Review Summary: A new Crimson King is born unto the 80's... and it's as vital as it's ever been.
After last swansong and post-breakup release Red
, King Crimson, pioneers of the early 70’s progressive rock movement, were as dead as a doornail. As creative leader Robert Fripp stated, the group and its spirit had ‘ceased to exist’. The remaining trio went separate ways: Fripp became a frequent collaborator with other artists; Brian Eno
and Talking Heads
, among others, and also released two solo albums called Exposure
and God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners
. Wetton would go on to play in Roxy Music
and Uriah Heep
and eventually ended up forming prog/pop supergroup Asia
’ Steve Howe and Emerson, Lake and Palmer
’s Carl Palmer, which is still active today. Bruford spent his time forming his own little jazz-fusion band Bruford
and doing some tour drumming for Genesis
, and one thing seemed clear: King Crimson’s chances of reforming were extremely thin.
But even though he has denied his role as sole leader of the group in the past, the only one who has final control over King Crimson in the end is no other than Robert Fripp. After being done with appearing with artists, the guitarist was hungering for a new project more his own, and contacted Bruford to form a new band. The two got together and subsequently found vocalist/guitarist Adrian Belew (the first American ever to enter Crimson), another experienced session player with influential artists such as Frank Zappa
and David Bowie
. Somewhat unexpectedly, bassist Tony Levin (who had played bass on Fripp’s solo albums and has been a longtime bass player for Peter Gabriel
) walked in to complete the new group, then called Discipline
When all was said and done, however, Discipline ridded themselves of their name and officially became a reborn King Crimson. A fitting choice, as the last formation the group had included both Fripp and Bruford. Despite that, the leap from the 70’s to the 80’s, in terms of sound, has been the most extreme for the group so far. This was however exactly what Fripp had wanted. He wanted to experiment with two guitars in a band, a reason why he chose to recruit Belew. More importantly even, the new front figure brought, aside from a second guitar, a very strong New Wave-influence with him, something which he undoubtedly picked up on his frequent collaborations with the Talking Heads. In effect, the first King Crimson album following a seven-year hiatus, entitled Disclipine
after the initial name of the formation, has even been critisised as a Talking Heads-rip-off by some. While the influence is obvious, especially in Belew’s David Byrne-esque vocal acrobatics and increased use of electronic devices (Fripp’s self-invented Frippertronics), the main comparisons stop there. Discipline
is, luckily, still very much a King Crimson record, and the darker sounds and typical charisma, quirkiness and innovation of the group’s first decade are very prominent still.
The best thing about the album are its vocal tracks, most prominently influenced by the New Wave of the 80’s. Belew goes nuts with his paranoid performance and lyrics, and Levin’s newly introduced instrument the Chapman Stick (a guitar-like tapping device which can produce sounds in the same range as a regular bass guitar, but sounds quite different) creates even more eclectic manner into the mix. It is him who kicks off opener Elephant Talk
with immediate flair and surprise, providing the perfect opening for the album and its utterly different sound. Belew is most humorous and entertaining, as he sings:
'Talk/It's only talk
Arguments, Agreements, Advice, Answers , Articulate announcements
It's only talk
Talk /It's only talk
Babble, Burble, Banter ,Bicker/bicker/bicker, Brouhaha, Boulderdash, Ballyhoo
It's only talk/ Back talk
Talk talk talk/It's only talk
Comments , Cliches, Commentary, Controversy, Chatter, Chit-chat/Chit-chat/Chit-chat, Conversation, Contradiction, Criticism
It's only talk/Cheap talk'
After Belew is done naming as much words as he can think of from A to E, Frame by Frame
kicks in with a similar fashion, but quickly proves to be far less chaotic. Belew is, as he is throughout the entire album, very inspired, and produces vocals of a pleasantly dreamy, surreal quality as the music that accompanies him moves around the vocals as eclectic as ever, Levin’s tight bass work supporting the nicely interlocking guitar lines that have been made possible with the addition of a second guitar. Matte Kudasai
, the shortest tracks on the album, is completely relaxed and a welcome change of pace. The nostalgic-sounding track is provided with lush instrumentation and more perfectly fitting lyrics and vocals from Belew:
'Still, by the window pane,
Pain, like the rain that's falling.
She waits in the air,
She sleeps in a chair
In her sad America.
When, when was the night so long,
Long, like the notes I'm sending.
She waits in the air,
She sleeps in a chair
In her sad America.'
The last and longest vocal track on Discipline
is the brilliant but often more overlooked Thela Hun Ginjeet
(an anagram of 'Heat in the Jungle'). As has become usual by this point, Belew is the main selling point, moving from his initial vocals to a background narrative which provides some insight on the making of the album, and is quite hilarious at the same time. The instrumental work, solid and consistent with the rest of the album, has a positively funky edge to it.
The darker features of 70’s King Crimson can be best heard in the predominantly instrumental tracks, which, as in the Wetton-led Crimson, still occupy a great part of the album. The title track is full proof that Fripp could still churn out those menacing, grinding guitar sounds he became so famous for in the scene, Indiscipline
is surprisingly and effectively minimalistic and The Sheltering Sky
is a captivating soundscape, with a dominant performance of Frippertronics, African-sounding percussion and piercing guitar lines. With these instrumentals, the new Crimson once again showed how well its members could feed off each other musically, and provide intriguing moments.
It all shows that Discipline
is a success in many aspects: not only did it revive the name of King Crimson, it showed that once again Fripp and company could adapt a radically different sound successfully, and stay true to their roots at the same time. Genesis
gave up their roots in the 80’s to opt for a commercial approach, and so did fellow prog giant Yes
. King Crimson remained a true progressive band, not giving in to a changing musical environment, but rather adapting to it. That alone makes the album quite an accomplishment, and thanks to the refreshed sound and consistently entertaining tracks, Crimson’s eighth has become one of their finest works, standing right behind In the Court of the Crimson King
Discipline’s King Crimson was:
- Robert Fripp ~ Lead Guitar, Frippertronics
- Robert Steven ‘Adrian’ Belew ~ Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
- Tony Levin ~ Chapman Stick, Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- William Scott Bruford ~ Drums, Percussion
TO BE CONTINUED...