fine New Wave pop, I’d rank Perfect Pair pretty highly. It’s not quite up with their four all-time classics as I count them so far, but I probably put this album on just as often as those. At least the first side of it.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the ambient and atmospheric a lot more in music, games, anime, any art in general as long as it’s done tastefully and effectively. Maybe I’m just getting old.

And that’s all for 80s Crimson. No, not even a posthumous live album this time to tie matters up, though considering how god damn good this band was live, that was a big mistake, one that would only be remedied with the archival release Absent Lovers over a decade later. Both that and the official concert video Three of a Perfect Pair: Live in Japan are highly recommended, featuring great renditions of a lot of this band’s best songs along with a few old favorites like “Larks’ Tongues Part II” and “Red”, and the video is worth watching just to see their stage antics — Belew having a lot of fun with his guitar effects, Bruford going nuts on his massive drum kit, Levin just being cool on the bass, and Fripp of course sitting down the whole time as he works away on his guitar. (And don’t miss the short travelogue in the middle with the guys wandering around Asakusa! I’ve only been there in games, sadly. But one day…)

As for the band, it was once again finished following Perfect Pair. I guess they’d gone through each primary color in their trilogy of album covers and had none left, or more probably Robert Fripp again felt the band had done its job and had to hang it up. I won’t even say it’s a shame this time: I’m just happy we got what we did. Though they never quite reached the heights of Red, 80s Crimson was just as skilled and enjoyable, and in some ways even more likable than the 70s version (though maybe that’s just Belew’s infectious positivity?) They had their excesses too, but then it wouldn’t be Crimson without excesses. So rest in peace, 80s Crimson.

Does that mean this post series is finished? Not even close (are you getting used to this theme?) King Crimson wasn’t dead but was merely on a long hiatus, though once again the members didn’t know it. Next post, we’ll be entering my era: the 90s. See you there!


* A general note on the album cover, because despite its simplicity I thought this one deserved some attention. Apparently that weird symbol wasn’t just something the guys pulled out of their asses. According to the album’s Wikipedia page:

The Peter Willis designed artwork illustrates the sacred–profane dichotomy while being a simplified version of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic cover; a rising phallic object represents a male solar deity about to penetrate the crescent figure, a female lunar deity.

So there you go. And now I can’t look at this cover the same way ever again.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 12 (Beat, 1982)

For the first time ever, a King Crimson lineup would completely hold together long enough to record more than one album, a true miracle. Beat is also one of the few Crimson albums that sort of has a concept, this time a tribute to the Beat Generation of the 50s. All those references went over my head aside from the very obvious stuff in the opening Neal and Jack and Me — I’ve never read Jack Kerouac, but I understand that the references go further than that just from reading about some of those connections online.

Concept aside, Beat continues the interlocking guitar lines and the mix of experimental and pop sense of Discipline. It’s also a step down from Discipline. Maybe that was to be expected considering that every track on the previous album was a winner, but my feeling is that Beat is a lot more uneven than its predecessor. Even those two “pop” and “experimental” aspects of this 80s Crimson that were so intertwined in Discipline feel as though they’ve been unwound somewhat, so that while the mix is still here, it’s not blended in quite the way it was before.

There are just a couple of songs that I feel do blend those sides of Crimson, and they also happen to be my favorites (and also all on the first side of the album.) Waiting Man combines a distinctive and hypnotic drumbeat with a great delivery from Adrian Belew, and Sartori in Tangier is a memorable instrumental with some of the flavor of Discipline in it. I also like “Neal and Jack and Me” as an opener, though it’s not the absolute best 80s Crimson would come up with — that would be the opener to their next album. But man, that ending section really works nicely.

Every other song on Beat either falls definitively into the “pop” or “experiment” slot, and out of those five, I only really like one. Heartbeat is about as close as King Crimson ever got to being a top 40 pop band — it’s a straightforward 4/4 love song, and I’ll set aside my pretensions here and say it’s a good one. The fact that this wasn’t a pop hit in 1982 is a shame, though maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that it was never overplayed so that I don’t have to hear it every time I go to the grocery store. (Then again, the grocery store doesn’t play good 80s pop/rock, only stuff that I disliked at first and have grown to completely hate like “Sussudio” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth”. Please, expand your fucking playlists, you corporate drones!)

But then the second side of Beat is a major dropoff in quality from the first. The Howler is rough and ugly without much of an aim (kind of reminds me of “The Mincer” off of Starless and Bible Black in fact, both for that and the similar title) and Neurotica is just too damn neurotic for me to enjoy and without much else to recommend it aside from the chorus. Even the softer Belew song Two Hands doesn’t quite work for me, though I see the more romantic types enjoying it. And considering my favorite romance is Saya no Uta, that might say a lot about just how romantic I am.

