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King Crimson - Discipline CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.11 | 1864 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars One of the neat consequences of Fripp's willingness to change and adapt over time is that perhaps no former bigshot of prog rock, save probably Peter Gabriel, survived the punk movement in better condition. After KC broke up, Fripp spent the rest of the 70's as an extremely sought-after session guitarist, and his playing helped shape the works of several of that time's greatest artists. Brian Eno, in particular, seemed to call upon the services of Fripp whenever possible, and since Eno himself worked with big names (Talking Heads, David Bowie) in addition to his own great solo career, it followed that Fripp managed to regain a good chunk of critical credibility (in other words, he was able to balance out the critical backlash from his involvement with the "mistake" that was the prog rock movement). In any case, since Fripp had managed to graft several New Wave traits into his guitar stylistics (and in fact even created several of the most prominent New Wave guitar traits), it only makes sense that when he decided to revive the name King Crimson, it would be a band with heavy New Wave influences.

For some fans of Crimson, this incarnation and everything afterwards is just a footnote in the band's history, a "lesser" version of a formerly great band. To me, this is nothing short of an enormous mistake - I may like well-done "classic" prog, but "classic" prog is only one of the many kinds of music that I greatly enjoy. In terms of (a) the collective playing talent of the group and (b) the combination of styles and genres, I could even make the argument that THIS is the best ever version of King Crimson. The songwriting may be kinda hit-and-miss in terms of traditional hooks and melodies and the like, but players are sufficiently talented as to take the ideas they come up with and attack them with enough energy and intensity to more than make up for any deficiency.

To explain the stylistics of this album, it is first necessary to understand the lineup. Fripp, as mentioned earlier, had mostly replaced the hard-rock crunch of the 70's with all sorts of complex New Wave pyrotechnics. He occasionally brings out the crunch (Indiscipline), but that's the exception, and most of his playing is spent in bizarre coordination with a second guitarist. This slot is filled by one Adrian Belew, a former Zappa sideman and a primary guitar-contributer to the 1980 Talking Heads album Remain in Light. Band purists might be miffed at the presence of a second guitarist in a band with Robert Fripp, but no better choice could possibly be made than Belew - not only is he one of the few people in the world who could stand toe-to-toe with Fripp in a playing showdown, he has an equal love of both avant-garde and pop, making him a good addition to a prog/New-Wave hybrid band like this. Belew also takes over the vocal and lyric functions in this incarnation, and it's a score in both cases - aside from the fact that he has a strong voice, albeit somewhat overdone and occasionally emotionally vapid, he also pens lyrics that are both absurd and unpretentious in their emphasis of the absurdity.

The percussion of this incarnation comes from a familiar source, good ole Bill Bruford, but that doesn't mean this is the same kind of percussion as before. Bruford SERIOUSLY reworked and retooled his playing since Crimson's breakup, or even his later stint as Genesis' drummer for one tour, and one would be hardpressed to guess that it was the same person. The biggest developments are (a) a major assimilation of World Music influences, and (b) a newfound love of electronic percussion. Note that electronic drums are NOT the same as drum machines; the sounds may be enhanced with non-acoustic tones, but that is still a real person behind the kit, and in this case, it's one majorly talented person. It should be further noted that Bruford was one of the first people to fully realize that an electronic kit can and should be attacked in a different way from an acoustic kit, in a way that takes advantage of the full sonic potential of the drums, and as a result the drumming here is innovative, interesting AND occasionally dancable.

Speaking of dancable, the bass player here is one Tony Levin, quite possibly the finest session bassist in the world. The man has played with seemingly EVERYBODY in his life - aside from Crimson, he's had a significant role in the career of Peter Gabriel, and he's also played with everybody from John Lennon to Yes (or ABWH, whatever) to Pink Floyd to Eno to whomever. Aside from immaculate technique, Tony has an almost unmatched capability to make complex rhythms dancable, and dancable rhythms flow and come alive, and he displays this talent in full force on this album. Between his bass and his Chapman Stick, his playing and tones do wonders for making the overall sound so incredibly intriguing.

