Post-1994 King Crimson: S/D

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Having studiously avoided this era of KC for the most part in the last decade-plus, a recent encounter with The League of Gentlemen and the Absent Lovers live record from 1984 possessed me to investigate for some reason, albeit somewhat warily. I will leave it up to the other threads to discuss previous incarnations of the band, but suffice it to say that their strengths have almost uniquely been instrumental, with little of my, ahem, exposure to Crimson or any of the ProjeKcts from this era changing my mind much in that regard.

It would appear that the problems are:

1) A marked drop-off in Adrian Belew as a songwriter and vocalist. Never the strength of the band, his happy persona often runs counter (in the case of "ProzaKc Blues" WAY counter) to the band's darker impulses — something I remember noticing watching a video of them in the 1980's. It's worse now. But unlike the 1980's, Belew now writes Lennon-esque pop tunes like "Dinosaur" that simply do not blend well (in that they're too melodic) and often have really juvenile lyrics. In fairness (and every other songwriter in Crimson, really), I imagine writing pop songs over Robert Fripp atonalities is no easy task.

2) An obsession with self-referentiality. Between the "Kc" thing (The ProjeKcts, ConstruKction of Light, etc.) and compositions that directly ("FraKCtured," "Larks Tongues Part IV") or indirectly (the obvious rip of "Red" in "Vroom") refer back to previous KC eras, there's a prevailing sense that the group is incapable of really moving forward, which more than a few writers have noted kind of defy the idea of "progressive."

3) An unseemly attraction to nü metal, which is just hideous any which way you cut it.

4) A tendency to overuse electronics — a bit of a Fripp problem since the digital age began. But the result is a sonic pallette that is often muddy. One wonders if David Sylvian had accepted Fripp's invitation to join KC in '93 whether a more subtle, or at least controlled, deployment of electronics would have resulted a la his recent Nine Horses project.

5) Loudness and noise for its own sake. Sometimes, you feel like the group is just hitting thunderous atonal power chords of "BAM! BAM-BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!" just because...they can.

Despite all this, there's something to be said for this era of Crimson — if for nothing else (as Dom once noted) than their command of their musical voice. But there are also several attractive moments. The title track to Thrak is great. The aforementioned "FraKcture" on The ConstruKction of Light is demonic and brilliant in places (I don't know The Power to Believe at all). And Fripp's playing is, as usual, astonishing.

The ProjeKct stuff, the idea of which terrified me when I first learned of it, is in some ways, the most interesting stuff I've heard by them since the 80's — I've only heard a little, but it's clearly the least self-conscious, most unhinged material they've recorded in a while. And as an added bonus, it doesn't have any vocals. But as much as the idea of breaking off into sub-groups to conduct "research" for the big records is great, it'd be more impressive if those big records were, um, better than they are.


Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Tuesday, 27 June 2006 18:36 (thirteen years ago) link

None of it really does much for me - although I never even bothered with The Power to Believe. Thrak has some moments, but also doesn't have much new to say. I've seen them live a handful of times, + a ProjeKCt in the post 95 era - the most memorable moments were The Talking Drum and the California Guitar Trio.

I loved Belew in the earlier days, but he's almost embarrassing now.

DAVE, for #1 Hits of yesterday and today! (dave225.3), Tuesday, 27 June 2006 18:52 (thirteen years ago) link

They were good in parts, but off the top of my head I can't actually remember which parts, which I suppose backs up N.T.I's post? That "Thrakattak" live thing had some good bits on it, and they were amazingly good the second time I saw them live. I'll see if I can remember to take the 3 albums I have into work tomorrow & listen to them. I lost interest after Bruford quit, anyway.

Pashmina (Pashmina), Tuesday, 27 June 2006 19:09 (thirteen years ago) link

thrak is a pretty good album, and one i think addressed and recalled the strengths of both 74-era and 80's-era versions of the band, and added some kind of new things as well (sex sleep eat drink dream). but the two albums after that have about half a great album b/w them, and an album and a half of recycled boring material. they were still really good live though.

kyle (akmonday), Tuesday, 27 June 2006 19:28 (thirteen years ago) link

Power to Believe is pretty under-rated, if you ask me... The opening instrumental fucking OWNZ!!!!

Tronid K (tronidk), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 01:02 (thirteen years ago) link

Listening to THraKaTTak now -- another good concept in that it consists entirely of improvised departures from the song "Thrak" when it was played in concert. But another mixed result, too, with the MIDI piano that Belew (and maybe Fripp) is playing kind of sterile. I gather Tony Levin didn't care for this.

