i fear tomorrow i'll be crying

 

King Crimson

 

I've never been very fond of this particular prog group, but thanks to the local library, I've gained access to the majority of their recordings. Surprisingly, they're not all that bad.

Note: King Crimson member Adrian Belew is better, at least in the "writing quality songs" department.

lineup: a heck of a lot of people over the years; Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron, pretentions) is the constant one, with Adrian Belew (vocals, guitar) on all the 80s and 90s albums. other notables include Bill Bruford (drums on LTiA through Thrak); Tony Levin (bass, stick, and synth on Discipline through Thrak); John Wetton (vocals and bass on Larks through Red); and Greg Lake (vocals and bass on Court, just vocals on Poseidon).

review index: In the Court of the Crimson King / In the Wake of Poseidon / Lizard / Islands / Larks' Tongues in Aspic / Starless and Bible Black / Red / Discipline / Three of a Perfect Pair / Sleepless: The Concise King Crimson / The Night Watch / Absent Lovers / The ConstruKction of Light

solos & sides:

Robert Fripp: The Gates of Paradise
the ProjeKcts: Live at the Jazz Cafe (ProjeKct One) / Live Groove (ProjeKct Two) / Masque (ProjeKct Three) / West Coast Live (ProjeKct Four)

missing albums: Beat, Thrak, most of the live albums

apex: In the Court of the Crimson King
nadir: The ConstruKction of Light
overlooked: Larks' Tongues in Aspic


In the Court of the Crimson King - 1969

Rating: ****
Best songs: Epitaph, 21st Century Schizoid Man, In the Court of the Crimson King
Worst songs: Moonchild

 

Yes, King Crimson actually did make a consistent album (err...more or less). It's got the three classics that anyone who's heard KC before should know: the grand, almost Moody Blues-ish "Epitaph", the futuristic freakout of "21st Century Schizoid Man", and the epic "In the Court of the Crimson King".

As good as those three songs are, you'd think they could fill the rest of the time up with material that is at least listenable. Though "I Talk to the Wind" is pleasant, it's not anywhere near the level of the three classics. And "Moonchild" begins Robert Fripp's descent into pretentious masturbation, which would reach its apex with the release of Thrakattack, or whatever the hell it's called. Either way, this (along with Red, though I've only heard part of that one) is probably Crimson's best album.

Final note: They followed this up with In the Wake of Poseidon, which sounded more or less exactly like this, so if you like this, you might want to get that one too.


In the Wake of Poseidon - 1970

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Cat Food, Cadence and Cascade, Pictures of a City
Worst songs: the Peace songs, I guess

 

Yep, it's pretty much a copy of the debut. In Fripp's defense, the band was crumbling, with Greg Lake departing to form the wankmastersupergroup ELP, and the rest of the band just not caring (Fripp and Sinfield wrote nearly everything on here), so it was probably hard for him to go on his 10-minute avant garde sound collage trips.

Excepting the three "Peace" songs, which are just inconsequential tracks that try to make the track listing look less like that of Court, we have "Pictures of a City", which is like "21st Century Schizoid Man" except the middle section is jazzier, "Cadence and Cascade", a do-over of "I Talk to the Wind", though better in this reporter's opinion, "In the Wake of Poseidon", a weak melding of "In the Court of the Crimson King" and "Epitaph", and "The Devil's Triangle", which is thankfully less wanky -- no, wait, scratch that, more entertaining -- than "Moonchild". The only tune that doesn't rehash el debuto is "Cat Food", a neat jazzy number featuring some rather crazed piano playing. Christ, that was a lot of commas in that sentence back there.

So yeah, I can't rate it on the level of Court -- none of the songs approach the grandeur of "Schizoid" or "Epitaph". It's still worth hearing, though, and is a heck of a lot listenable than, say, the next album.


Lizard - 1970

Rating: **
Best songs: Lady of the Dancing Water, the "Prince Rupert Awakes" section of Lizard
Worst songs: Happy Families, the rest of Lizard

 

Now here's a record only a prog-head could love.

The current band line-up is probably the most obscure of all the Crimson ones: Gordon Haskell on vocals and bass, Andy McCulloch (wasn't he in Wings?) on drums, and uhhhh... [checks liner notes] ooh, Mel Collins on sax. He's somewhat notable, at least, for playing on Chris Squire's solo album.

Anyway, regardless of the lineup, it's all about the songs, ain't it? Well, they ain't so good. "Lady of the Dancing Water" is pretty, as is the first part of "Lizard" (featuring guest vocals by Jon Anderson!), but that's about all I can find much praise for. "Cirkus" is a decent opener, but not that wonderful, and "Indoor Games" is only saved from generic jazz doodleville by the neat synth squiggles ("Lizard" is mostly generic jazz doodle). And "Happy Family" is one of the worst songs that this band has ever done. Please remember, we're talking about King Crimson here.

So in conclusion, not too horrid, but only about half of it is listenable. Skip this mother.


Islands - 1971

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Prelude: Song of the Gulls, Ladies of the Road, the first half of Formentera Lady
Worst songs: Sailor's Tale, The Letters, the second half of Formentera Lady

 

Well, at least Robert Fripp gets points for diversity. There's avant-garde jazzy stuff, a rock song, some nice balladry, and even a classical piece.

Let's start with the avant-garde jazzy stuff: there's "Sailor's Tale", which is 7 1/2 minutes of dull atonal noisemaking. And then there's "The Letters", which starts out semi-normal, but then goes into more dull atonal noisemaking. Also on side one is "Formentera Lady", which is a lovely ballad that devolves into dull atonal noisemaking halfway through.

Notice a trend here?

Thankfully, the second half is better: "Ladies of the Road" is a cutesy tribute to groupies, but it actually has harmony vocals in the chorus! For King Crimson, that's positively Beatlesque! And "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" is absolutely gorgeous pseudo-classical! And "Islands" is a perfectly decent ballad, though it shouldn't be ten minutes long!

Not bad. Not bad at all. Certainly surprises me, especially since there's a member of Bad Company on the album.


Larks' Tongues in Aspic - 1973

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Easy Money, Exiles, Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part Two, Book of Saturdays
Worst songs: The Talking Drum, the last part of LTiA Part One

 

What is it with King Crimson and AOR? Consider this: members of King Crimson have gone on to such illustrious groups as Bad Company, Foreigner, and Asia. Not to mention their current drummer was formerly with Mr. Mister.

John Wetton aside, this is a surprisingly well-thought out album. Nearly a half-hour of this is dedicated to instrumentals, and they are for the most part good (exceptions: "The Talking Drum" is a bore aside from the neat bassline, and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One" could've been shortened by a few minutes). "LTiA Part Two", in fact, is probably the second most ass-kickingest instrumental they've done (#1? "Red", of course).

And for once all the songs with singing are good! Amazing! "Easy Money" is a fuzzy rock tune, "Exiles" is an almost Genesisy (!!!) ballad, and "Book of Saturday" is short but sweet. My only problem is Jamie Muir. His percussion noises in "Easy Money" are really bothersome.

No four stars here, but man, if there's such a thing as a high ***1/2 (***3/4?), this be it.


Starless and Bible Black - 1974

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: The Great Deceiver, The Night Watch, Lament
Worst songs: We'll Let You Know, The Mincer

 

Why don't people like this one more? Half of it is just like Red! Case in point: "The Great Deceiver" is an awesome hard-rockin' tune that kicks the shit out of "One More Red Nightmare". Why didn't they save that one for Red? Oh, right, because Fripp's a moron! Hahahahahaha!

Nah, just kidding. There are two other great songs on here: "Lament" is another rockin' tune, and "The Night Watch" is pretty and stuff (guitar harmonics = pretty). Unfortunately, that's about it. "We'll Let You Know"? Yeah, we'll let you know that it SUCKS! (Oh, God, I'm so funny!) Actually, "Fractured" is half good (the second half) and half bad (guess which half), and "Trio" might be good if it weren't barely audible. But the rest is, pretty much, just some avant-prog wanking: the title track is pleasant enough, but has nothing to do with "Starless" from the following album, and oh, "The Mincer"? Yeah, it sucks too.

But if you're a prog fan, you'll love this album! It's much more interesting and complex than vapid pop music!


