Album Reviews

Issue 2012-054: King Crimson Special Part 2

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Reviews in this issue:

Larks' Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson - Larks' Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary Series)
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD + DVD-A
Record Label:Panegyric
Catalogue #:KCSP5
Year of Release:1973 / 2012
Info:DGM Live
Samples:Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

CD: Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part I) (13:36), Book of Saturday (2:53), Exiles (7:40), Easy Money (7:54), The Talking Drum (7:26), Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part II) (7:07)

Bonus tracks: Bonus Tracks: Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part I) [Alternative Mix] (11:14), Book Of Saturday [Alternative Take] (2:56), The Talking Drum [Alternative Mix] (6:58)

DVD-A: 5.1, Original Album remixed in MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

2012 stereo album mix in MLP Lossless Stereo (24/96) and PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Original album mix (30th anniversary edition) and Alternative Takes and Mixes in PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Video Content (Dual Mono): The Rich Tapestry Of Life, Exiles, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part I), Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part I) [as broadcast on Beat Club]

Basil Francis's Review

King Crimson has been a big part of my life for the best part of three years now. I'll admit, that doesn't sound like a long time, considering the fact that some of these albums came out over 40 years ago, but I hope you'll forgive me for being slow in the uptake, as I am at the tender age of 21.

I started, like many other King Crimson fans, by listening to In The Court Of The Crimson King, and was quickly swept away by the music. Later, I chanced to have a good friend lend me his MP3s so I could hear the rest of the band's discography. While I liked what I heard, the recordings didn't make much of an impression on me at the time. Perhaps I was too into Yes, and Crimson was too "out there". Perhaps the sheer sum of music that had been dumped on me was too much, and I couldn't digest it all at once. Or perhaps I had begun to hit the OCD stage where I started to dislike listening to albums that I didn't have a physical copy of. Either way, having only had a couple of listens to each album, the majority of the Crimson discography remained a mystery to me.

Some months would pass before I eventually decided to pick up the Red 40th Anniversary Series edition. At the time I felt it was hideously expensive - £15 from a local independent record store - but I picked it up anyway, since I was returning a couple of Frank Zappa albums (Hot Rats and Joe's Garage) whose reissues weren't up to scratch in my eyes. I also felt that the version of Red I had on my laptop had very poor sound quality, and I wanted to be able to listen to Bruford's rolls on One More Red Nightmare with perfect clarity. Thus began my 40th Anniversary Series collection.

With each album came new discovery. Suddenly I was paying total attention to King Crimson, and the music excited me like never before. After a lot of saving and occasional buying, I finally had all seven albums in the set. However, this left a gaping hole chronologically in my collection: Larks' Tongues in Aspic was to be released much later than all the other 40th Anniversary sets.

For months now, I've been listening to the seven Crimson albums, familiarising myself with all their facets, but at the same time staying purposefully ignorant of the tracks on just one album. For months, I've allowed myself to rest easy in the knowledge that there has been an untapped source of Crimson music just around the corner. I wanted the acquisition of the band's fifth album to be as surprising as if I'd never heard it before. With Steven Wilson's genius hand, it was.

Perhaps the only thing I could remember about listening to the album all those years ago was that Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part One was far more boring than Part Two. The opening tinkly percussion section seemed to go on forever in my mind, and the rest of the track wasn't that great either. How wrong I was.

After Jamie Muir's and Bill Bruford's duo intro, we are suddenly hit by a barrage of short viola notes from David Cross. After the tension has been built to an insurmountable level, the band seems to spontaneously self-combust through the speakers. Listening to this track through a pair of headphones at full volume is equivalent to having your eardrums blasted with a shotgun at close range repeatedly. That's how I like it.

In the liner notes, Steven Wilson admits 'I was a little less faithful to the original recording in the sense that I knew there were some things we could do to toughen the sound up a bit to give the album a bit more balls if you like'. While many purist fans would be against the idea of having any change done to the original album, I know that if anyone was going to change the album to make it sound better, it should be Wilson. His love and care for King Crimson's music has insured every time that he's got the best out of the original recordings without changing too much. Say what you want about Steven Wilson, he is the reissuing king.

I have to admit, David Cross's solo part on Part One of the title track does go on a little long, and is made worse by the fact that the fun part of the song is over. This is probably my most major complaint about the album. Also included is an alternate mix of this track, which has a longer introduction section and shorter Cross section (geddit?). Rather than the semi-explosive ending that hints at Part Two, this version simply ends with the voices placed rather high in the mix.

Like most other Crimson albums, Larks' Tongues in Aspic needs a cutesy short song, and this comes in the form of Book of Saturday. John Wetton's trademark voice comes through loud and clear while Cross plays the violin sweetly in the background.

To me, Exiles shows how the band were evolving, as the song is a blend of avant-garde improvisation, such as that heard on Starless and Bible Black, and symphonic composition, like the earlier track Epitaph. This certainly puts an interesting twist on an old classic. While the piece is not as 'fun' as other Crimson tracks, it's still a very absorbing listen, and I can see myself replaying it many times in the future.

One track I had no recollection of from my previous listens was Easy Money, surely the Indoor Games of this album. Again, this track shows an evolution phase for Crimson: Sinfield-esque lyrics make up the verses while the long instrumental section is essentially an improvisation. I haven't listened to the original mix much, but I've found an audible difference between this mix and Wilson's, namely that Fripp gets in two staccato notes instead of one before Wetton starts to sing. Personally, I like the change. Good one, Wilson!

It's an utter classic, and the lyrics blow me away: 'Twinkle by in moccasin sneakers'. Wetton's voice has me hooked, and I especially love the sing-a-long wordless vocals at the start - the progressive version of 'Ga-ga-ooh-la-la' perhaps? The band's sense of timing during the songs is infallible and makes for compelling listening. However, it is Jamie Muir who truly comes to the fore in this piece, and especially in Wilson's remix. On the DVD, there is a bonus track with just Muir's parts for this track, and it is here that you realise how much his little sound effects add to the piece; right from the squelchy clanking intro, through the 'doing' sound after the first utterance of Easy Money, and right through the eerie instrumental. The piece ends with distorted laughter, another throwback to Indoor Games.

Next up is The Talking Drum. It turns out that the spooky sound at the beginning of the track is a bullroarer, an instrument you twirl around your head at high speed on a piece of string to make a sound. This is another highly improvisational piece which builds up very slowly over its length. By the finish, this piece has become a fast paced rocky instrumental with Fripp and Cross simultaneously soloing over the top.

Now if there's one track on this album I'm very familiar with, it's Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two. I first heard this piece when Dream Theater decided to cover it in the weeks leading up to the release of Black Clouds & Silver Linings. This is an aggressive, structured instrumental consisting of complex rhythms and jerking riffs. It's truly a haven for all those who enjoy gritty, dense prog, and has become a cornerstone of our beloved genre. Fripp clearly favoured this piece, and it would feature in the band's live sets through to the '80s and beyond.