Either Saya or the classic Nekomata fight in SMT Nocturne, a true heartbreaker that one. Still waiting for my hybrid SMT/Persona digital demon dating sim.

That leaves the closer Requiem. This instrumental seems to be among the most controversial pieces in King Crimson’s catalog. Understandably so: it sounds like one of 70s Crimson’s improvs in the 80s sound, and as with a lot of those pieces, it gets equal love and hate or at least disinterest. But while it’s not my favorite track on the album, I do get something out of “Requiem” that I don’t get out of some of Crimson’s other improvs. This one feels like an eruption, building up slowly into its climax near the end of the track after which it slowly fades away. Sounds suitably mournful for a piece titled “Requiem” too, though who it’s a requiem for, if anyone, I’m not sure. Probably not for the band, since they’d be around for a while longer in this form.

But then, “Requiem” has the same problem some of Crimson’s wilder pieces have: I have to really be in the mood to identify with their dark, jagged, rough atmospheres. I just happen to be in that sort of mood more often than I’d like. I guess this music isn’t meant for very happy people, is it? Then again, Adrian Belew is optimistic enough to balance things out — just go back to that first side if “Requiem” isn’t your thing.

So Beat is all right. Still a good album on balance, but certainly not the one to start with the 80s lineup of the band in my opinion. Though if you have a friend who’s really into 80s pop and they haven’t heard any Crimson yet, consider sending them a link to “Heartbeat” — it really could fit onto that Vice City radio station, the one that starts with playing “Billie Jean” (and now that I think of it, wasn’t “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in there too? I wonder if that game eventually led some kids to get their minds expanded with Close to the Edge and Relayer. It all comes back to 70s prog in the end!)

And before I move on to the final album in the 80s trilogy (and spoilers there I guess) I have another bonus track to highlight. Absent Lovers is another instrumental, one I’d never heard until going through this full relisten, and I like it more than half of the tracks on the album proper. So why didn’t it make the album? Just as with “Dr. Diamond” on Starless, it’s a mystery.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 11 (Discipline, 1981)

After three collapses and three reformations, this fourth collapse of the influential and successful Wetton-Bruford (and Cross and Muir) brand of King Crimson in 1974 was the final one and the true end for the band. So everyone thought, apparently including Robert Fripp himself. He must have had some great foresight, because the “first wave” of progressive rock Crimson inspired in 1969 would famously die off in the following years, with fellow prog men Yes, Genesis, and new ex-prog band member supergroup Asia transitioning into highly successful commercial 80s pop/rock and others trying, failing, and disbanding.

Throughout the rest of the 70s, everyone from Crimson went off on their separate ways, including Fripp, who started a solo career and got into collaborations with other hardcore music guys like Brian Eno. His path took him into further collaborations with David Bowie and Talking Heads, where he’d meet the up-and-coming American guitarist Adrian Belew, who got his start with Frank Zappa and also ended up working on tour with Bowie and Talking Heads. This big musical web ended up putting Fripp and Belew together in a new project, with Bill Bruford returning on drums and the also American, also extremely talented bassist Tony Levin joining in (also on something called the Chapman stick, which is a sort of big guitar neck without the body powered by touch alone. Sorry to any stick players reading for the probably awful description.) This new group was originally called Discipline, but eventually I guess the group felt it was Crimson-ish enough with about half of the old 70s band there to bring that old name back, so they did, and their new “debut” album received the Discipline name instead.

I’ve been trying to avoid lengthy “history” sections like the above, but it’s impossible to avoid in this case. If you were to jump directly from Red into Discipline, straight from “Starless” to Elephant Talk, without knowing the name of the artists involved, you’d never believe they were both created by King Crimson. Yet they were — despite the shared name, this Crimson sounds nothing like any Crimson that came before it, the difference in sound being all the more dramatic because of the passage of time. More importantly, I’d argue as many others have that despite their very different New Wave-ish sound at this point, King Crimson along with Peter Gabriel were the only “old prog” guys left working in that truly progressive spirit. Discipline is another seriously influential album, their last “big” release in that earth-shattering sense, and it’s easy to see why: all seven songs on this album are exciting and fresh, combining Crimson’s experimental edge with a new catchy pop sound. They’re woven together effectively kind of like the knot on the album cover — the perfect cover to describe its contents, even if it probably does have some esoteric reason behind it (just ask Mr. Fripp about that — it was the same with the Larks’ Tongues sun and moon graphic, though beyond looking cool I have no idea what it’s about.)

The signature of this new 80s Crimson was the “interlocking guitar” sound. For the first time, the band had two guitarists in Fripp and Belew, and they use that opportunity to play intricate and complex figures, often in different time signatures, that weave around each other as on Frame by Frame and the instrumental title track. These are more than just pieces to show off technique — they really pulled me in when I first listened to this album and they still do. This intricate guitar work around Levin’s bass/stick and Bruford’s drums to even better effect in the fierce Thela Hun Ginjeet, in which Belew recounts his run-in with some tough guys in New York City where they were recording. And of course it wouldn’t be a King Crimson album without a wild experimental piece: see Indiscipline, one of the times I think the wild experimentation works, possibly expressing paranoia or neurosis through the unhinged instrumental sections and Belew’s vocals just as well as Talking Heads could in their own work, and at times even better thanks to Belew’s impressive guitar effect antics.

Bocchi is good, but can she make her guitar sound like an elephant? With the right equipment, probably. I have no idea what these guys were using to make their bizarre sounds.

And look, there’s an honest-to-God love song on this album in Matte Kudasai — the first Crimson love song ever? I think it might be, unless you count “Ladies of the Road”. It’s a good one too, featuring more of Belew’s guitar tricks with his replication of seagull cries and also the two non-English words I remember hearing on a Crimson album. I understand 80s Crimson was fairly popular in Japan, and it’s no surprise if so — there’s something city pop-sounding about “Matte Kudasai” and a few of Belew’s more pop-oriented songs still to come. But then city pop and New Wave seem to have been tied together pretty closely anyway, and similar fusion/proto-electronic guys like Yellow Magic Orchestra were already well established by this point. And finally, don’t forget about The Sheltering Sky, a nice, peaceful instrumental that I used to overlook.

I’ve seen Discipline described as feeling cold or distant, but I never had that feeling about the album myself. It’s extremely precise, sure; if you’re a fan of “math rock” you absolutely need to listen to this stuff if you haven’t already, especially if you want to know who influenced guys like Tool. But does precision equal coldness? I don’t know. Even if it does, this music is both enjoyable and innovative enough that it doesn’t matter, but there’s plenty of warmth in “Matte Kudasai” and heat in “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (right in the title too, if you know what it means!) Discipline is excellent overall and a must-listen: I’d rank it right up with Crimson King and Larks’ Tongues all together just below the pinnacle of Red, even if, again, it sounds absolutely like none of those albums.

But that’s the game with King Crimson as we’ve seen. Expect the unexpected! There’s a lot more Crimson to listen to as well — I think we might be halfway through the catalogue at this point. So I’ll hopefully see you next time.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 10 (USA, 1975)

Yes, it’s another live album, and put out the year after the band folded yet again. These posthumous live releases are starting to become a theme — my copy of the album even has an “R.I.P.” at the end of the track and personnel listing on the back cover. Though for some reason, just like with Earthbound, there’s no hint of this album on the band’s channel aside from Asbury Park, my least favorite track, go figure. Why? Who knows. Maybe these albums have some weird licensing issues.

But thank God, very much unlike Earthbound, USA is a worthy enough tribute to the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup it represents, a recording taken from their American tour as the album’s title suggests. The track listing this time actually makes sense and isn’t totally stupid, featuring plenty of good stuff from Larks’ Tongues (“Part II”, “Exiles”, “Easy Money”) and just one improvisation (“Asbury Park”, named after the city they were playing in New Jersey) that’s actually okay — plenty of energy in that one at least.

In fact, the energy and skill is all on display in USA. Just as importantly, the recording more or less does the band and their material justice, with “Larks’ Tongues Part II” as a special highlight from the first side. And look, they’re still playing “21st Century Schizoid Man”! This track was the closer on the strangely short original vinyl release of USA — but still a great closer, and this 70s Crimson lineup does an excellent job with it.

If that were all I had on my version of the album, I’d complain about Red going completely unrepresented. However, the CD reissue of USA I own contains two bonus tracks: “Fracture”, one of the better possible choices off of Starless and Bible Black, and “Starless”, which is the best track on the album and an even better closer than “Schizoid Man”. Maybe that’s sacrilege to say, but I think these two songs are held in just about equally high esteem by fans anyway.

Not much else to say except to look out for Wetton’s ad-libbing in the first verse of “Easy Money”. If that “health food-” line in “Great Deceiver” was an awkward one, at least to my American ears, this one is quite literally criminal. That’s not an argument you’ll win with a judge, John. Not unless “licking fudge” has a more innocent connotation than I’m imagining.

So USA is a good album. Worth picking up for sure if you find yourself getting into this band and want to hear what they sounded like back in 1974 when they played live. It really is a different sort of energy, and it’s nice to hear the crowd noise come in on occasion — I can imagine myself in the crowd, and I may well have been if I hadn’t been about a negative dozen years old at the time. And if you want to hear this lineup of the band live without buying USA, the roughly concurrent archival live release The Night Watch is up on Crimson’s channel, and it’s probably good too. The closest I ever got to seeing these guys actually live was an open air concert by Adrian Belew and two guitar prodigy kids he was touring with years ago — but that’s spoiling what’s coming up next in this series. I hope you’re ready for some Discipline!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 9 (Red, 1974)

Following the release of Starless and Bible Black and a North American tour, King Crimson would kick out violinist/keyboardist David Cross and record their next album Red as a trio. I’m not sure why Cross had to go, because the guy seems to have been good at what he did, but I’m sure band historians know the answer. In other words, not me: despite how long this post series is running and will continue to run, I’m mainly interested in the music, though I have heard a comprehensive band documentary is coming out soon that I’ll definitely watch.

But if you were wondering why Cross wasn’t featured in the band portrait on the cover of Red (a first and last for the band, and a real rarity for progressive album covers) that’s the reason. On the plus side, the band here brought in a few guest musicians to add some flavor, including former Crimson players Marc Charig on cornet, Mel Collins on soprano sax, and old founding member Ian McDonald himself on alto sax.

And as for the music: this is it. I’ll have to save my actual final judgment until the end of this run of albums, but ever since hearing it up to this day, Red has been and is my favorite King Crimson album and one of my favorite musical works of all time. It’s extremely focused, purposeful, and powerful, full of amazing moments and memorable lines. Out of its five tracks, the only one I’m not in love with is Providence, another live-studio hybrid improvisation (and for that reason the only track featuring Cross on violin and the reason he’s listed in the album’s credits — I think it’s called “Providence” because they recorded it in Providence, RI, but that’s just a guess based on later song naming conventions.) Even this improv is better than most of the similar material on Starless, however, creating a nice dark atmosphere that works in its spot between the first side closer and the album closer as a whole.

The other four are absolute winners, starting with the opening instrumental title track. Red sets an extremely heavy tone that continues throughout the album, mixing later with the second track Fallen Angel, which intersperses softer, calmer verses with that heavy guitar tone again in the chorus. Both make for an excellent opening to Red — it’s a contrast that somehow also blends beautifully. The first side ends with One More Red Nightmare, which add a little humor with lyrics about fear of flying. But the playing is serious: the track sounds like what it feels like to fly through a storm, especially in its instrumental stretches, and with Bruford banging on what I used to think was sheet metal but was actually an old cymbal they pulled out of the trash somewhere — either way it has a nice “thunder” sort of effect to me.

As much as I love those pieces, it’s the final song that makes Red a legendary album. Starless isn’t just my favorite on Red, it might be my favorite song of Crimson’s, period. At the very least, it stands up there with “Schizoid Man” and “Epitaph”. If I had to say what I like best about this lineup of the band, it’s all in “Starless” with its masterful building up and releasing of tension. But then any extended description I try to write of “Starless” doesn’t do it justice, so I hope you’ll just listen to it and see what you think.

Maybe I can express my feelings in gif form more effectively, so here they are

I thought I’d write more about Red than this, but there you go: the work speaks for itself. Even Mr. Christgau liked it, so I’ll return to him at least a little of the credit I took from him in my Larks’ Tongues post — I have to be fair. And speaking of being ahead of their time once again, this album didn’t do well upon its release, but over the decades it’s gotten its due as one of Crimson’s greatest works. Nirvana fans take note: Kurt Cobain cited Red as an influence, and I can the seeds of that late 80s/early 90s grunge in there.

So what do you do when you’ve made what may well be your magnum opus? Following Red, Robert Fripp decided King Crimson had said all it had to say and dissolved the band. This might seem astounding, but it does fit in with what seems to be Fripp’s general idea about music and creativity: don’t get stuck in a rut and continue to actually progress. That’s what he’d do, and what some of the other Crimsoners (?) would do as well, with Bill Bruford heading off to help out Genesis as a guest drummer after Peter Gabriel left and Phil Collins took up singing duties and then later heading off to the world of jazz, and John Wetton heading off to do whatever he did throughout the rest of the 70s before co-founding Asia, where he and a few former Yes and ELP members didn’t do much musical progressing anymore but made a whole assload of money, and who can blame them. And Ian McDonald went off to co-found Foreigner. People really don’t realize just how central this band and its members were to the shape of popular music, even the stuff you wouldn’t necessarily associate them with.

And was the end of King Crimson. Requiescat in pace.

Except, once again, it wasn’t. Fripp might have retired King Crimson by decree, but it would rise again in a new and totally unexpected form seven years later. If you’re not familiar already, there’s no way you’d be able to predict what they’ll end up sounding like upon their return. The next post will be a look at another live album from the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup, though, so we’ll have one more look at the 70s before jumping forward in time.