Review Summary: An experimental and extraordinarly unique album that brings 80s contemporary influences into the mix, while also staying true to King Crimson's legacy of unforgiving vision. Still, unlike most King Crimson before it, it is not unwilling to have some fun.Three of Perfect Pair
is an ode to all things harmonious. On the cover, a nice, symmetrical pattern of complimentary yellows and blues, and on the back a track listing seemingly lacking the oft-perceived pretentiousness of fire witches and castles with evil entities dwelling in the court.
Now, anyone who has heard King Crimson
’s preceding material from the late 60s and 70s would agree that harmonious is not exactly the word to describe the band. From the screeching saxophone and guitar jams of the Schizoid Man to Red’s
sinister cry of dissonance to the disorienting metric modulations of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic
, the tritone was the Crimson King’s best envoy, sent through the fingers of Robert Fripp to be paraded over backbeats of manic jazz and surreal string orchestras, shrieking violins and honky tonk pianos dancing around the augmented scale.
As King Crimson’s latest fades in on an airy enigmatic vocal chord, we’re prepared for the worst. Throw it all at us, everything you’ve got! We’ve seen it all before! We’re not scared of your violent outbursts, we’re no longer intimidated by your dissonant soundscapes, and all the shifting polyrhythms in the world could not throw us off balance. The march of lizards and demented brass cannot trample us. No twisted tales of schizophrenia can haunt is in our dreams anymore!
And then, a curveball. The rhythms don’t trip, but bounce. The guitars lock in to one another rather than teetering on the edge of falling apart, barely grasping onto a beat so unsteady that it could crumble at any moment. Molten lava does not flow out of the cracks of this…this…pop song? Our shrieks subside as frontman and guitar wizard Adrian Belew’s vocal hooks melt over us. What is going on here?
The following tune, Model Man
might be an eighties new wave ballad if I didn’t know any better. Psh. It’s lovely, emotional, it bounces as if on the moon, it takes us away.
Still, something is not right. This is not Pat Benatar. We don’t feel young, we don’t feel strong. Something is wading in the undercurrents of this album. The guitars are stable, but they seem to create a web, interlocking into one another against the snakelike rhythms of Tony Levin’s Chapman stick. They’re trapping us in like a fly in a spider’s web. The groove is undeniable, but the harmonies of the two guitars are unsettling…they shouldn’t work but they do. This isn’t just your average pop tune, King Crimson is messing with us. Belew’s vocals are catchy, but troubling in the most uncertain way.
brings with it a shift. Building off a skeletal beat with electronic pads from Bruford’s arsenal and some Frippertronic (a delay system developed by Robert Fripp) noises, it gradually builds into a darkly ambient, floating piece with odd guitar solos from Belew. Rising in tension, it is an ominous foreshadowing that the best has passed…we’re in for a rough ride now.
rolls in slowly. Frippertronics take center stage over a barreling low end from Levin and Bruford’s shifting rhythm. More modal experimentation, with outbursts from the rhythm section that seem uncertain, sudden, jarring. A distorted guitar fades in threateningly, moving inside and out of the pounding rhythms, now completely maniacal. The piece builds and builds, slowly, but soon all tentativeness is lost. It is marching right out of the speakers at us, coming for us. Soon even the guitars begin to hide in the shadow, screeching and sliding away from the madness.
hearkens to days of yore, with a whacked out guitar rhythm and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s just struggling to keep up, with metric and modal shifts uncertainly off-center with one another, a disturbed vocal melody that swings in all the chaos, a song on the verge of falling apart completely.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III
closes the album well, opening with frenetic Frippian guitar work and moving into an updated interpretation of the old theme from the classic 70s album of the same name, Bruford’s rhythms feel at home in this twisting instrumental, menacing in the right ways but more willing to have fun than the previous versions. More interlocking guitars create off-balance harmonies. Still, it’s just not quite as powerful as the 70s conceptions.
I’ve learned never to judge a book by its cover—nor by the first few pages, for that matter. Three of a Perfect Pair
, while a far cry from the style of previous Crimson outings (after all, it does trade out the winds, mellotrons, and pianos for another guitarist), is nothing less than a beast of an album, filled to the brim with unorthodox experimentation that we expect from the Frankenstein that is King Crimson. At times we feel that the band is out of the members’ control, that they are merely puppets to the whim of the Crimson King entity—whoever or whatever it is. On the other hand, it is album that is not unwilling to open up and just have some fun—something Belew brought to the band, and in turn an exciting new energy that would propel King Crimson well into future generations.