Included on the DVD is the obligatory original mix of the album, along with some illuminating alternate takes and mixes, and a breathtaking live performance from a studio in Bremen, Germany. The alternate take of Easy Money is particularly satisfying, as it is more aggressive than the studio version. Dominating the live performance is an epic 27-minute improvisation entitled The Rich Tapestry of Life. Throughout this instrumental, we get an amazing insight into how the band played their music live. In particular, Muir acts like a madman, running about his collection of bits and bobs, hitting sheets of metal, blowing various instruments and even throwing leaves in the air.

While this hasn't become my favourite King Crimson album, it is nevertheless a rich and engaging sonic experience, and should not be missed from your collection. With Steven Wilson's astonishing improvements to the sound, this set was well worth the wait. Of course, if you're absolutely nutty about King Crimson, you can go and buy the 13CD+DVD+Blu-Ray version, which will only set you back a mere £100. Personally, I'm happy with what I have to be happy with, and I'm thrilled to be able to own this final slice of early King Crimson history.

Roger Trenwith's Review

The last in the King Crimson 40th Anniversary remixes from Professor Steven Wilson's laboratory is their 1973 opus Larks' Tongues in Aspic, which marked the debut on vinyl of the core Bruford/Fripp/Wetton line up, that, in my opinion was the most adventurous of all the line ups of the band and with this album, 1974's Starless And Bible Black and Red they gave us three albums unsurpassed in musical adventure and envelope pushing. These three albums are the first wave of prog's pinnacle, and only Van Der Graaf Generator were as consistent in actually doing what the genre label implied; progressing.

Forgoing the somewhat excessive 15 (!) disc version, I've made do with the CD/DVD package, and boy does that contain some stunning music. With previous remixes SW has remained relatively faithful to the original mixes, merely adding clarity and restoring lost subtlety. As was often the case back in the day, bands had to rush to record albums while on the road or in between tours and this one was no different. The band was dissatisfied with the end product at the time, and so Steven has allowed himself freer reign and together with Robert overseeing they have come up with a new mix that breathes fresh life into this prog behemoth.

From the very first Eastern percussive tinklings of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One you can hear things in here that you were not aware of on the old vinyl record. Listening to the 5:1 mix on the DVD is like discovering a completely new KC album, or to put it another way, it's like listening to LTIA after an ear syringing with a firehose. LTIA, Part One was never one of my most returned to KC tracks as it had the air of, well not filler exactly, but it seemed like a good idea stretched too thin; well, now I understand perfectly, the tension created in those first 3 minutes is the perfect foil for John Wetton's monstrous wah-bass and Fripp's mekanik riffing. I wonder, listening to this with fresh ears, if John was aware of Jannick Top from Magma, for their approach was very similar, as both have a penchant for crushing slabs of marching beats that brook no opposition, and previous to Crimson Mr. Wetton was nowhere near as fierce. Quite how David Cross coped onstage competing with a mere violin is beyond me, but his contribution on this record is essential, lending some much needed sonic relief, as his near-ambient counterpoint 8 minutes in attests.

Pete Sinfield having left the fold, the lyric writing is contributed by Richard W. Palmer-James, and his first contribution is to Book Of Saturday. Richard's lyrics are less ambiguous and therefore more human than those of his occasionally verbose predecessor. John Wetton now becomes Crimson's fourth singer in as many years, and although his voice is not particularly distinctive, it does the job well enough. A welcome piece of structure after the avant opening track, Book Of Saturday is a quite charming little ditty with some nice violin, backwards guitar, and effect-free guitar. It's over in no time at all, and we're into Exiles, one of Crimson's best pieces of strangeness... and there's a song in there too. Steven has really gone for it on this one as the opening with its introductory bubbling synths and washes of layered violin and Mellotron are brought well to the front of the mix before the plaintive song gets into its stride. Here, John shows that, yes, he can actually sing a bit. The instrumental sections between the verses are given a great treatment by Steven and what was already a marvellous piece of work is now simply no less than stunning.

The between-verses instrumentation adds a layer of dislocation commensurate with the subject matter of an immigrant adrift in a strange land related in the more conventional sung sections. One small criticism is an occasionally obvious sounding tape edit, but that might be down to the source more than anything else.

Easy Money for me is the one song in Crimson's repertoire that I had thought I'd be quite happy never to hear again, even more so than ...Schizoid Man, as I thought I was way too familiar with it, live recordings from this era being über-plentiful, and it seems to appear at least a hundred times in my collection. Boy was I surprised that Steven Wilson had managed to inject fresh life into the old warhorse, as right from the start when Jamie's clanking chains and metal sheet clanging underpin the slow funk introduction to the song, it opens up like an alien flower. It's Jamie's hitherto only glimpsed percussive frills that illuminate the song and give it a new life. The instrumental section takes on a spacious groove that lets the listener into places previously barred. You can feel Fripp oh-so-slowly ratchet up the tension with his familiar cyclical guitar figure as it pulls and stretches the song to new heights. Bonza!

The climax of the album has now arrived with The Talking Drum, driven by John and Bill charges along at a pace. Bill Bruford has until now been in the background, content to keep the train on the rails while Jamie Muir does his court jester thang, but on this song he keeps Jamie's madcap antics well in check with some great tom-tom work, rimshots aplenty, matching Jamie beat for beat. David Cross saws away in the background like an angry bee as the for once simple rhythm is at first quietly and later pounded out by John in typical muscular fashion, his left foot pumping away on the old wah-wah pedal, while Jamie's bongos chatter away like a troop of chimps. Robert's sustained guitar rings with a reinvigorated clarity over the top, begging you to turn up that mutha. If this thing doesn't get you tapping your feet, then I'm afraid that you must have already died.

Then it's that storming riff that every prog fan worthy of the name knows inside out. Ensemble playing tight as a gnat's chuff, this is a group that know they're on to something a bit special. The sheer power of the thing hints at what is to come on the Red album, but David's violin, which will be largely missing then, gives this line up an air of completeness that Red would miss. Bill's powerful and no doubt complicated fills behind the riff after the famous drop-down still brings a smile to my face, and now I can hear everything that's going on with 100% clarity. Thanks a lot Steven; you have done a sterling job on this one that's for sure!

Amongst the extras on the DVD are the Alternate takes and mixes run through of the album, including an instrumental mix of Easy Money complete with a Jamie Muir solo section. For this fan the alternate takes section is worth the entry price alone, and hearing false starts to Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two and a stuttering entry into THAT riff section makes you appreciate the hard work that went into creating the finished song. Exiles sounds completely different and far more musique concrète than it ended up, and another run-through of Easy Money ends the alternate takes section with a longer and looser version that sounds like it is being improvised on the spot, Fripp building the melody line up and up into the stratosphere; the whole shebang is captivating.

You can also see the line-up in action on the video footage included from Germany's Beat Club, and being typically perverse here the band decided to do a 30 minute improv and the least radio-friendly track from a new album on a rare TV showcase. Never one to take the easy route was Robert, eh? The 30 minute improv wasn't broadcast; it's not particularly stellar, far better examples are to be found on the numerous live recordings from that time, but it is an invaluable document, and as David says in the expected comprehensive and informative booklet, he was scared witless as he had not a clue where it was going, and the only way to avoid being drowned in John's pounding wah-bass was to stare him in the eye throughout. It makes for compelling viewing!

If you're a prog fan you've probably already got this, and if you haven't, why not?


BASIL FRANCIS : 9 out of 10
ROGER TRENWITH : 9 out of 10

Starless and Bible Black

King Crimson - Starless And Bible Black (40th Anniversary Series)
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD + DVD-A
Record Label:Panegyric
Catalogue #:KCSP6
Year of Release:1974 / 2012
Info:DGM Live

CD: The Great Deceiver (4:02), Lament (4:05), We'll Let You Know (3:40), The Night Watch (4:40), Trio (5:40), The Mincer (4:09), Starless And Bible Black (9:10), Fracture (11:19)

Bonus tracks: The Law of Maximum Distress (Part I) (6:41), The Mincer (4:22), The Law Of Maximum Distress (Part II) (2:28), Dr. Diamond [Live] (4:00), Guts On My Side [Live] (4:30)

DVD-A: Original Album remixed in MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

Original album mix (30th anniversary edition) and 2011 stereo album mix in MLP Lossless Stereo (24/96), PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Live in Zurich and Additional Tracks in PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Video Content (Audio Mono): Easy Money, Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet

Roger Trenwith's Review

First off, an admission; Starless And Bible Black was the first King Crimson album I bought new, albeit a year or so after its 1974 release date, and it instantly became my favourite Crim LP, eclipsing even In The Court of the Crimson King. It has retained its No.1 spot ever since, possibly partly for sentimental reasons admittedly.

On this album, the mighty Crim take another leap forward from the previously unimaginable delights of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, The Great Deceiver bursting out of the speakers in a futuristic swarm of nano-bots that rush through your brain to quickly find the musical g-spot, Fripp's now near-perfect math guitar played at frankly impossible speed as his anti-organised religion stream-of-consciousness lyrics are delivered by John's now nicely developing fraught tenor; "Cigarettes, ice cream, figurine of the Virgin Mary" indeedy! That was one of four pre-composed pieces, the other three being future ballad The Night Watch, during which Fripp's soulfully plaintive guitar solo was apparently laid down in one take; and the mournful epic that is Lament, and last but certainly not least, the mental flossing that is Fracture.

Alone amongst the First Division of first wave prog bands, Crimson gave over large tracts of their live performances to improvisation. This means actually composing on the hoof as it were, not merely flying off on an extended blues riff for 20 minutes or more, à la Led Zeppelin. Not that, when it is done properly, there is anything wrong with jamming per sé, but what Crimson did is about as far removed from jamming as can be, as is evident on the many improvised pieces that make up a large chunk of this weird and wonderful album.

Starless And Bible Black is a switchback ride through the collective musical genius of the Bruford/Wetton/Fripp axis, ably abetted by David Cross, Jamie Muir having jumped ship for the calmer climes of a Buddhist monastery in early 1973. David referred to Jamie as the catalyst for this particular Crimson, and their collective astonishing sense of adventure no doubt owes the hyperactive percussive Scot a huge debt. With Muir gone, Bill Bruford really comes to the fore on this record, showing Fripp that he is not simply the drummer who The Great Leader originally considered "too straight", thus in Fripp's mind necessitating the need for Muir's eccentricities to show him the way. Some of Bruford's work on this album, particularly on the improvisation spectacular that is The Mincer and the title track is simply astonishing. Trio starts off this musical journey to uncharted lands and is an exercise in minimalism and unexpected subtlety, led by some plaintive violin from David. Bill's contribution here is nil, zilch, but he still gets a writing credit as the band considered his decision to sit it out was a vital part of the piece's success. Perhaps with a mischievous sense of humour, the sudden ending of the tape on the live recording of The Mincer is left in the mix, as it was on the original LP, maybe to remind the listener that he or she is actually listening to an unscripted stage performance, albeit embellished slightly in the studio, hard as it may be to believe.

David Cross also shows his invaluable contribution with subtle use of electric piano and Mellotron throughout the title track, regarded by John as one of Crim's best ever improvisations. For once, John leaves his trusty wah wah pedal alone and relies on pure but powerful pounding rhythm, another ingredient of the success of this piece. When one stands this track next to any one of Jimmy Page's over-long extrapolations of Dazed And Confused you can clearly see what I mean by stating that there is no comparison between Zep's jamming, visceral as it was, and Crim's almost uncanny and telepathic improvs which are on an altogether higher musical plane.

One mustn't forget the sparse on-the-one of We'll Let You Know (from a Glasgow concert) and I'd be surprised if The Gang Of Four were not highly influenced by its nascent white-boy funk. The album hinges on the crushing Crimsoid epic that is Fracture, taken from the same Amsterdam concert as Trio, and the logical next step from Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part 2.

A by now signature Fripp cyclical motif is repeated and joined together with John's frightening bass figure, David manfully filling in the background. The light and shade of this piece is its success and Robert's quietly dancing guitar in the middle section flits up and down the scales while palpable tension is slowly laid on, layer by layer. Again, Robert's consummate skill is highlighted by the fact that he double-tracked the super-fast picking in the studio, and according to the man himself, "(engineer) George Chkiantz was impressed; double-tracking that sucker from a live recording wasn't easy". To quote Robert again, "The young guitarist stumbles his way through this unplayable piece; his struggles fully revealed in 5:1"; well to this non-muso, he sounds just fine to me! I also like the reference to the song being unplayable; didn't stop them performing it live umpteen times, did it?! The "Red In Waiting" feel returns when a monster riff lurches in stage right, John and Bill pounding away, someone "whooping" in the background.

This song is the apex of this line-up's work in my opinion and although Red would provide us with even louder and heavier beasts, Fracture, like no other Crimson song, encapsulates the band's grasp of ferocious power built up from statically charged pin-drop quiet beginnings creating a crackling, nerve-jangling and ultimately righteous experience that no other band could come close to matching.

Starless And Bible Black the album is a previously unprecedented mixture of composed and live songs, improvised performance and studio overdub that culminated in a practically flawless piece of work, and showcases a band at the very pinnacle of their game, the likes of which had not been seen or heard before. Yes, I quite like it!

The extras of course are centred on more improv, David getting his head on the chaotic but splendid The Law Of Maximum Distress: Part 1. This and Part 2, along with the full improv of The Mincer, 4 minutes of which were extracted for the studio LP, come from a gig in Zurich, the full audio-only concert appearing on the DVD, along with concert regular Dr. Diamond and Beatles-gone-prog of Guts On My Side, which was only ever played live once; two songs that never made it to LPs. If you're not a Crim obsessive like me and do not desire the live box sets that are out there that contain all this and more, the extras on this set are probably all you need as a live document of this thrilling version of the band.

As ever, the video extras are illuminating, this time featuring yet another version of Easy Money (groan) that leads into the testosterone-filled improv Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet, taken from a double-header in New York's Central Park back in 1973, where they shared a bill with fellow Atlantic act Black Oak Arkansas; an odd pairing if ever there was one! Compared to the fraught atmosphere created by the same line-up plus Jamie Muir from the live appearance the previous year on Beat Club that appears on the Larks' Tongues... set, this now looks like a band who have completely found their groove; for even David Cross has ceased to look like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and indeed it could be said he is the star of this particular blast.

Weighed down by the constant round of touring and recording, and no doubt weary of struggling to be heard above the other three, David Cross left the band before Red was recorded, and in my opinion took with him a vital part of what made this Crim so bloody exciting. The confidence gained by that constant life on the road before during and after Larks' Tongues... shines through on this record that had it been made by musicians not right on top of their craft could so easily have disintegrated into a noisy mess. Sandwiched between the more widely known Larks' Tongues... and Red, Starless And Bible Black is often passed over, even by Crim fans. As it is, this album, for me at least, is perfection, and there are very very few recordings I would give that distinction. To get the dreaded "10 out of 10" from me an album has to be either genre-defining or if the band involved is important enough, career defining. Starless And Bible Black manages both, with ease.

Tom De Val's Review

I must admit that, prior to re-acquainting myself with this album for the purpose of this review (and experiencing the sparkling new mix by Wilson and Fripp), I'd always thought of it more in terms of being a transitional album (both in terms of musical progression and line-up) between the twin behemoths of Lark's Tongues in Aspic and Red than as a great record in its own right. It didn't take much listening to realise I'd been undervaluing this album considerably.

Of course, the thorough job done by Robert Fripp and co in this reissue help the listener appreciate the music even more. Fripp and Steven Wilson have done a superb job, breathing fresh new life into the material, and offering the audiophile a cornucopia of different formats in which to enjoy it. The liner notes, including a well-researched essay by Sid Smith and extracts from Fripp's diary detailing the mixing sessions add a good deal to my understanding of how the album came to be; for instance, although it's fairly obvious that there is a good deal of improvisation on the album, I didn't realise just how much had been culled directly from live performance, or how little in terms of structured new songs Crimson had had to work with when the record company demanded new product. I guess, in an era where a band was almost permanently on the road yet still expected to turn out a couple of albums a year, this was often how it was done. The icing on the cake is the plethora of extra tracks on both the CD and the DVD contained within the package, a number of which are, perhaps unusually for this type of thing, more than 'one listen only' curios.

Firstly, to the album proper in its spanking new mix. Opener The Great Deceiver fairly races out of the speakers, a great combination of discordant, blunt power and elusive angularity. John Wetton really shines on this song; his expressive voice is at its powerful best, dealing easily with the somewhat awkward lyrics, and his superb rolling basslines motor things along, seeming to have acquired extra beef in this new mix.

Lament initially starts as a mournful ballad, with some good call and response lines between guitar and violin. Once the song gets going, I'm impressed by the contrast between the funky lolloping basslines and the fuzzy discordant guitar. We'll Let You Know is an improvised piece, apparently recorded live at a now-demolished venue in Glasgow, with all audience noise edited out. It's unsurprisingly rather random and abstract, but is held together by Wetton's inquisitive, probing bass lines. The unedited version of this piece is an additional track on the DVD.

The Night Watch has a sweeping and rather melancholic introduction, with a great solo by Fripp (one of his favourites, he admits in the liner notes). The song is made up of live improvisations and more composed studio sections and it does feel a bit disjointed, although the lyrical melody is strong. It was certainly an odd choice for a single. Following this, the fragile Trio allows David Cross and his violin some time in the limelight.

The Mincer is another live performance, lifted from a lengthy improvisational piece; the whole track is included as a bonus, giving some context to the piece at last (I always felt it ended abruptly). It definitely feels loose and experimental, although the sultry, lolloping groove the band gets going helps to tie things together. The vocals, overdubbed later, are fine although probably unnecessary.

The title track, something of a precursor to Red's similarly-titled Starless, is another piece of wandering improvisation which nonetheless succeeds in weaving a spell. The liner notes rightfully highlight Cross's key role as a texturalist, adding sonic colour with his electric piano and Mellotron work. Fripp's guitar sound here is quite shrill, something he alludes to in his diary extracts. Although the mix has softened this a little, it's still quite abrasive, but it does work.

Saving the best to last, Fripp's composition Fracture is a beast, a song that both shows the path to Red and its mighty title track, and also serves as something of a precursor to the whole post-rock/metal movement. Unsurprisingly Fripp's electrifying guitar work dominates; grinding, fuzzed-up riffs contrast with more delicate acoustic picking, underpinned by Mellotron and violin. The whole track is a masterclass in structure, with real ebbs and flows, and the driving, rumbling, crashing finale is really something to savour.

The CD finishes with a number of rare live tracks; I've already mentioned the lengthy instrumental improvisation (given the title The Law Of Maximum Distress) from which The Mincer was culled for the studio album; like many of Crimson's workouts, it has some hauntingly effective and coherent parts, whilst at other times verges on the edge of chaos. At all times you can feel the creativity flowing through the musicians' veins. As a whole, it feels more coherent and puts The Mincer in context. There are also a couple of vocal-led songs, Dr.Diamond and Guts On My Side (the latter recorded on its only known live performance). Both are mid-tempo, and relatively conventional (for Crimson at least!). Neither really feels like it was studio album quality, and the standard of recording (both taken from audience recordings) is a little rough, but they are valuable from a historical perspective.

Over on the DVD, prime place is taken by the 5.1 surround sound remix of the album in both MLP Lossless and DTS formats; a treat for audiophiles no doubt. Unfortunately I don't have the kit to do the mix justice, but hearing this in all its surround sound glory is the sort of thing that makes me think now is the time to invest in some new audio equipment.

There is also a plethora of additional tracks included in the DVD; Live From Zurich incorporates The Law of Maximum Distress plus three live versions of songs that appear on Starless..., the highlight being an impressive run through Fracture. There are a couple of versions of The Night Watch single, including a U.S. radio version (in mono) where you can hear the crackle of the vinyl. A couple of radio slots (one by a U.S. voice, one by a British one) are interesting for historical context. The highlight of these extras for me though is the video of the band's live performance from a 1973 concert in New York's Central Park. Professionally filmed by Atlantic Records for promotional purposes, only two tracks seem to have been recorded (Easy Money plus an improvisational piece, Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet) but they still give a great indication of what a phenomenal live outfit this formation of Crimson was, with the camera dividing equally between group shots and individual ones, highlighting the exceptional ability of these musicians (the dextrous work of drummer Bill Bruford being particularly noteworthy).

All in all, this package has done what must surely be the aim of these kind of reissues; it's made me listen to the album in a whole new way, and gain another level of appreciation for both it and the band that made it. If only all repackages could have been done as thoroughly and with as much care as these King Crimson 40th Anniversary issues, the world would be a musically richer place.


ROGER TRENWITH : 10 out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 8 out of 10


King Crimson - Red (40th Anniversary Series)
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD + DVD-A
Record Label:Panegyric
Catalogue #:KCSP7
Year of Release:1974 / 2009
Info:DGM Live

CD: Red (6:17), Fallen Angel (6:03), One More Red Nightmare (7:10), Providence (8:11), Starless (12:26)
Bonus tracks: Red [Trio Version] (6:27), Fallen Angel [Trio Instrumental Version] (6:26), Providence [Full Version] (10:09)

DVD-A: Original Album and selected bonus tracks in MLP Lossless Stereo (24/96), PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48), MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

Video Content (Audio Mono): Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part II), The Night Watch, Lament, Starless

Jez Rowden's Review

For me, Red is the pinnacle of King Crimson's work in the 1970s and quite possibly their best ever. A steamroller of an album that finally evidenced the true power of the 1972-74 band in the studio in a way that has not only stood the test of time, but has influenced more than one generation. The evidence of this album's legacy can be seen within many persuasions of the metal and rock fields and also in the numerous albums I get to review where echoes of its genius can be heard.

With Red being the culmination of Robert Fripp's studio ambition, he subsequently experienced a life-changing spiritual awakening, and decided to put the band to sleep two months before the album's release in what appeared to be a terminal coup de grâce, stating that the band was "completely over forever and ever". Lucky for us, the KC muse would reawaken within him some seven years later. With the release of the mighty live document box set The Great Deceiver (which is a must have for anyone with even a passing interest in this fourth phase of Krimson development – just buy it – NOW!) as well as the full scale issuing of live material from this era by DGM in the new millennium, the true majesty of this legendary line-up has been brought to fruition.

This was the most focused and long-lived KC nucleus so far, albeit shedding first percussionist Jamie Muir and then violinist David Cross to finally form the ultimate Krimson power trio of Fripp, John Wetton and Bill Bruford. Has Wetton ever played with anywhere near the power and ferocity of this band since? Not that I've heard, and while Bruford has always been fascinating to say the least, here he blazes away as if his very life depended upon it – and it probably did, as he has said, "everything you've heard about King Crimson is true; it's an absolutely terrifying place". Fripp himself once described the Wetton and Bruford pairing as "a flying brick wall" which sums it all up perfectly.

The almost Stalinist intensity of the sleeve portrait supports the steely focus of the contents; each track adding to the sinewy fury of the whole to make for a cathartic listening experience. This was an album that brought together art rock and heavy metal in a way that had never previously been thought possible and having delivered it the protagonists disappeared leaving listeners to dissect what had just happened. As noted by Fripp in the liner, the band were "writing the rulebook as they lived it" and Red was well named as that is where the level needles spend most of their time while it is playing.

The title track is a rip-roaring monster of an instrumental that smashes Godzilla-like through buildings as if they were made out of matchsticks. With stunning use of the tritone note interval (once banned by the church as Diabolus in Musica - "the Devil in music") the track has an unsettling and disturbing aura. No sax, flute or violin remained to sugar the pill, although an uncredited cello adds menace, this was a mighty bludgeon of a piece with the sole intention of maiming and blinding. It is still a fearful beast today and I can't remember the last time I heard anything that approached its visceral and malicious intent. A truly extraordinary and life changing piece of music.

Fallen Angel starts with strange sounds of foreboding before settling into a lilting Wetton ballad with oboe from returning regular Robin Miller but this comfy little song doesn't stay still for long before upping the ante with a shrieking chorus built on Wetton's overdriven bass, a thrashing Bruford and some fabulous off the wall playing from Fripp. Cap this by adding a lovely bit of cornet from Mark Charig, another regular, and you end up with a stunningly powerful piece of top quality prog with metallic overtones. This album featured a lot of guitar overdubbing but at its centre it is simply the core trio playing their hearts out.

One More Red Nightmare swoops in on a massive bass line with Bruford caning sheet metal amongst other things to get the required sounds. Fripp is on fire playing otherworldly parts the like of which must have reduced most listeners to tears in 1974. This track rises and falls through an extended instrumental section that is not in any way subtle, the epitome of aggression and malignant thought processes. Original band member Ian McDonald returns to add guest sax but with the termination of the band, plans for him to rejoin permanently were scuppered. I could personally do without the clapping effects, not sure what they are, but no matter as One More Red Nightmare brings the old side one to a close after a quite breathtaking 20 minutes or so.

Despite having left the band earlier in the year David Cross appears on the edited live improvisation Providence which was recorded in that very town during the 1974 U.S. tour. This is a quite different sound to side one but the brooding sense of dread is still there. As improvisations go this is excellent. These things can often get out of hand and head down dead-end alleys but here it is a perfect fit with the feel of the rest of the album and ebbs and flows through a number of different sections, some melodic, some dissonant. Wetton's bass is immense and Bruford proves he is a master at this kind of thing adding jazziness and power in equal measure but Cross probably gives the most to proceedings, his almost frail violin sounding like a cry for help within the whirling maelstrom around him. Fripp also struggles to be heard above the rhythm section but as usual provides the unexpected that lifts proceedings into an ethereal netherworld packed with possibilities.

McDonald is also featured on Starless, together with another ex-member, Mel Collins, on alto and soprano sax respectively. Starless is just about the perfect distillation of what King Crimson is all about and ranks as one of their best pieces from any incarnation. Wetton had provided the lyrics and melody which were rejected by the rest of the band as the title track to the preceding album, Starless and Bible Black but his ideas were later reworked via lyrical alterations with the help of Richard Palmer-James plus the addition of a long instrumental section based on a Bruford contribution. The track started life earlier in 1974 and was played live on the U.S. tour with David Cross, his opening theme for violin now redeployed for guitar with minor alterations from Fripp.

The sense of melancholy is everywhere; the mournful sax accompanying Wetton's bleak delivery of words filled with depression and pain, all the while a Mellotron wheezing away as only these wonderful old things can. Fripp too seems overcome with the world-weariness of it all. This is one of only a couple of tracks that have ever reduced me to tears but that doesn't tell the full story for when the vocals fade the sense of foreboding returns, Fripp playing a one note riff that modulates occasionally but doesn't change. The tension ramps up further and further until Fripp's guitar is searing away above the throng before the emotion bursts through in a cascade of hammering bass and jazzy fills with sax adding to the frenzy. The instrumental section is simply stunning, building again, Fripp's guitar at times reminding of his shrieking picking on Sailor's Tale from Islands. Finally the main theme returns with sax and Mellotron jostling for space with the rhythm section as they fly to a stunning climax including cello and double bass, fading out on a single note. This is powerful stuff that most musicians can only dream of. There is a rawness and one-take feel that is simply unlike any other album I can think of.

Red was a difficult album to make and Fripp, in the throes of his spiritual soul-searching, withdrew himself from offering any opinions during the recording sessions leaving Wetton and Bruford to make decisions on their own. As a result relationships within the group soured. While there are similarities with the preceding Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black, Red differed in that it was almost totally lacking in acoustic guitar, the scything electric guitars overdubbed in a way Fripp had not tried before.

The 40th Anniversary edition again features both a new stereo mix and a 5.1 Surround Sound mix on DVD-Audio by Steven Wilson in collaboration with Fripp and the sound simply sparkles. If you are still without a copy of Red this is the one to get, but if you already have it just buy it again as this is how it was always supposed to sound; thundering, howling, cathartic and full of venom, every note as clear as a bell. Wonderful. Discussing his work on the album in the liner notes Wilson has this to say:-

"The quality of the sounds going down onto tape are terrific. Unlike earlier albums, where they probably had to do an unbelievable amount of EQ to try and make up for the deficiencies of the studio sound in the mix, with Red you just push the faders up and it simply takes your head off."

The extras on the DVD are also well worth getting with a selection of videos from the quartet featuring David Cross from a French TV show early in 1974 including three tracks from the preceding pair of albums and a mighty version of Starless. Some of it is swamped in '70s video effects but seeing this band in action makes it all worthwhile; Fripp staring blankly down the camera as he plays his pounding riffs, Wetton up front, a young Bruford at the top of his game, Cross concentrating hard.

The audio extras in this package are very interesting too; the trio versions of Red and Fallen Angel showing the stripped down intensity of both pieces pre-overdubs and guest contributions. They are raw but still rock mightily. The full length Providence shows some nice additional interaction between Cross and Fripp and the live Voyage to the Centre of the Cosmos (introduced by "Chuckles" Fripp with the words "Good evening hippies!" - I wish he did more of this, he's bloody funny!), from The Great Deceiver set also rocks significantly with lots of Mellotron.

As an aside, in the mid-'90s this line-up of KC hosted a playback of The Nightwatch live album, the source material for much of Starless and Bible Black. At the signing session afterwards the lads, together with Richard Palmer-James sat and dutifully signed the millions of items brought for their attention. My turn came and I chatted to them all as they signed, and when I proffered my treasured copy of Red to Cross he drew a stick man playing a violin on the back next to his signature saying that as he hadn't been included on the front he had to add himself by hand; a funny touch by a very nice man. Uncle Bobby was next at the end of the line and in the mêlée he managed to give one of my CD inlays to the guy in front of me. When he realised he jumped up, found the guy and retrieved it for me. I thanked him and we nodded to each other. I won't have a word said against Robert Fripp; he may sometimes be a cantankerous and obtuse old goat but I love him just the way he is. I'm just glad I met him before he started shunning such opportunities, as he is entitled to do.

So there you have it, just about my favourite album in the whole wide world of anything. And I still haven't reneged on my promise to never give out a 10!

Leo Koperdraat's Review

A couple of years ago during an interview promoting the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Stadium Arcadium guitar player John Frusciante said something along the lines: "if I ever play one guitar solo that comes near the quality of Robert Fripp my career will be perfect".

The influence of King Crimson and Robert Fripp should not be discarded. They influenced all sorts of artists; the obvious ones being Anekdoten, Steven Wilson (who is going to use the original Mark II Mellotron that was used on In The Court Of The Crimson King for his new album) and The Mars Volta. Also, English indie band Doves used the basis of Moonchild for their song M62M (on The Last Broadcast from 2002) and composer and arranger Craig Armstrong (U2, Pet Shop Boys, Massive Attack and a string of movie soundtracks) did a cover of Starless (on As If To Nothing from 2002). And one of my personal highlights from this great band's massive career is without a doubt the album Red released in 1974.

Now Mr. Fripp, Crimson's main man, always went his own way seemingly totally unaffected by what others made of it and I totally love and respect him for it although it also sometimes led to the break-up of a line-up, which he did again immediately after the release of Red. But Red really has a 'fuck you; we do what we like' attitude. Five tracks, five statements, forty minutes and done! It's not a punk record but it has that raw, unpolished and urgent energy that was present on a few of those punk records from three years later.

This is really "a beauty and the beast" album; and it opens with a beast of a track, the raging title track. Staccato guitar riffs to the fore; Red is an immense, forceful instrumental that bursts with energy. You only get to breathe during the middle section where an uncredited cello plays a frightening melody that would not be out of place in a horror movie.

In One More Red Nightmare Bill Bruford takes centre stage with some impressive cymbal breaks. It also marks the first of two returns from founding member Ian McDonald on alto saxophone. And finally the impressive, almost manic voice of John Wetton lifts this track to great heights.

Providence is an improvised track; a practice carried on from previous album Starless and Bible Black. Fallen Angel is a ballad (kinda) beautifully sung by Wetton and further enhanced by Robin Miller on trumpet and Marc Charig on cornet. Red of course also featured Starless, a track that also came out of the Starless and Bible Black period that was refined during the numerous live shows. One of the band's most well known and certainly well loved tracks, it is in my humble opinion the perfect enumeration of everything that makes King Crimson such an iconic band in the history of progressive rock or even in musical history.

This track has everything that makes this band so exciting; every reason why you love them and every reason why you hate them or at least haven't got a clue what they are doing or even why they are doing it. The first four minutes bring back the grandiose music that is not unlike In the Court of the Crimson King, Epitaph and In the Wake of Poseidon. Mellotron strings right in front of the mix, beautiful guitar playing by Robert Fripp, Wetton's beautiful voice and the restrained playing of the rhythm section. During the instrumental second part of the track there's avant garde, jazz and manic guitar soloing. At times it's ugly and grim but always exiting and then at the end.... the return of the first section right at the end of the track is one of THE Mellotron moments in the history of music. I've heard this so many times but each time it is responsible for creating a very big lump in my throat and goose bumps all over my body. I can't really describe it. It's not only the beauty of the melody but also the contrast between that melody and the loud and manic guitar playing just before it. And with this 40th Anniversary version you can enjoy all this in 5.1 surround as well. Steven Wilson has done an excellent job. As I said before I played this record so many times but when I listened to the new mixes I was blown away! The sound is crystal clear and you hear every instrument as if they are playing in your own living room. And if that isn't enough there are the extras. There is wonderful live footage from ORTF France where the band is performing Larks'..., The Night Watch, Lament and Starless. There are the audio tracks Red and Fallen Angel performed by just the three core members, and there is the full version of Providence which is quite different from the regular album version. Also very interesting is another improv track called A Voyage To The Centre Of The Cosmos.

This really is one of the best albums ever made and if you like your music to be bold, daring, groundbreaking, exciting and pushing boundaries then you can't get anything better than Red. If you call yourself a progressive rock fan but haven't got Red then I question your true faith!


JEZ ROWDEN : 9.99 out of 10
LEO KOPERDRAAT : 10 out of 10


King Crimson - Discipline (40th Anniversary Series)
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD + DVD-A
Record Label:Panegyric
Catalogue #:KCSP8
Year of Release:1981 / 2011
Info:DGM Live

CD: Elephant Talk (4:44), Frame By Frame (5:09), Matte Kudasai (3:48), Indiscipline (4:34), Thela Hun Ginjeet (6:26), The Sheltering Sky (8:22), Discipline (5:11)
Bonus tracks: A selection of Adrian's vocal loops (0:51), The Sheltering Sky [Alternate Mix] (8:27), Thela Hun Ginjeet [Alternate Mix] (6:31)

DVD-A: Original Album remixed in MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

Original album mix (30th anniversary edition), 2011 stereo album mix, and bonus tracks in MLP Lossless Stereo (24/96) and PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Album rough mixes in PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48)

Video Content (Audio Mono): Elephant Talk, Frame By Frame, Indiscipline

Roger Trenwith's Review

Robert Fripp had disbanded King Crimson in 1975 at the peak of their powers, a move that both surprised and saddened fans the world over, as well as Bill Bruford and John Wetton, but in view of what was charging over the horizon with Stalinist zeal it was probably a wise move. He therefore largely escaped the punk purges, along with Gabriel and Hammill, who also sensed what was coming and changed course at around the same time.

While punk and new wave tore asunder previous notions of what constituted a rock band Fripp kept a low(ish) profile and became an in demand session man. Turning up on albums for Bowie, Gabriel, Talking Heads, The Roches (look it up, it's rather good, and not prog in the slightest), and others. Fripp, having decided that his new wave outfit the League Of Gentlemen had run its short course, made approaches to Bill Bruford, who took little persuading even though he had been cruelly cast adrift somewhat 5 years earlier; and via the Gabriel connection to Tony Levin who by then had decided he wanted to be in a band full-time.

The Bowie connection led to one Adrian Belew whose invaluable contribution was first as the best singer and front man the band had ever had, and secondly and probably more importantly was as a songwriter who could inject some raw emotion into what could otherwise have been just a loud but precise mathematical exercise. Oh, and let's not forget his individual coruscating guitar style; "Elephant Talk" indeed!

The parts of the jigsaw complete, the new King Crimson emerged with a stunning distillation of Fripp's geometric math-guitar and Belew's Einstein on amphetamines headrush, beefed up by Tony's new-fangled Chapman Stick and pinned down and embellished by Bill Bruford's accomplished rhythms. Five years on from the split and the clues had been there, as Sid Smith explains in the booklet. The structure, nay, discipline of Fripp's new math-rock style of playing, introduced all the way back on Larks' Tongues in Aspic and developed all the way through to The League Of Gentlemen, and the howling discordant noises from his solos on Bowie's Heroes, it all hinted at what was coming, although little did we second-guess what was in store for us. Nothing had been heard quite like it before, and from the opening moments of Elephant Talk we were hooked, both (most of) the old fans and the youngsters fresh from a crash course in angularity courtesy of the likes of Wire, Talking Heads, et al.

The opening echoed and multi-layered fast tapping of Tony Levin's trusty Chapman Stick on Elephant Talk, given new sonic depths on the stunning 5.1 mix, was enough, even on the old vinyl record, to inform the "audient", to use one of Robert's buzz-words, that here was something unprecedented and unique; and amazingly it still sounds that way today. Adrian intones a thesaurus of alternatives to "talk" to introduce his idiosyncratic lyric writing style, and gets to shoot off a short blast of his trademark wailing guitar at the end. King Crimson Mk.IV had arrived!

Frame By Frame is musically Elephant Talk part two, Fripp's careful fast picking to the fore, the song slightly calmer than the opening track. Matte Kudasai is of course Adrian's first of a few KC ballads, a simply lovely song that shows Adrian was a fine singer, and the best the band had, better even than Greg Lake. It is completed by Fripp's keening sustained lines; the thing still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.

For those of us of a certain age, can you remember the first time you heard Indiscipline when you got the LP back from your local record emporium? I can; as soon as side one ended instead of flipping it over, the needle went straight back to the beginning of track four. Unlike now, when Steven Wilson's remix has made everything clear as a bell, back then I wasn't quite sure what Adrian was banging on about, as my copy didn't have a lyric insert; just that it all sounded rather unsettling. The more I listened to it the more I liked it...I kept going back to it to see if I still liked it...I did! An anthem to obsession, compulsion, and self-gratification that did exactly what it said on the tin, possibly one of the cleverest pieces of song writing I'd heard up to that point. Good God, this is one blindingly good record!

Of course, when I did eventually flip the record over, Adrian continued on his merry path of upsetting the psyche of the listener with the equally churning Thela Hun Ginjeet, later exposed as an anagram of "Heat In The Jungle" appropriately enough, not that I worked it out back then for I was far too into the groove, even though Adrian says as much in the lyric. I actually assumed in my relatively youthful naivety that Thela Hun Ginjeet was some kind of Hindu goddess...well, I was young! This song more than any other defines this version of Crimson in my opinion; Tony's driving bass, Bill's agitated fills, Robert's trademark cyclical runs, Adrian's paranoid adrenaline-rush of a story, the whole thing combines in a speedfreak dystopian nightmare; it is a dangerous place, indeed.

After that we needed calming down and The Sheltering Sky does just that. An intricate instrumental that brings the audient back to Earth; maybe at nearly eight-and-a-half minutes, and the longest track on the album, it is a couple of minutes too long? After that the album should really have ended with another blast of future-prog and my one criticism of the record is that it could not quite keep up the pace and intensity, and the ending title track is a bit of a disappointment after what has gone before. It's still damn good though, and the remix makes it far more listenable and interesting than it first appeared on the old vinyl record.

It's just a shame the hyper-tension could not be replicated on the closing track. Indeed, the trail-off in creativity became more apparent in the next two albums which between them, the follow-up album Beat (the weakest of all the KC albums in my 'umble opinion) and the curtain-closer for this era, Three Of A Perfect Pair, probably had enough material for one decent LP, and again Fripp did the right thing in once more breaking up the band in 1984.

Whereas the Bruford/Wetton line-ups may have been the most experimental and inventive, and the late '90s line-up the most powerful, the '80s line-up was by far the most entertaining live. The DVD extras include three live tracks from the Old Grey Whistle Test, starting with a curiously laid-back Elephant Talk, taken at a slightly slower pace than the studio version. Next up is Frame By Frame introduced by Annie Nightingale in a fright wig while in the background Adrian is jigging about in his pink suit, itching to get started. Adrian and Tony in particular look like they're having a whole lot of fun, counteracted by Fripp and Bruford's more studious visages. Watching Fripp's fingers flying about in super-fast repeated patterns makes one realise how technically difficult and downright strange his guitar technique was. They end with Indiscipline...have I said it is good? I have? It must be that I repeat myself when under stress.

As for the rest, well you get an album of alternate rough mixes, Steven Wilson's alternate mix of The Sheltering Sky and an instrumental mix of Thela Hun Ginjeet. Also included here is a 12-inch dance mix of Elephant was the '80s, after all. The highlight of the extras for me is The Terrifying Tale of Thela Hun Ginjeet, which goes into great detail about the gestation of the song with commentary from Robert and Adrian and an audio only live performance featuring some marvellous clattering percussion from Bill.

If we ignore the trail-off at the end of the album proper, the stylistic shifts on Discipline, veering from the beautiful balladry of Matte Kudasai to the modern soundcapes and ancient African contrasts of The Sheltering Sky to the out-there weirdness of Indiscipline; the whole thing locks together to form a rigid whole, much like the Gordian knot of the cover logo.

To say the album ends with a wimper and not a bang is a tad harsh, but because of the long sigh of an ending it loses one and a half marks.

Alison Henderson's Review

Few albums come under the heading of "life changing". Just off the top of my head, perhaps Fragile, Moving Pictures, Images At Twilight and Olias of Sunhillow can be filed under that personal category – along with Discipline.

While the first four probably fit my preference for the more melodic, synth-based rocky end of prog, Discipline is the diametric opposite. Edgy, atonal, disturbing, disrupting and dissonant, it completely goes against the grain of everything I love about prog and so it becomes even more of a significant album.

It first came to my attention while I was working on a local newspaper in 1981. It was one of many albums sent through for review. King Crimson rather passed me by in the '70s as their body of work I found too abstract. It was rather like studying James Joyce for your school exams: reading Robert Fripp musically could often be like trying to decipher a novel like Finnegan's Wake.

Yet, at a time when punk was giving way to new wave, after seven years in the wilderness King Crimson came roaring back, revitalised by another band line-up and reinvigorated by the huge changes that had taken place in that time within music's tonal landscape.

The vibe it subsequently gives off owes more to a mechanical process rather than a pastoral creation as per Genesis, who had now turned into a rather bland chart band using Spitting Image puppets in their videos (art imitating life?). At the same time Yes had recruited two Buggles for Drama and Pink Floyd were slowly imploding on the other side of The Wall. In essence, prog by this stage had practically eaten itself or had disappeared into its own cosmic black hole.

It was almost as though the least likely band was the one which came through and delivered. With the stalwart Bill Bruford on batterie, Fripp signed up Talking Heads' collaborator Adrian Belew on guitar and vocals along with Tony Levin, who not only played bass but was an early exponent of the Chapman Stick. The original intention was to call the band Discipline but they reverted back to King Crimson in the year of the album's release.

This was Crimson, but not as anyone knew them, as this was the first time Fripp had added a second guitarist to the band. Frame By Frame embodies that fusion between the two. Just listen to the complexity of the exquisite guitar sound as Fripp plays repetitive complicated arpeggios below Belew who lets off the sonic fireworks with his guitar sound effects and a looping motif which becomes a huge knot of virtuosity at the end. On top of it all Belew's rich voice provides a melody line through two twice repeated brief verses of unfathomable depth.

The watch word for Discipline is experimentation on an urban industrial scale – finding new ways of harnessing the techno influences that abounded then through other musical mediums and turning them into something radical and raw.

Again, Belew carries on the fine tradition of great singers with the band and as with Greg Lake and John Wetton, he brings a completely different attitude to the music, his experimental approach to delivering lyrics very much influenced by his association with David Byrne, one of the then pioneering and ground-breaking artistes whose style encapsulated the American New Wave sound vocally and instrumentally. Among the devices used on Discipline are the seemingly random lyrics. Take Elephant Talk with the central theme of meaningless use of words that he almost spits out with contempt alongside the gizmo to create an elephant trumpeting.

But the pivotal track is Thela Hun Ginjeet, (anagram of Heat In The Jungle) which ended up very differently from what it was meant to be. Belew was going out to get voice recordings for a narrative of London but instead, got picked on by both a gang and then the police. So the narrative is his own over a clanging guitar, driving beat and monster bass line as he gives an impromptu account of his experiences. It works because of the fright and disbelief so obvious in his voice that fits so well against the edginess of the instrumentation. This really is the sound of the urban jungle.

In complete contrast is the airy, almost dreamy Matte Kudasai ("please wait" in Japanese) with its rolling gentle guitars, a slide guitar and echo a couple of times depicting seagull screeches, Belew's voice tender and urgent with its immortal line: "When was the night so long: Long as the notes I'm sending". Those extensions within his phrasing are one of many gorgeous elements of the piece.

Again, The Sheltering Sky offers something dramatic. Based on the 1949 novel of the same name by American writer Paul Bowles, a book which was a forerunner to On The Road, and which told a tale of innocents abroad, in this case the forbidding desert landscapes of Algeria. You can hear the starkness of the scenery coming to life with the simple bongo beat and rumbling bass underscoring a menacing but sublime guitar melody line. The minor chords and shuddering atonal patterns offer that feeling of desolation and palpable fear.

And finally, we have the two polarities which end side one and two on the vinyl version. Indiscipline is a holy roller of a splintering cacophony, Belew in full train of thought flow, pitching his staccato words so that the band can fire off a sonic maelstrom. It jars, it grates and it completely unhinges. Discipline, on the other hand, is the embodiment of the knotted symbol that graces the cover with a finely woven structure, everything in its place and intermeshing but evoking some kind of psychic energy from within.

Thirty one years after its release, this is still my favourite 'difficult' prog album, the one I allow to mess with my head and dismantle my senses. It represents a huge tipping point, especially having seen them on this tour at Friars Aylesbury. Discipline was my signpost to a greater understanding of the musical power sorcerers such as Fripp and his three fellow magicians could unleash.


ROGER TRENWITH : 8.5 out of 10
ALISON HENDERSON : 9.5 out of 10

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