Red - 1974

Rating: ***
Best songs: Fallen Angel, Red, the first part of Starless
Worst songs: Providence

 

The kids really like this one, but I dunno. "Fallen Angel" and "Red" are two totally AWEsome songs, sure, but the rest? "Starless" is cool (especially the actual "song" bit), but you really have to be in the mood to listen to all of it. "One More Red Nightmare" is kinda neat, but not really worth six minutes. And "Providence" is the requisite avant-garde crappy thing. So that's that.


Discipline - 1981

Rating: ***
Best songs: Matte Kudasai, Frame by Frame, Elephant Talk
Worst songs: The Sheltering Sky, Discipline

 

Not exactly "one of the greatest albums of the 80's", I don't think. Three great songs, one good semi-instrumental, and a bunch of filler.

As for the good stuff, "Elephant Talk" and "Frame By Frame" are both great new-wavey rockers and "Matte Kudasai" is a lovely ballad. "Thela Hun Ginjeet" is good, though it lacks energy. It sounds a whole lot better on the live album Absent Lovers (though I would recommend Cirkus, a compilation of live tracks which has 90% of the Crimson you'll ever need to hear).

And the bad stuff includes "Indiscipline", which would be a decent instrumental if it wasn't marred by Adrian speaking over it. Finally, the last 15 minutes of the album is just a bunch of boring instrumental crap. Yawn!


Three of a Perfect Pair - 1984

Rating: ***
Best songs: first four songs, baby!
Worst songs: Industry, Dig Me

 

Y'know, this one sure starts off great. The opener title track is a total Crimson classic, starting off sounding like it's gonna be this annoying skronky instrumental, but then Adrian starts singing and it's like, all catchy and shit! Also is the pounding, drivey "Sleepless", which rules just about as much. And there's the pleasant "Model Man" and groove-ey (for Crimson, that is) "Man With an Open Heart". Then uh...

Crap. "Nuages" is some silly new-agey instrumentalism, "Industry" and "Dig Me" are boring as hell, and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part 3" is okay, but not really deserving of the LTiA title. Mediocre side two, man. And why is the cover design exactly the same as Discipline's, just with a different primary color and little design?


Sleepless: The Concise King Crimson - 1993

Rating: ****
Best songs: Epitaph, Fallen Angel, Red, In the Court of the Crimson King, and many more
Worst songs: none! nope, none at all!

 

Longtime CR readers might notice that I generally don't cover compilations. That's because in most cases I don't need to, as I'm covering the actual albums. And who wants to read a bunch of hits package reviews?

This, however, is a special case. You may be surprised to learn that you might not want to buy multiple King Crimson albums. This compilation will give you nearly everything you need. They don't include anything from Larks' Tongues in Aspic, which is a shame, but they'd have to make it a two-disc set to do that, and that would've jacked the price up by ten bucks or so. And who would want that?

Actually, what you could do is buy this and LTiA. There you go, nice compact Crimson collection. Hooray for alliteration!


The Night Watch - 1997

Rating: ***
Best songs: Easy Money, Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II, The Night Watch, Exiles
Worst songs: Improv: The Fright Watch, The Talking Drum, Fracture (again, the first half)

 

A live album. This is the concert where much of the material for Starless and Bible Black originated, so it's of Much Historical Value. But screw history, this is a music review!! (only just)

Anyway, the tracklist is this: half of the songs come from previous albums, including nearly all of Larks' Tongues in Aspic (omitting "LTIA Part I") and "21st Century Schizoid Man". The rest is given over to jamming and the songs they'd actually written for SaBB. The most notable of the first group is "Easy Money", which totally TEARS the original studio version apart. The rest is good enough, though the performance of "21st Century Schizoid Man" seems kinda sloppy. The SaBB tracks are pretty much identical to the originals, just mixed even less clearly. There's only one "new" track, "Improv: The Fright Watch", and it's hardly worth hearing -- in fact, it's hardly possible to hear, since they do the same "so quiet it's inaudible" trick, but from what I managed to hear, it's nothing special.

You know what's the worst thing about this, though? It's only 85 minutes! Had they cut one song off here (say, one of the dull improvs or the nth rendition of "Schizoid Man"), it coulda been one CD! Then it might've been a bargain, but as it stands, I say, don't buy it unless you're one of them people who really likes this group.


Absent Lovers - 1998

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: (disc one) Red, Thela Hun Ginjeet, Three of a Perfect Pair; (disc two) Sleepless, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part II), Man With an Open Heart
Worst songs: (disc one) Industry, Dig Me, Indiscipline; (disc two) Discipline

 

Hey, a good King Crimson double-album! And it's live, too! Awesome. This features a concert from the mid-80s -- a scary proposition, I'm sure, but Crimson still had some taste back then. Anyway, there are usually three general issues with live albums.

1. Sound quality. This concert was recorded expertly. Even Bruford's electronic drums sound nice.

2. Song selection. Mostly good, though they do stick in too many blah songs ("(In)Discipline", "Dig Me", and "Industry"!). Only two 70s Crimson songs are included ("Red" and "LTiA II"), but they're both good. No "Sailor's Tale" here!

3. Performance quality. This is Crimson we're talking about. 80s Crimson. The songs are performed flawlessly, without a bunch of wanking thrown in.

So yes, this album is good. Worth buying, if you like their 80s albums. Heck, if you don't have their 80s albums, just get this and skip them!


The ConstruKction of Light - 2000

Rating: 0
Best songs: the bonus track by "ProjeKct X"
Worst songs: all of them except ProzaKc Blues

 

The absolute horridness of this album is awe-inspiring. I didn't know it was possible to make an album this bad while still making it marginally listenable. The marginally listenable part is the opener "ProzaKc Blues", which is, yes, a blues. Adrian Belew uses a pitch-shifter effect to make his voice sound like Tom Waits.

And that's where any good qualities to this album end. You've got "The ConstruKction of Light", which just dicks around for six minutes with Fripp's dull guitar arpeggiations, not for once suggesting that it might go somewhere with it, then it switches to Adrian Belew randomly spouting words. Then there's "Into the Frying Pan", which, despite the neat distorted drum intro, is another "song" (in the sense that Belew writes some words for it) with some headache-inducing guitar work. "FraKctured" uses the same boring-ass guitar arpeggiations as "ConstruKction", not accomplishing anything for nine minutes. "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum" is another dentist drill of a 'song', with one of Belew's free-association lyrics. Then there's "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV", an insult to the original LTiA album if there ever was one. It plods along dully for another nine minutes, just making a bunch of noise without justifying the name. The album ends with "Coda: I Have a Dream", which doesn't really establish an independent identity from "LTiA IV", but at this point I'd be happy just to know that the album's over.

Ironically, the only really good moment on the album is the bonus track, credited to "ProjeKct X". Maybe because Fripp sticks to synth guitar for most of it, or maybe because the band isn't all playing fffff., it's surprisingly pleasant, especially compared to the tuneless mess that precedes it.

That said, I'll now make a comment or two on the band's playing: Mastelotto and Gunn are an incredibly unsubtle rhythm section. This is pretty surprising, since the ProjeKct albums seemed to indicate otherwise. Here, it's just BOOM WHOOMP WHOOMP BOOM WHOOMP WHOOMP for fifty minutes. The guitar tones switch between an anemic-sounding clean tone and a cavity-drilling distorted tone. Belew's singing is minimal, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

So in conclusion, for the love of god don't buy this record you shouldn't waste your money on this crap buy something else anything!!! Thank you, and good night.

And a question to Robert Fripp: Why do you have to put that fucking "K" in front of every fucking "c"? Not only is it idiotic-looking, it's annoying to type.


Appendix: Solo Albums and Side Projects

As I mentioned at the beginning of this program, Adrian Belew has his own page. Not that I'm trying to get you to go to it, but I just want you to have the option of going there.

Note: the four "ProjeKct" albums reviewed here are part of The ProjeKcts box set. I'm not sure if you can get them individually.


Robert Fripp, Let the Power Fall - 1981

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: ?
Worst songs: ?

 

This album is the musical equivalent of a Simon game. Seriously, it starts with one sound, then repeats it with another sound, then adds a third sound on the next repetition, until the guys at Windham Hill spooge onto their synthesizers. I'm not really sure what to say about this album. Every track does the same thing, but Fripp does manage to come up with some neat guitar noises, and once they get going, the tracks are nice and ambient. Not sure if you want 50 minutes of it, though.


