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King Crimson - Three Of A Perfect Pair CD (album) cover

THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.23 | 730 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Three Of A Perfect Pair, 1984

My big criticism's of 80s Crimson's last studio effort are two-fold. One: it sounds much better live. Two: it sounds much worse in the studio. The first side consists of, largely, decent pop songs plus a calmer ambient number, the second of three weird instrumentals and an absolutely thrilling Belew freakout. Everyone involved, of course, plays excellently, the production is strong. The songs, however, really come out of their shell live, and this studio thing ends up rather as a thing of interest than of beauty. Don't get me wrong, it's good, sometimes enjoyable music, but its artistic pull is greater than its emotional one.

Three of a Perfect Pair, the opener, showcases some of the pop capabilities of 80s Crimson: they make an obtuse song catchy. The guitar loops are eclectic as anything, Fripp's solo sounds like a UFO's malfunction, Levin comes up with a crisp, cold bassline, and Bruford's drumming is irritatingly difficult to follow in its own way. And yet it's a very sympathetic, winning and catchy song. The lyrics are fairly good, following in the 'awkward in theory: but we'll make it work' principle of 80s Crimson. Levin's devastating groove is a highlight, the switches between verse and chorus are clear, well-prepared and effective, and the vocals work just right. Excellent.

Model Man is going after the same ideal, I suspect, but it doesn't succeed as well on either the weird or the catchy bit. A deliberately quirky and extremely subtle guitar part underlines the chorus bit, Levin provides some more memorable bass/stick/whatever parts, Belew's voice is still great, but he doesn't use it as effectively, and the lyrics aren't as individual as some he pulls out. Finally, a note about Bruford's performance on this one: it's not dazzling in the conventional sense, in a way it can be seen as pretty bland and a one-trick-pony. However, the sheer feel and detail he manages to put into the crescendos at the start of the chorus bit is awe-inspiringly new, and show a control of sound which few progressive drummers can really boast.

I'm afraid I can no longer listen to the studio take of Sleepless. I just can't. Not because it's bad, but simply because it is a ghastly, insipid shadow of the roaring dance/industrial number on Absent Lovers: Live In Montreal. The studio version's big highlights are the complex rhythm parts being played a bit more clearly, and the bing-abingbing guitars. Belew's voice is back in force, the lyrics are a bit light, but they fit the song well enough. Again, Bruford is working with sound more than material, which suits some better than others. Anyway, a great song, but the version on Live In Montreal is simply leagues ahead in terms of energy, force and compactness. Also, the band's only (and well-deserved) 'hit', for some reason.

Man With An Open Heart is another committed pop song, albeit with Crimson trademarks throughout, including some very complete guitar phrases, some of the Tama electronic drums coming out to good effect, and a memorable and someone sarcastic bass part. The vocals are maybe less wowing than they have been elsewhere, and the song ends up as more of a kitsch piece than a stunner.

Nuyages (What Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds) is an atmospheric piece with blanketing synthesised or guitar-synth (or something) sounds and a gloopy, complex rhythm part filling out the expanses of sky. The highlight, though, is the superb Spanish-sounding guitars, later shifted to a full, mournful electric. A clear and interesting experimental and emotive piece, maybe this incarnation doesn't always have the force that Wetton/Fripp/Bruford/Cross carried, but they're still producing good, interesting music.

Industry is a similar creature. Again, the synth-things are ubiquitous and blanketing. On the other hand, there's a chilling, militaristic bass part from Levin, vicious energy in the guitar part, and some muted breakaways by Bruford, as well as a more incisively vicious guitar solo. This is sort of the dark counterpart to Nuyages, and a fairly neat opening to the experimental side of the album.

It transitions smoothly to the insane, enticing guitar-lines of Dig Me. Belew's distorted, metallic vocal mockingly rattles off the tale of an abandoned guitar, and the chaotic control of Bruford and Belew gives a uniquely gripping effect. The plain, almost folk-tinged, style of the chorus contrasts interestingly with the more unusual material, and the immense skill of all the players involved comes out here if you listen carefully. A gripping, out-there monster of a track. Vital listening for Crimson fans.

The potent No Warning is another of the more atmospheric numbers, I'm afraid. To its credit, it is very good, with a real soloistic attack from Bruford that he's been restraining for most of the 80s Crimson line-up, as well as thumping bass and tense, moody guitars wailing away in the background. Dark and effective.

A twisted quote from Larks' One opens Larks' Three, which hints at the attack and verve that live 80s Crimson had, producing a full band beast in a way that you feel Belew/Bruford/Fripp/Levin generally tried to avoid. A particularly gritty guitar wails on at times, and the general effect is strong, though not overwhelming in the way that the first two parts were.

The bonus goodies aren't stunning, a light Barber-Shop Quartet is hilarious, Industrial Zones A and B are forgettable and Sleepless is a great song, but clearly the band were so excited about their underground hit that they've put three mixes in here. The Dance Mix is the most interesting in its own way, but the version of Absent Lovers is basically the definitive one for me.

Listening to this one again, the thing that's most impressed me is the roundedness of the players. The precise detail in their parts is truly impressive, even for a non-musician like me. Unfortunately, the songwriting here is rarely as strong as that of Discipline or even Beat, with most of the atmospheric pieces not registering in the brain at all after they've finished, and only two truly good pop numbers. A very interesting album to listen to, but Absent Lovers: Live At Montreal is the essential 80s Crimson purchase and this is, if you have that, little more than an occasional curiosity listen, something to be admired perhaps more than it is to be enjoyed. Two stars from me, but keep in mind that I definitely appreciate the album (and it's a damn sight better than some I've thrown three stars at), I just wouldn't even try to recommend it to someone who isn't otherwise interested in 80s Crimson.

Rating: Two stars, I'm afraid, not poor, but definitely a fans' selection rather than a general choice Favourite Track: Dig Me

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |

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