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King Crimson - Beat CD (album) cover

BEAT

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

2.97 | 790 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars From reading through some of the opinions about this album I half expected it to be the aural equivalent of Fripp & Co. squatting and excreting a massive, smelly, oozing turd smack dab in the middle of the ornately decorated banquet table that is their career. Not so. One of the many things I most enjoy about the reviews that get posted on this site is that, for the most part, they are honest. Sometimes brutally so. With that in mind I hope I don't stir up the ire of those who truly detest "Beat" but I'm going to be one of the few who'll be contributing an upward dent in the grading curve for it. I like this record. It's no KC masterpiece by a long shot and not even as interesting as the one that followed it but, once again, when I take into account the rapidly deteriorating health of music that was in hell- bent decline in '82 I have to give this brave group of musicians a few miles of slack.

What disco and punk rock had not demolished in the distinguished world of prog during the late 70s, new wave and the emerging MTV Ebola virus effectively ground into fine dust as the 80s began. By then most of the giants of the formerly robust prog movement had either disbanded or vainly attempted to morph into a more trendy entity (usually with embarrassingly despicable results). It was downright ugly, folks. But with "Beat" I find a plucky King Crimson that was opting to pronounce an intelligent, thought-provoking commentary on what was happening in modern music at the time. Instead of selling out, they held on to their identity and their integrity by painting an abstract work of art in their usual unorthodox style but utilizing the popular hues and gaudy colors that were in vogue at the moment. In other words, I guess they took an "if you can't join 'em, lick 'em" attitude. Having said all that, the bottom line is always whether or not I like what I'm hearing and I find "Beat" to be anything but dull, boring or insulting. As in most King Crimson product, in its own odd little way, it's good and kinda fun.

They open up with the engaging "Neal and Jack and Me," another in a long line of life-on- tour-themed songs that seem to thrive in every era of songwriting no matter the genre. Energy-filled guitar patterns give the impression of non-stop movement while Adrian Belew's somewhat plaintive voice expresses the ennui one must endure when, in the midst of stress, there's nothing to do. "Hotel room homesickness/on a fresh blue bed/and the longest-ever phone call home/no sleep, no sleep, no sleep, no sleep/and no mad video machine to eat time," he complains. Tony Levin's ever-inventive stick work is the glue that holds this track together masterfully. "Heartbeat" may well be the closest to a "normal" love song that I've ever encountered from this group. Robert and Adrian's chromium guitar tones put a bright sheen on the number and Belew's sincere vocals keep it from becoming too schmaltzy as he warbles lines like "I need to land sometime right next to you/feel your heartbeat right next to mine." It's a well-written song in which they adroitly avoid trying to do too much. They manage to restrain their customary rebellious nature and keep it simple for a change.

An instrumental, "Sartori in Tangier," follows and though the intro is effectively pensive and hypnotizing the segment that evolves out of that is quite tame despite Tony's invigorating bass thumping. For a combo that specializes in shocking the listener out of his/her shoes I find this cut to be surprisingly mediocre. The world-beat feel of "Waiting Man" is a nice change of pace. Here we finally get to hear drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford do something other than imitate a metronome and that's a big plus. Multiple key changes and Adrian's harmonizing with himself keep the arrangement from growing stale and Fripp's strange guitar lead is uniquely creative. The repetitive, predictable lyrics about yearning to get back home are tiring, though.

"Neurotica" is the best track on the album. It's an impressionistic portrait of hectic big city life in all its discombobulating madness and it's nothing short of an amusement park thrill ride through metropolis. Belew's rapid-fire, adrenaline-fueled radio voice provides the perfect overlay as he spits out gems like "Say, isn't that an elephant fish on the corner over there look at that bush baby mud puppy noolbenger rhinodermia marmoset spring peeper shingleback skink siren skate starling sun-gazer spoonbill and suckers" with nary a glitch or pause in enunciation. The quieter bridge segment is like bending over and taking a deep breath in the midst of a marathon run and the group is as tight as the backseat of a cheap cab throughout. They then return to the fray with gusto and the bustling track gains incredible momentum as they fade into the distance at the end. "Two Hands" is next and it's another ethereal ballad from a band that rarely indulges in such blatant romanticism. It floats like a cloud atop rhythmic percussion and you're treated to an uncommonly light touch emanating from the mysterious Frippertronics here. Margaret Belew penned the almost-too-mushy words but at least they don't patronize. "I am a face in the painting on the wall/I pose and shudder/and watch from the foot of the bed/sometimes I think I can feel everything," Adrian sings with proper conviction.

"The Howler" features a more anticipated rude approach from these rambunctious guys and it arrives in the nick of time. Belew's smooth delivery stands in stark juxtaposition to the wild sounds wafting up from the complex mayhem being manufactured below his vocal lines. "Here is the sacred face of rendezvous in subway sour/whose grand delusions prey like intellect in lunatic minds," he croons. While I can appreciate the edgy intent of the tune in general it just doesn't work cohesively for me when all is said and done. "Requiem" is more along the lines of what I've come to expect from this talented foursome. This dense instrumental starts with humming guitars shimmering behind Robert's inimitable sustained and piercing fretboard riffing. Levin and Bruford slowly wade in as if testing the muddy waters before diving in head first. The two guitars of Fripp and Belew become increasingly like two wailing mourners as the whole shebang grows more and more frantic and out of control. This manic cut makes me proud to be a KC fan because, even as the powers-that-be of that age insisted that all their contracted groups churn out three-minute pop ditties and cute videos like a Skittles factory, King Crimson was not afraid of unleashing their passion for and skill at powerful improvisation. The tune's subdued and somber fade out is exquisite.

As always, I've learned to expect the unexpected from this ensemble no matter who is included in the lineup and this was no exception. They never sound like anybody else and they've taught me to keep an open mind whenever experiencing even one of their older projects for the first time. I can understand why so many find "Beat" to be a let down but I just don't share that view. This quartet was thinking outside the box when that wasn't kosher and barely tolerated by the jet set wannabes. I truly think they were doing the very best they could to survive and yet remain true to themselves in an atmosphere that had become polluted with greed and glamour. They may have bent ever so slightly but they didn't break. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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