I absolutely love King Crimson. But, a caveat, I am not one of those homebrewer-types who keeps all his prog-rock CDs organized by release date first, then secondarily by personnel, and finally, within that grouping, by apocryphal additions of musicians on particular tracks (not including, of course, the hundreds of bootlegs, rarities, and out-takes that get regrouped, again, at end of that particular section). The first time I heard Discipline, I felt as if I had just been plugged into my undergraduate university’s mainframe and reformulated into a feeling, desire, or maybe even a color (all this without drugs, too). And, probably like many other prog-rock neophytes, I thought to myself, “What the hell is a stick, and how does somebody named Tony Levin play it?” While I never became one of those super-anal weirdos who fetishize every note that Robert Fripp plays (lots of nights in apartments writing guitar tablature), I did grow to love the multi-layered stringed insanity of King Crimson and its terrifying space-disrupting percussion. In particular, I found that I loved almost everything that Adrian Belew did. His solo albums can waver between pop songs so Beatlesque they’re eerie and 13/16 madness: Big Electric Cats mingled with Fishheads, complete orchestral albums played on one guitar, sad rhinoceroses, chittering birds, domestic squabbles. His words and his guitar always seemed inseparable, conceptually and sonically.
On King Crimson’s latest CD, like the collection of songs on most of the 1980s King Crimson releases, Fripp, Belew, et al. produce a collection of songs that tend toward masterful and tight sonic noise. Folded into this mix, though, is a wonderful dose of Belew’s humor and playfulness. “ProzaKC Blues,” the first track opens with these lines:
Well I woke up this morning
In a cloud of Despair
I ran my hand across my head
Pulled out a pile of [worried?] hair
I went to my physician
Who was buried in his thoughts
He said “Son, you been reading
Too much too much Elephant Talk
(His physician eventually prescribes “a fifth of Jack and bottle of Prozac”)
But after this playful introduction, King Crimson gets down to their progressive business with a two-part “ConstruKCtion of Light” clocking in at 8:39 and a four-part “Larks Tongue in Aspic—Part IV” running 12:56. Stripped down from the releases of Thrak, Vroom and attendant mid-nineties material, known as the double-trio period, the King Crimson of ConstruKCtion of Light reverts back to the quartet form with Robert Fripp—Guitar, Adrian Belew—Guitar, Vocals, Words, Trey Gunn—Bass touch Guitar, Baritone Guitar, and Pat Mastelotto—Drumming. Bill Bruford and Tony Levin drop off from this recording, though with Gunn and Mastelotto effectively filling those sonic spaces, King Crimson suffers little.
Listening the ConstruKCtion of Light, I can hear all the different parts of King Crimson as they have developed in the last two decades. Some tracks showcase the incredible technical proficiency of Robert Fripp; other tracks, such as “Into the Frying Pan,” mix Adrian Belew’s melodies with the brick wall wail of guitars so characteristic the 1980s Crimson; still other tracks, like th e aforementioned “ProzaKC Blues,” mix the swirling layers of guitar work reminiscent of Discipline. Missing on ConstruKCtion of Light is the thump of Levin’s stick mixed with Bruford’s pounding, but this only gives the CD a lighter feel, and in no way detracts from the production. If you’re a King Crimson fan, you probably already have this CD. But if you want an introduction to the end-of-the-century Crimson, ConstruKCtion of Light will not disappoint you (regardless, buy Discipline at the same time).
Note: For all your King Crimson needs, including reviews, rants, timelines, Crimsonesque demos, and much much more, check out http://www.elephant-talk.com.