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King Crimson - Three of a Perfect Pair CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.28 | 1259 ratings

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4 stars When King Crimson disbanded in the mid 70s I somehow got over that tragedy, moved on with my life and, out of spite, didn't bother to sample any of the recordings they made after they got back together a few years down the line. I guess I felt I'd been betrayed and, therefore, they deserved my eternal scorn. Recently I came across this LP sitting by its lonesome in the bins and, in a gesture of forgiveness, decided to check it out. On the first listen I jumped to all sorts of conclusions and began to rub my hands together like Snidely Whiplash in anticipation of skewering it mercilessly as being a sad specimen of yet another progressive rock giant falling victim to the cursed MTV virus of the 80s that nearly obliterated our revered musical genre. I envisioned how I would amuse readers with pithy, sarcastic prose in which I would spew out clever metaphors right and left, equating it to Picasso opting to raise some quick moola by churning out a slew of fluorescent-paint portraits of a scantily-garbed Selma Hayek posed as a busty Latino Wonder Woman slaying a fire-breathing dragon on black felt. And that was just for starters. But then something happened that I hadn't anticipated:

The damned thing grew on me like lichen on a boulder.

Seriously, for about a solid week I didn't want to hear anything else. Once I peered under the album's deceivingly glossy coat of metal-flake that merely reflected the era it was created in I found the rebellious, unconventional heart of King Crimson alive, intact and beating like a jackhammer. This group never stood still and to hear that they morphed and continued to grow even during the most stifling and constrictive of times restores a lot of my admiration for this brave band. While most of their peers were trying to figure out how they could best dumb down their imaginations and make entertaining videos, these guys were busy trying to incorporate ever-advancing recording technology and digital innovations into their own unique brand of aural art. And, like most KC product, it doesn't sound like anybody else.

Take the opener. "Three of a Perfect Pair" is so far removed from what the group did on "Red," for example, that it took me a few spins to adjust my mindset. Mainly due to the vocal stylings of Adrian Belew. It's light-years away from the ghostly crooning of John Wetton. Not bad, just different. What the dream team rhythm section of drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Tony Levin do with the standard 4/4 of the verse is delicious and the way they smooth out the 7/8 time signature of the chorus is just as savory. The lead section is wonderfully weird, allaying any notions that this is some kind of profit-mongering sell-out. And Adrian's lyrics about a volatile, dysfunctional and ultimately hopeless man/woman love relationship are intelligent and sharp as a razor. "He has his contradicting views/she has her cyclothymic moods/they make a study in despair/three of a perfect pair," he sings.

Like its predecessor, "Model Man" has a straight rock beat on the verse and then another 7/8 jaunt for the chorus but there the similarity ends. Belew's voice is a strange but pleasing hybrid of Jeff Lynne meets David Byrne and the guitar mannerisms are fabulously atypical yet not annoying. Their minimalist approach to this song is endearing while they maintain a healthy respect for their eclectic heritage. "Not a model man/not a savior or a saint/imperfect in a word/make no mistake/but I give you everything I have/take me as I am," Adrian humbly intones. "Sleepless" follows and, despite Tony's crisp, alarming bass tone and the slurring guitars that unleash a palpable suspense, it proves to be the low point of the album. Here the New Wave influence is too dominant and I get the feeling that they may've unintentionally weakened and succumbed to current trends on this track. Nonetheless, the abstract words go a long way in retaining a modicum of integrity. "Silhouettes like shivering ancient feelings/they cover my foreign floors and walls/submarines are lurking in my foggy ceiling/they keep me sleepless at night," Belew warbles with just a hint of unease.

"Man with an Open Heart" is next and it has a slightly twisted oriental flavor that burrows into your brain like a hungry zombie earwig. Levin's dry-as-toast tone is exactly what was needed to compliment the elusive guitar spasms that flitter about like orphaned moths. Add to that the tune's memorable melody and a chanting refrain that they probably surreptitiously ripped off from a bunch of tipsy Oompa-Loompas during happy hour at the Wonka Bar and you've got a winner on your hands, folks. The lyrics describe a smitten man who loves his lady unconditionally. "Her wild and wise womanly introspectiveness/her faults and files of foolishness/wouldn't matter to a man with an open heart," he croons. "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)" is the first of four instrumentals to come down the pike and its wispy, synthesized mimicry of the trusty Mellotron is a bit of a throwback to their earliest offerings without degenerating into a nostalgic cop-out. Tony's bass creates a bubbling, oozing sensation akin to sidling up to the La Brea tar pits, stirring up a primordial aura that is hypnotizing and Bruford's electronic percussion is intriguing as it bounces along beneath Fripp's meandering guitar lines. The impression the piece leaves behind is dense and guttural.

Clocking in at 7:22, "Industry" is the album's longest cut and it's more of what I expected from this incarnation of King Crimson. With a pulsating throb in 9/8 as its foundation and airy synths drifting overhead like clouds of lethal smog, this number builds slowly but surely in a "Starless and Bible Black" sort of way with ripping, grinding noises providing the climax before it drifts away over the horizon. There's an overriding malevolence implied in this music that contains all the greed, cruelty and inhumanity that the song's title encompasses. It's mesmerizing. "Dig Me" at first seems an exercise in cacophony run amok but once you realize that it's coming from the point of view of a once-proud high-end luxury automobile that now finds itself rusting away in a junk yard "unhinged and sleeping in the jungle of motor block manifolds and metal relics" it begins to make perfect sense. It's like a musical version of one of the aforementioned Pablo's synthetic cubist renderings. The arresting arrhythmia of the verses is followed by a slick, smooth chorus in which the anguished sedan cries out "I'm ready to leave/I wanna get out of here/I'm ready to ride away/I don't wanna die in here/I'm ready to ride." (Never thought I'd feel sympathy for a Ferrari.) Say what you will about this track but boring it ain't. It's fascinatingly original.

They end with back-to-back instrumentals beginning with "No Warning." The electrical tension generated at the front of this tune is intriguing but it soon turns into an unscripted free-form expression of random impulses and the result is basically three and a half minutes of chaos. I think I know what they were aiming for but it does nothing for me at all. "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III" serves as the finale and a fine one it is. Robert's frantic guitar runs escalate into a 7/8 rocker with hard accentuations and punches that knock you off your feet. After they hit you with a diabolic guitar break they drop down into a driving groove that stalks beneath what sounds like a cosmic puma with its tail caught in a steel bear trap. It's terrifying and exhilarating at the same time and wholly worthy of its namesake.

Seems like every time I think I've got a handle on what King Crimson is, was and always will be they show me a side of their collective personality that I didn't know existed and that's exactly what they did on "Three of a Perfect Pair." Their music has always been for the more adventurous of proggers in general and I can see why many of their diehard fans dismissed this album as being too accessible. I beg to differ with that appraisal, though. When I consider what tawdry shape the music industry was in when they released this record and how everything seemed to be aimed squarely at the public's lowest common denominator I only wish I'd found this album about a quarter of a century earlier. I would've celebrated the fact that it proved progressive music still had a pulse in 1984 and I would've played this LP till the diamond-tipped phonograph needle dulled itself to a nub. 4.1 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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