To many King Crimson fans, Beat
is the unspoken adopted child of their large array of classic albums. Rather than focusing on Mellotron-based epics or psychedelic hard rock, Beat
is distinctly new wave in sound, if prog-rock in spirit. Many fans felt the songs were far too pop-ish and that King Crimson had "sold out". Happily that is not the case, as once you get past the layer of cheese you'll discover that Beat
is an excellent album that kept the spirit of progressive music alive during the era of keytars and skinny ties.
is unique amonst Crimson albums in that it is a concept album, though with an unusual twist. Rather than a "rock opera" that emphasizes the album as a whole, Beat
's eight tracks focus on various icons of the Beatnik generation. The result is an original, enjoyable album that even pop fans can admire.
A brief synopsis of each title:
"Neal and Jack and Me" (4:22)
The album's catchy opener features Fripp on Hammond electric organ, and Belew's quirky lyrics (which are full of references to the Beatnik writer duo, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy).
Undeniably cheesy, this is still a great song, and you may actually hear it on the radio from time to time (a rarity with King Crimson!). Subtle time signature changes and a moody guitar melody underscore Bill Bruford's textural drumming and the "backwards" guitar solo.
"Sartori in Tangiers" (3:34)
The antithesis of pop, this Stick-based instrumental is very much Tony Levin's creation. Opening with a pseudo-classical intro, it quickly moves though Hammond and guitar leads, ending only too soon. Note: The title is a clever twist on Kerouac's classic, Satori in Paris
"Waiting Man" (4:27)
Similar to "Discipline" (from the likewise titled album), this tune reflects KC's fascination with world music. Bruford uses his Simmons electronic percussion pads to create a counterpoint to the bass line. Unfortunately, the lyrics and vocals are not Belew's finest moment.
Now that's the freaky Crimson we know and love! With Bruford's free-form drumming supporting Belew's bizarre, paranoid lyrics (this is very much his album), this song comes off as full of demented imagery that describes the insanity of a big-city night.
"Two Hands" (3:23)
One of the album's low points, not much more than a simple pop song. No need to go into further detail.
"The Howler" (4:13)
This excellent tune name-checks Allan Ginsberg's classic poem, "Howl". Another catchy guitar figure and nice lyrics.
For all of you wondering, "Where'd Fripp go?", this song is an incredibly original display of Crimprov. Beginning with a distinctly Frippian guitar solo, Bruford's jazzy drumming and Levin's subtle additions flesh out the tune, making for one of the darker Crimson pieces. One of my personal favourites.
maybe not be the best KC album, or the most inventive, but it's still worth adding to the collection of any serious fan and a great listen no matter how dated it seems today.
Adrian Belew: Guitar, Lead Vocal
Robert Fripp: Guitar, Organ, Frippertronics
Tony Levin: Stick, Bass Guitar, Support Vocal
Bill Bruford: Drumming
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars