Wednesday, April 24, 2013

#666: King Crimson, of course

By the time I tripped-over King Crimson's massive, Xpensive English best-of THE YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE TO KING CRIMSON in Summer 1978, I'd already burned thru copies of their LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC and STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK, & was still trying 2 figure out what all the fuss was about.
It just seemed like NOISE 2 me. Somehow I couldn't hear the ferociously driving guitars at the start of "The Great Deceiver," the slowly-building drama in "The Talking Drum." All I could hear was the electronic shrieking of "Larks' Tongues" & the lurid bump&grind of "Easy Money." & I wasn't impressed. I couldn't figure out how these guys' reputations could B so high.
YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE changed all that.
The cover grabbed me 1st -- the front depicting in sorta Tarot-card fashion a creature at a keyboard unrolling sheets of music down a mountainside. This painting, "The Landscape Player," indirectly inspired a 40-page piece of fiction from me about 10 years later....
The back cover showed an evilly grinning Moon. There was no indication of what kinda music was inside -- I assumed it was 1 of those obscure British various-artists collections. So I looked on the spine: KC? Must B a best-of. Well, whatthehell. The School Of Strange Music had taught me 2 take a chance on weird album covers....
At the time, this 2-record import album was the most $$$ I'd ever spent on 1 package -- around $13, a pretty good amount of $$$ 4 an album, back then. Took it home, put it on the player, & was slowly stunned by KC's range & control of mood.
The best-of opened with "Epitaph," a sorta heavier, doomier Moody Blues-like tune, with Greg Lake (later of ELP) on lead vocals. Heavily dramatic but easy 2 get in2, clearly some kinda forgotten classic.
Then came the delicate "Cadence and Cascade," which was the absolute flip-side of "Epitaph" -- light & pastel, kinda hazy, not heavy or violent at all. Then came "Ladies of the Road," which returned 2 the obvious bump&grind of "Easy Money," pretty dead-obvious 4 a bunch of arty intellectuals -- tho I could appreciate Mel Collins's raucous sax-freakout near the end.
Then came a demo -- Judy Dyble handling lead vocals onna version of "I Talk to the Wind" that coulda bn a hit. Sorta in the same neighborhood as Fairport Convention, tho lighter.
So far I'd been impressed by their range, heavy 2 light, with all bases in Btween covered. But then I put on Side 2. & was immediately pile-driven in2 the floor by the stunning 6-minute guitar riff "Red." No subtlety here, just blastin' heavy rock. This was much louder than mosta the stuff I usually listened 2.
They followed it with "Starless," also from the RED album. If I hadn't bn won-over yet, this 1 did it. After a long, moody opening, the band gangs up 4 an 8-minute coda that piles up the drama -- leader/guitarist Bob Fripp piling-on the single-note solos, drummer Bill Bruford slamming away at what sounded like massive, reverberating sheets of aluminum siding, Mel Collins & Ian McDonald joining in 4 screaming sax solos ... absolutely stunning, perfect music 4 plunging down a steep mountain road without brakes. 1 of the greatest, most devastating things I'd ever heard.
After that I was sold -- thru the bits & pieces on Side 3: The dramatic "Night Watch," the playful & silly "Cat Food" single, & the frustrated loveballad "Book of Saturday." Then over 2 Side 4 for the delicate "Moonchild" (the 1st 3 mins, sorta the "single version"), the delicate improv "Trio," & back 2 Heaviness 4 "The Court of the Crimson King" -- heavier than "Epitaph" & WAY spookier, if not as good.
I knew so little about KC then that I didn't realize summa their greatest stuff wasn't on the collection. Wasn't til later that I wondered why the screaming "21st Century Schizoid Man" & "Fracture" & "The Great Deceiver" weren't included. If Fripp'd dropped summa the lesser trax there woulda bn room....
2 lock it up, Fripp included a long booklet with a detailed history of the band straight out of his diary -- & including all the bad reviews KC'd ever had -- & there were LOTS of them. Great reading, kept me busy 4 DAYS....
After that, I worked my way backward & re-bought summa their older stuff. LARKS' TONGUES was OK but kinda trebly, badly mixed -- the live versions of those trax that came out on THE GREAT DECEIVER box set 20 years later were WAY better. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK had a great 1st side, but it took me years B4 I could even hear "Fracture" -- now I think it's 1 of their best ever.
I checked out the 1st album & finally heard "Schizoid," a scream of pain & terror like nothing else. But I was shocked how much wasted space was on that 1st album. & speaking of wasted space, if there was a great track anywhere on ISLANDS, I was never able 2 find it....
When KC reformed in 1980, I was listening. Bought DISCIPLINE the day it was released, & heard a mostly-new band carrying on a grand tradition with driving trax like the brilliant "Frame by Frame" -- especially that section in the middle where the guitars sound like a car skidding across the ice & crashing in2 a tree.... "Indiscipline" was stunning, 2 -- SO heavy. & the lyrics were hilarious! "Elephant Talk" had more great funny lyrics from guitarist Adrian Belew. "Matte Kudasai" was a pretty gtr-ballad, & "Thela Hun Ginjeet" was at least funny. But I kinda drifted away on Side 2, despite an OK successor 2 "Talking Drum," "The Sheltering Sky."
I was never able 2 get in2 BEAT -- still can't. But THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR has the GREAT "Sleepless," which has all the heaviness & humor you'd ever want from these guys. The title track's pretty great, & there's some nice loud, clanky stuff over on Side 2....
Tho I haven't heard all that much of their '90s stuff (bought VROOOM, & it about blew me outta the house -- somehow overlooked the delicate ballads like the Xcellent "One Time"), I saw KC in Seattle in 2003 ... & they were very professional & efficient -- still powerful. But I wanted 2 B run over & left 4 dead, I wanted 2 B absolutely flattened, & that didn't happen.
I bought their POWER TO BELIEVE CD anyway ... & thot it was professional & efficient. But not life-changing. "Level Five" was pretty stunning. But as I work my way back thru their '90s stuff I'm finding the trax that work best 4 me R the attempts at comedy -- like "Happy With What You Have to be Happy With" & "Prozakc Blues" & "The World is My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum."
Tho they may not B as life-changing as they were 4 me back in the day, KC R still my heroes. I don't know of anybody else from their generation who's still pounding out the loud, powerful, original material these days, trying 2 make each new album a life-changing Xperience. I've had my life changed at least 3 times by them. May the same thing happen 2 you....

1 comment:

R S Crabb said...

My introduction to King Crimson was buying a copy of In The Court Of The Crimson King for 25 cents at a Church Rummage sale of all places and 21st Century Schizoid Man when I played it the first time was something I've never heard before, gave me nightmares back then but gotten used to it by now. Most of the album holds well although I think we agree Moonchild goes on forever.

The Adrien Belew era Crimson I never cared much for although I did get The album with Happy What You Are or something to that effect and the album was listenable.

The Boz Burrell era band, lacked identity and direction although Ladies Of The Road was the closest thing to boogie that Robert Fripp ever made. Larks Tongue in Aspic had a crummy mix although I heard that the new masters done by Steven Wilson are much better but the record was ho hum outside of Easy Money and the Larks Tongue Part 2, Jamie Muir was a wildman percussionist on that. Starless And Bible Black was a better album but haven't heard it much outside of Great Deceiver.

The classic Crimson remains Red, and I think it's damn flawless, from the chaotic title track to Fallen Angel but the second side Starless ranks with the best that Fripp ever put out. USA, the live album, when it got expended is a fine ending to the John Wetton, David Cross, Bill Bruford, Fripp lineup. Providence got some FM play here, long time ago. Cheers!