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King Crimson - Beat CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.08 | 1213 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars "Heartbeat" might be the most maligned King Crimson song of any era. According to Wikipedia, the group's drummer Bill Buford and singer-guitarist Adrian Belew are among its critics. Naturally, the problem with the song varies from one listener to the next, but the fact that "Heartbeat" is an accessible pop song probably has something to do with a majority of the complaints.

Perhaps I'm overstating it, but there seems to be an idea that the song, or perhaps the album, or even King Crimson's entire 1980s output, represents some degree of "selling out" by the group. I'll certainly grant that "Heartbeat," among several of the group's songs from the era, has clear new-wave influences. But regarding the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Paul McCartney said "the mood of the album was in the spirit of the age, because we ourselves were fitting into the mood of the time... and it wasn't just the general mood of the time that influenced us... We were only doing what the kids in the art schools were all doing." Just because the Beatles did it doesn't make it right, I suppose, but this quote is a reminder that some of what we call "selling out" is common practice.

Anyway, Beat isn't as bad as you'd think from the reviews here, but compared to the other two 1980s King Crimson albums (Discipline (1981) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984)) it comes across as a somewhat uninspired project. Apparently, at some point in the creation of this album, Belew and group leader and guitarist Robert Fripp were unable to be in the same room together; maybe it was decided then that whatever had been committed to tape would have to be sufficient. Or it may simply be that the band believed that the non-sequitur/stream-of-consciousnesses artistry of the concept would atone for a shortage of quality ideas. (The theme was the Beat Generation, whose exemplars were known for unorthodoxy.)

Most of the best moments on Beat are on Side One; to me, "Neurotica" and "Requiem," which open and close the flip side, are the weakest. Nonetheless, Side Two gets points for conceptual purity; even the relatively poppy "Two Hearts" is sufficiently off-kilter to fit the theme. On the other hand, side-one songs "Sartori in Tangier," and especially "Heartbeat," seem off-topic, but not sufficiently off-topic to make their off-topicness clever. (I do acknowledge, though, that the title "Heartbeat" does contain the word "beat," and thus might've fit an abandoned theme around the word itself.)

Like its predecessor Discipline, Beat is a good album, but far from a great one. Three stars.

patrickq | 3/5 |


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