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King Crimson - Absent Lovers - Live in Montreal, 1984  CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.44 | 293 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
5 stars Lavishly packaged like all the numerous KC live offerings, with an interesting, informative booklet and intriguing, sophisticated cover art, "Absent Lovers" showcases the ground-breaking potential of the much-maligned (and equally praised) Eighties line-up of this legendary band, whose final performance was captured in this double album. Even a superficial listen should quickly disabuse those who thought the 'trilogy' released at the beginning of the decade was little more than KC-lite. While their studio recordings may have been partly characterised by a somewhat 'poppy', even danceable quality, AL shows quite a different story. The first of the two CDs in particular features oodles of state-of-the-art improvisation by a quartet of musicians possessed of technical chops and creative energy in equal doses.

In the early Eighties, it could be stated that King Crimson acted as a sort of missing link between classic prog and new wave - two genres that far too many people still see as irreconcilably different. The influence of Adrian Belew's longtime collaboration with New York icons Talking Heads is quite evident in their essential 1980 release, "Discipline", 7 out of 8 of whose tracks are featured here. While "Discipline" sounds distinctly unlike the band's Seventies output, a good deal of what can be heard on this album bears a very clear resemblance to the sound of their '73-'74 incarnation, even though Belew's quirky, supercharged vocal style (an acquired taste to many) is light years away from John Wetton's alternately warm and gruff tones. The presence of two classic from that era, "Red" and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic pt. 2" bears witness to this continuing connection.

In comparison to "Discipline", the band's sound is definitely darker, more metallic and spacey. Nowhere is it more evident than in the instrumental tracks included on CD 1, such as the ominous intro "Entry of the Crims", which flows effortlessly into "Lark's Tongues in Aspic pt. 3", and the aptly-titled "Industry". The CD''s highlight is probably the stunning, slow-motion, 10-minute-plus version of "Indiscipline", in which the contrast between Belew's spoken-word, distorted vocals and the explosive guitar riffing is used to maximum effect. On the other hand, the presence of the laid-back, atmospheric "Matte Kudasai", the upbeat "Three of a Perfect Pair", and the manic, intense "Thela Hun Ginjeet" provides a nice balance to the brooding heaviness of the above-mentioned tracks.

CD2 is definitely more song-orientated, from the rarefied atmosphere of "The Waiting Man" to the more energetic "Frame by Frame", through the jagged rythms of "Sleepless" (a cracking version of a sadly underrated song) and the supreme quirkiness of vocal tour-de-force "Elephant Talk", which closes the album in style), KC prove to their audience that they are not only about instrumental virtuosity and intricate time signatures. The Talking Heads influence is quite clear in most of these tracks, which also show the band's growing interest in world music. It is a pity that one of their best compositions of the era, the beautiful mood piece that is "The Sheltering Sky", is missing from this set.

As is always the case with KC, there is a genuine live feel to this album. The four band members are in top form, Belew and Fripp's guitar creating all sorts of weird, intriguing soundscapes over the background provided by the stellar rhythm section of Bruford and Levin. Though keyboards, for many people synonymous with prog, are conspicuous by their absence, they are certainly not missed. As I said in my "Discipline" review, this is NOT prog as we knew it in the Seventies - this is PROGRESSIVE music in the true sense of the word, harsh at times, soothing at others, improvisational, technically brilliant, intellectually challenging, lyrically odd, overall extremely stimulating. While "Absent Lovers" may have closed another chapter in the variegated history of the Crims, its legacy is essential in order to understand the most recent developments of our beloved genre.

Raff | 5/5 |


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