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King Crimson - USA CD (album) cover

USA

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.01 | 342 ratings

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Raff
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Bearing witness to the power and the glory of KC's last '70s incarnation, USA is an exercise in proto-prog-metal that many celebrated, modern-day bands (which, out of political correctness, I will refrain from mentioning) would die for. With some notable exceptions, in this album melody and delicacy of touch are largely replaced by sheer strength, aggression and stunning technical proficiency. The sound is at times harsh and metallic, with John Wetton's powerful yet intricate bass lines providing a solid background for Fripp's angular guitar excursions. Bruford's drumming, stellar as always, is unfortunately somewhat swamped by the bass in a mix which, while miles better than its predecessor "Earthbound", does not enhance all the instruments in the same way. Even David Cross's violin sounds harsher and less lyrical than on the studio albums. By the way, on the opening "Larks' Tongues in Aspic pt. 2", Cross is replaced by the legendary Eddie Jobson, later to join Bruford and Wetton in the sadly short-lived U.K.

The weakest point of the album, in my opinion, are (as usual) Wetton's vocals. On "Red" he showed how vastly he had improved as a vocalist: but live, I am sorry to say, it is another matter. His baritone voice strains mightily on both "Lament" and "Exiles", and his vocoded performance on "21st Century Schizoid Man" shows quite clearly that the song was tailor-made for Lake's vastly superior pipes. Wetton is not a bad vocalist by any means, but I think he is more suited to hard rock than to the complexities of prog.

Apart from the vocals, "21st Century Schizoid Man" offers an interesting twist in that Ian MacDonald's hysterical sax solo is replaced by violin (this time played by Cross). I'm not sure if this is completely successful but, in a way, it makes the track even heavier than it originally was. The previously unreleased "Asbury Park" was probably an improvisation and sounds accordingly rather experimental and free-form; while "Larks'.." intro is crushingly heavy, before giving way to Cross's violin weaving intricate patterns on the dynamic background provided by the rythm section. On the dark, brooding "Fracture", Wetton's bass really comes into its own, proving what a great player he is. I may not be that keen on his singing, but his four-string skills are nothing short of amazing.

The album closer really needs no introduction... One of prog's defining moments, the mighty "Starless" is introduced by wistful Mellotron waves heralding Wetton's deep, melancholy vocals (undoubtedly his best on the whole record). This live version is absolutely stunning, in turns soothingly melodic and starkly aggressive, a pure explosion of sound - what better swan song for such an influential band?

Since USA's release, at least two more live albums from the same lineup have been made available, with a larger selectionof tracks and much better sound quality. However, I think any serious KC fan should own this one as well, as it offers the opportunity to hear the band at the top of their game - without breaking the bank!

Raff | 4/5 |

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