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King Crimson - Discipline CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.11 | 1864 ratings

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5 stars During the late 70s, popular music was undergoing rapid and massive changes. Almost overnight, punk and "new wave" had crashed onto the airwaves, and drop-kicked that god-awful disco back into the vacuous abyss from which it had slithered. The dancing, prancing, preening nose-candy crew, as well as many fans of classic "dinosaur" rock, may have lamented the changes (many of the reviewers for this site still express a sweeping disdain for "80s music," as if the output of that decade were all "of a piece"), but I welcomed them. I had found disco to be just about as interesting as watching paint dry, and was very glad to see many new groups like XTC, Talking Heads, U2, Simple Minds, and the Police displace the ubiquitous Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Eagles' "Hotel California." (A good enough song, but played WAY too often!)

Some old prog acts folded, unable to adapt to the altered climate, while others tried to re-shape their sounds to fit the new musical mold -- with mixed, but generally unsatisfactory results. King Crimson guitarist and helmsman Robert Fripp, never one to stick to formula, responded by reforming and revitalizing his pioneering band, and releasing a trio of fine new albums. DISCIPLINE, BEAT, and THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR took Crimson to drastically new places, but 1981's DISCIPLINE, the first of the lot, was the one that set the tone, and established a standard that the next two would not quite equal.

A very large part of DISCIPLINE's success is down to the new lineup. Prog master percussionist Bill Bruford had been lured back into the fold, ably manning his new electronic kit and conventional drums in his practiced, inimitable style. Fripp, on guitar and "devices," remained Fripp; as ever exploring new territories on his axe. Yet it was the inclusion of stalwart session bassist Tony Levin, and guitar "gee-whiz kid" Adrian Belew to the crew, that would prove to be Fripp's brilliant ace in the hole.

Levin had already made himself known to progressive rock fans on others' albums (notably, Peter Gabriel's first three discs), where his thunderous Chapman "stick" sound had provided a solid and instantly identifiable underpinning. The stick, first popularized by Levin, was a unique new instrument that allowed the bassist to perform both bass and "lead" parts simultaneously. (I was lucky enough to see him play the stick live with the "Yes in name only" Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe, and was amazed by the instrument's versatility. Obviously, much of what I had assumed was guitar on the 80s Crimson albums, had been produced by Levin and the stick!)

Vocalist and second guitarist Adrian Belew -- already established as a force to be reckoned with through his work with Zappa, Bowie, and Talking Heads, among others -- now brought his trademark synth axe, and feedback-laden, careening sound to the new incarnation of Crimson. (According to Fripp, the virtuoso American guitarist had been recruited "for the pop element.") As an added bonus, Belew's impassioned, David Byrne-esque vocals, and smart, often whimsical lyrics imparted a new vitality, engaging stage presence, and sense of humour to Crimson -- this band could now do anything!

Each of the seven tracks on DICIPLINE is a winner. The instantly likeable album opener "Elephant Talk," with its three-part, percussive stick and guitar riffs, clever, alliterative lyrics, and Belew generated "elephant" wailings and shrieks, takes the band to weird and wondrous new territory, and serves to loudly proclaim "the old King (Crimson) is dead -- long live the King!"

Next up, "Frame by Frame" keeps the newly upbeat mood and frantic pace going -- this is one terrific song! Please, play it "loud and proud!"

The sensitively-sung "Matte Kudasai" is simply lovely, and here Fripp serves up some of his tastiest licks since Crimson's vaunted early days. His sustained, looping "Frippertronic" effects, as developed and demonstrated on his ambient collaborations with Brian Eno, had now come into their own, and finally found their proper setting. Beautiful!

Track four, "Indiscipline," is a dangerous, menacing masterpiece. Levin's floor-shaking stick, Belew's paranoia-drenched vocals and lyrics (that could well tell the tale of my time with Prog Archives -- wink wink) and accomplished use of feedback, coupled with Bruford's frantic, insistent drumming, and Fripp's screaming lead, come together in a song fully as good as any the band have ever released. To quote the lyric, "I LIKE IT!"

Don't touch that dial (or volume knob!), because the best is yet to come: "Thela Hun Ginjeet" is perhaps my favourite of a first-rate set. The band is AMAZING here, and Belew's "true-life" narrative of his scary encounter with members of a street gang, all set to a driving "jungle" beat, is absorbing every time.

Number six, the evocative instrumental "The Sheltering Sky," reveals another new facet of Crimson. This is one to listen to in the dark -- great stuff!

Finally, the appropriately-named title track is a masterful exercise in four-part syncopation, as the drums, stick, and two guitars integrate perfectly in a seamless, infectious whole, and bring this excellent album to a lamentably early close -- would that there were seven more tracks! (Oh well, BEAT and THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR were soon to follow....)

DISCIPLINE is an absolute masterpiece of 80s progressive rock. It resoundingly demonstrated that the old bands could not only survive in the prevailing musical climate, but flourish, and take the genre to new and wonderful places. Essential!

Peter | 5/5 |


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