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King Crimson - Discipline CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.11 | 1843 ratings

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5 stars The 80s Crimson has always divided fans, with some enjoying the radical new direction the band went in, and others pining for the old-school sounds of In The Court and Larks Tongues. For me, Discipline is not only a summation of the band's 80s manifesto, it stands as one of the highlights of the band's career. It introduced new ideas to the increasingly stale world of 'Prog', and showed that a band could still make radically inventive, challenging, memorable records over a decade into their career.

Many fans bemoan the loss of the sprawling King Crimson sound of the 70s, the records focused around large epics, the mellotrons... in essence, the quintessential 'Prog' sound. Yet looking back, it's easynow to see the thinking behind the radical change of direction. Robert Fripp, and the Crim in general, have always focused on thinking outside the box. For the new Crimson to have entered the 80s with an album that sounded like something from the previous decade would have been in no way 'progressive'. For better or worse, punk, new wave and indie had all arrived since prog's creation, and all had in some way made their impact on popular music. With Discipline, Fripp and co. created a record that acknowledged the musical changes that had occured since Crimson's inception in 1969. Yet crucially, it still holds a progressive identity, messing around with time signatures and key changes as gleefully as any Crimson record from the 70s. Most importantly, I think, this album marks the point where King Crimson made one drastic improvement to their sound: they got tight.

The Crimson albums of the 70s were famed for their over-the-top instrumentation. And for all that nostalgia blesses those records with a hazy, legendary aura, the uncomfortable truth is that a lot of the displays of instrumental prowess are little more than excercises in shapeless noodling. Without wishing to belittle the talents of those involved, or the brilliance of those earlier records, many of the songs on the earlier records suffer from solos and instrumental sections that try to instill a sense of the epic journey, yet ultimately come off as aimless wanderings that circle around and around formlessly, where the musicians are disconnected from each other and songs lurch from one section to the next.

Not so with Discipline. On this album, the time signatures are just as wacky, the songs just as inventive in structure, but the instumentation is tighter, and the band-members sound more in sync with each other. Where there used to be vast improv-fuelled sections where everyone takes turns to show off, the songs now the band are working together to create intricate rhythms and crazy grooves. The genius of this record is in how King Crimson approach prog-staples such as the odd time signature. Before, this would have been a chance for the band members to show off their virtuosity, and revel in the uncomfortable nature of 5/4 and 7/4. Not here. On Discipline, Fripp and co have great fun in taking weird time signatures and song ideas, and making them sound groovier and funkier than you thought possible. This album is possibly the first example of prog-funk. It's crazy, if not outright bat-shit insane in places, but you can fundamentally tap your foot along and move your head to the rhythm, even when the band is bouncing 5/4 guitar riffs with 6/8 drumlines. And that's a skill far greater than simply soloing for 5 minutes while your audience struggle to follow a beat.

The title track is perhaps the best example of this. The guitar is prime prog material, a drop-D riff in 5/4. But Bill Bruford, instead of highlighting the guitar's archness, instead plays a funky, playful groove underneath, while Tony Levine and Rovert Fripp embellish the playful rhythm with their own funky embellishments. The song is still fiendishly complicated, but it manages the rare feat of being both complex and groovey. Elephant Talk, the album's opener, is a far more straightforward rhytmical affair, being in 4/4, but Levine's Chapman Stick playing, and Adrian Belew's inventive guitar playing and downright avant-garde lyrics and singing still push the song into that weird territory between 'groovey' and 'f****ing weird'. Frame by Frame straddles equally uncertain territory, starting out with a manic intro, then dropping into a slinky 7/4 groove that just sounds downright cool. The impression is almost of a funk band who simultaneously discovered Talking Heads and Genesis. The music is frantic, yet underneath it all is a pulse that keeps the foot tapping.

Matte Kudasai serves as a contrast proper, slowing the temp down, and introducing a far mellower sound to the record. Here Belew shows that he can handle traditional 'heartfelt' singing just as well as his more highbrow 'yelpings'. Restrained instrumentation serves to give the song a lovely atmospheric sound. Indiscipline, on the other hand is a tour de force. Bruford's mind-boggling drum intro gives way to a rocking section that is as heavy as anything Crimson recorded in the 70s, before that too gives way to Belew's left-field spoken word section. Then, the rock is reprised, even heavier than before, and Crimson prove that even with their new 80s manifesto they can drop heavy grooves with the best of them.

Thela Hun Ginjeet reprises the manic funk sound of Frame By Frame, racing along at a breakneck speed. Once again, it's important to stress that even with everyone playing at full speed, and sections following each other in rapid succession, the tightness of the new Crimson unit serve to keep the song grooving along with a nice funky rhythm. On the other hand, The Sheltering Sky provides a much more abstract soundscape, though one that is underpinned by Fripp's restrained, Average-White band guitar snippets. This song shows that 80s Crimson had all the sonic range of their 70s forbears, only touched with a greater sense of 'less-is-more.' Whereas early Crimson would use a sonic soundscape like this as a launchpad for everyone to start showing off their skills, The Sheltering Sky stays lowkey throughout, with Fripp being the only one to elect in suitably melodic synth-guitar lead work. The tone is again brought down to chill for a while, before the rhythmic workout that is the album's finale, Discipline. All that's really left to mention about this track is that where prog bands prior had utilised odd time signatures for the benefit of sounding realy complex and interesting, Discipline shows that the correct application of polyrthythms and groove can create complex music that still makes you want to shake your rump.

And that's it. With Discipline, Crimson created a change in sound comparable to Radiohead's Kid A, ten years before Radiohead even existed. Listening now, it's easy to hear Discipline's polyrhythmic influence in modern prog bands such as Tool. Indeed, the riff from Discipline, with some distortion added, could easily pass for a Tool song. What King Crimson proved with Discipline is that you can create complex, intricate prog that's still catchy and danceable. While it may not have much in common with the sounds of prior Crimson albums, it showed that King Crimson were still a genuinely 'progressive' band going into their second decade, and capable of thinking outside of the box far more than many of their tired prog comrades. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to hear the results when you mix 80s pop-rock with the 70s no-limits mindset.

jeffers | 5/5 |


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