Robert Fripp, The Gates of Paradise - 1997

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Sometimes God Hides, Pie Jesu, and the first track
Worst songs: In Fear and Trembling of the Lord

 

Ambient music is a crapshoot. More often than not, your "ambient" music sounds more like warmed-over Yanni, new age pablum for pseudo-hippie yuppies to burn incense to in their $500k three-bedroom San Francisco homes while they wear their energy crystals and birkenstocks. Sorry, that was pretty vindictive. Shall we start over?

Robert Fripp likes to improvise ambient music using a bunch of guitar synthesizers and looping delays and stuff. It's neat, if only because nothing on here sounds like a guitar. It's also neat because it's got some wonderful music in there. Track one switches between pretty bits and angular, dissonant bits in a seamless fashion, tracks two and four each have a really beautiful part ("Pie Jesu" and "Sometimes God Hides", respectively -- love the synth piano on the latter!). Drawbacks? Yeah, track three is an awful dissonant noisefest without any redeeming nice bits. If you wanna give solo Bob a chance, though, start here. Please?


ProjeKct One, Live at the Jazz Cafe - 1998

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: not really songs...
Worst songs: ...more like grooves/jams.

 

This is probably the most promising of the ProjeKcts: you've got Bruford/Levin in there! How can you go wrong with a rhythm section like that?!

Well, they didn't go wrong, per se. Certainly there are some enjoyable parts: the opening track "4 i 1" is a neat jazzy groove with some awesome Fripp guitar work, and there are some nice airy bits throughout (particularly "1 ii 2" and "2 ii 3"), but overall, this is more like music you would stick on in the background than something you'd want to devote all your attention to.


ProjeKct Two, Live Groove - 1999

Rating: ***
Best songs: Sus-tayn-Z, Heavy ConstruKction, Light ConstruKction
Worst songs: 21st Century Schizoid Man, X-chayn-jiZ

 

Hey... This is more like it. The lineup on this one is Fripp, Gunn, and Belew. And Belew plays "v-drums" (a set of electronic drums manufactured by Roland, for those not in the "know" about musical instrument technology) instead of guitar! Wacky.

Anyway, this one starts off with some cool-ass guitar noise ("Sus-tayn-Z"), which turns into a groovey little thing about halfway through. Then there's "Heavy ConstruKction", a freaky, dark-sounding riff tune. Afterwards the band tones down and does a creepy synthesized-vocal thing called "Deception of the Thrush".

Why am I going through and telling you about the individual songs? BAD ME! BAD REVIEWER!! NO BISCUIT!

Screw it, just get this one if you want to hear any of this stuff. If you really really really like it, then maybe get one of the others, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Oh, also, prog fans = assholes. "21st Century Schizoid Man" proves it.


ProjeKct Three, Masque - 1999

Rating: **
Best songs: I give up!
Worst songs: ahfdkjshadlkfjhsadlkfjhlasdfddd;rieoereorpksdx

 

I wish they'd make up some song titles for these things. First the random arrangement of numbers, now "Masque" for the whole thing?

Well, this one's featuring Pat Mastelotto. Unsurprisingly, as he's the guy that mixed the thing, the drums are front and center, pushing Gunn and Fripp to the sides. Literally. They're in the left and right channels, respectively, whereas Pat's all over the place. I don't mean to slight the guy, but I want to hear all the instruments, not just the drums.

So bla bla bla. It starts out with a high-velocity drum-heavy thing. And continues to bore me for fifty minutes. Nah, not entirely, really. Fripp manages some pretty ambient bits. But for the most part, this is skippable, unless you're a hardcore Crimson fan, in which case you've probably already got this. And you probably like to listen to Thrakattack, too.


ProjeKct Four, West Coast Live - 1999

Rating: *1/2
Best songs: none
Worst songs: most of them

 

Bla bla bla. I'm tired of these ProjeKcts. This time it's the same lineup as the previous one, with Tony Levin added.

So there's a whopping five song titles on here; unfortunately two of them are "Ghost" (parts one and two, divided into four tracks each on the disc). Pat Mastelotto overplays his heart out. They do "Deception of the Thrush", already well-done in the first place by ProjeKct Two. There's very little in the way of interesting material, and almost none of the pretty quiet ambient bits that saved the previous discs. Just get the ProjeKct Two disc (assuming you can find it separate from the others) and skip the others, okay?


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