So what is the sound? The common oversimplification is that it's basically a Talking Heads ripoff, albeit a little more complicated; this explanation, in my opinion, is somewhat lacking. There are some similarities to the Heads albums around that time, but there's a good reason for that - Fripp played some of the guitars on Fear of Music, and as mentioned previously, Belew played many of the guitars on Remain in Light. In other words, any ripping off of the Heads would be, in part, merely a ripoff of themselves. Yet even in that case, the resemblances are just superficial - the guitar tones are fuller, the sound is less "twee" if twee can in any way be used to describe a Talking Heads album, and the technical ability of this group is so far above that of the regular Heads that there can't help but be serious improvements in some areas. In any case, the sound is more or less New Wave meets prog rock meets World Beat (I guess WB is a subgenre of New Wave, but whatever) meets a tinge of avantgarde meets ... elephantosity, for which Belew is credited in the liner notes. In other words, this really has no perfect comparison with anything else in the music world, and that's definitely worth something.

Unfortunately, this is one of those albums where it's a lot easier to describe in detail the overall sound than the actual songs. This doesn't mean the songs aren't enjoyable or accessible, it just means that if you've heard 30 seconds or so of one of the tracks, you've basically heard the entire track, just in slight variations. An exception lies in the multipart "Indiscipline," one of the only tracks to not take a single theme and pound it into your head incessantly - when Belew isn't reciting excerpts from a letter strung together in such a way as to make little sense, in the way only he can, while the underlying instrumentation builds up the tension, we get to hear all sorts of crunchy jamming and Bruford drum frenzies. I suppose I can see where some might consider it a weak track, given that it's essentially beat poetry over New-Wave-laced atonal jamming, but I find it very interesting to hear the bizarre approach the band takes with the dynamics of the track, and as such I'd never dismiss it.

Otherwise, the album is represented by such oddities as the opening "Elephant Talk." It can be summed as follows: Belew recites synonyms for "talk" starting with letters A through E over a cool repetitive background, while Adrian also occasionally throws in a guitar sound that sounds like, sure enough, an elephant. Sounds stupid in theory, yes, but it works splendidly - all these energetic rhythmic parts bounce off each other in a hyperactive frenzy that can't help but suck the listener in. A similar statement can be made about the side-two opener, "Thela Hun Ginjeet" (anagram for "Heat in the Jungle"). Every so often there's a "verse melody" where Belew sings the title and a couple of other completely meaningless lines, but the majority of it consists of VERY cool jamming with great guitar interplay (and some great sounds from Fripp), and a tape of Belew relating some story about getting arrested during the recording sessions for being weird. It might be slightly overlong, and it would only realize its full potential live, but I can't name other problems besides that.

As for the rest of the album, aside from the BEAUTIFUL ballad "Matte Kudasai" (an ode to Belew's wife, with a great vocal melody to go with the great vocals, and Fripp using his soundscapes as only he can), the rest of the album is essentially a launchpad for hypnotic jamming led by the mindblowing guitar interplay. "Frame by Frame" is the weakest of these (at least, the one I enjoy the least, even if it's stunning from a technical standpoint), but it still works - the guitars are panned in such a way as to make you ever so slightly uncomfortable, as if there's an "optimal" way for balancing them that the band purposefully avoids, and it does a good job of drawing further attention to the playing. The other two such tracks are instrumentals, closing out the album, and while many condemn them as generic yuppie world-beat muzak, I'll have nothing of it. "The Sheltering Sky" is anchored by a terrific drum line with some cool rhythm work, while Fripp uses his guitar-synth capabilities to their highest potential. Overlong perhaps (8 and a half minutes is somewhat excessive), but I for one never find myself looking at the time wondering how much longer I have to sit through it - it's just about the best meditation piece Crimson ever came up with, with a solid cross between monotony and diversity in sound, and from that perspective it works marvelously.

Finally, there's the title track, where the guitar interplay is unveiled in all its glory. The general sound of it may be somewhat simplistic on the surface, but that's just a cover for gullible people. Listen closely to what the heck is being played, noting that the quartet is playing deceptively complex parts, and then try in particular to hack through the way Fripp and Belew's guitars weave through each other, creating order out of controlled chaos. If you dislike the track after doing that, well, it's your loss - me, I find it to be a catchy, engaging, yet mindblowing groove.

Overall, then, it's a pretty great album. If any flaw can be assigned to it as a whole, it's that the album can sometimes seem a bit ... cut-and-paste. It's a really cool sound, but it can sound a bit cold and overly academic, like a bunch of nutty professors in the music department at a university decided to do a grotesque version of post-punk guitar rock. Similarly, the album doesn't "breathe" at all - live, these songs are just about the best music of the 80's, while here it's just ... some of the better music of the 80's, if you can make the distinction. Make no mistake, though, getting this album shouldn't be something you regret, at least if you give it some time.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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