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 03:52 (thirteen years ago) link

it was very disappointing that Belew decided to ape the Beatles post-94. that said, I think its okay for the band to re-visit the "red"/"Fracture" style—other acts throughout musical history have done so similarly.

and I would suggest that this tendency pre-dates "nu-metal." But what exactly do you mean by that, Naive One? Tool? Korn? lamb of God?


S: most instrumentals: on "thrak" and "Vroom" are still crushingly thrilling. and most of Belew's songs on ConstruKCtion are great and not panto Beatles, particularly "Into the Frying Pan."

D: aforesaid Lennon panto on Thrak…and I didn't much dig the tunes on Power.

veronica moser (veronica moser), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 13:03 (thirteen years ago) link

I really enjoyed the "VROOOM" ep when it came out. It probably hasn't aged very well. Always regret not seeing them on the Thrak tour.

Brooker Buckingham (Brooker B), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 14:51 (thirteen years ago) link

I think its okay for the band to re-visit the "red"/"Fracture" style

I would agree — tho often you get the sense that they go beyond "revisting" the style and just kind of ape it for lack of a better idea. It's by no means an unforgivable transgression, just not as forward-looking as it could be.

For instance, say what you will about the 80's version of Crimson, but they def. were trying to forge something new, what w/ the dueling guitars, the afro-beat percussion, Chapman stick, and Simmons drums. As with the League of Gentlemen, there was a real sense of forward movement, energy and narrowly defined aesthetic there. By contrast (tho with exceptions), this era tends to feel kind of sloppy and all over the place.

and I would suggest that this tendency pre-dates "nu-metal." But what exactly do you mean by that, Naive One? Tool? Korn? lamb of God?

Korn, Tool, yeah — there's the Machine production on Power... which I don't really know, but you could also hear traces of it forming on ConstruKction some. Perhaps I'm missing something, but nü metal just seems beneath Fripp. It doesn't appear to be a very sophisticated or intelligent idiom. And even if its progeny have been influenced by Crimson in some way, it doesn't really suit Crimson very well.

Again, part of me wonders whether this band would have benefited from a more sophisticated electronic production — maybe not Sylvian or even Eno, exactly, but a Deathprod-type, who understands how to modulate some of the group's more excessive tendencies.

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 17:02 (thirteen years ago) link

I still really like the VROOOM ep. I find the versions of the title track and Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream on it are far superior to the versions on Thrak. I still like parts of Thrak though.

Thrakattack had some really cool bits on it, but it's not the kind of thing I can listen to often.

The ConstruKction of Light I've probably only listened to about 5 times total.

I haven't heard anything they've put out since then.

peter in montreal (spaces are allowed), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 17:16 (thirteen years ago) link

I will say what I will about '80s Crims: I love this incarnation more than any other Crim, and more than I love lots and lots and lots of bands.

other than Tool, I hear ZERO correlatives to nu-metal. Now, if you were to suggest that Crimson should have been competing with Don Cabellero and other mathy Touch and Go bands, then I might say you have something there.

veronica moser (veronica moser), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 19:02 (thirteen years ago) link

I will concede, veronica, that I know very little nü metal. But the little I do know has much of the same the tightly distorted guitar sounds, the fuzz-wah basses, etc. that I detect in some of this stuff — it's def. coming from somewhere else and not typical King Crimson. Would I be wrong to say it's in "ProzaKc Blues"? To me, that song combines the worst of nü metal AND the worst of Belew.

Along the same lines, I was listening to Thrak again this am, and I'd forgotten how much a lot of the Belew songs just stick out — almost as if they'd been slated for a solo record. In that it doesn't, I would agree that "Into the Frying Pan" from ConstruKction is among the best things he's done w/ them, song-wise. Def. a highlight...

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 20:17 (thirteen years ago) link

the second side of Three of a Perfect pair is still a really exciting chunk of music, they really needed to explore that more. the only recent piece that kind of hints at that is the deception of the thrush, kind of.

kyle (akmonday), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 20:30 (thirteen years ago) link

I have the ProjeKcts box which at times is tedious but at others brilliant.

I agree with the post upthread about Power to Beleive, a short but thrilling album. I loved Thrak when it first came out, but that whole double trio period seems sort of overblown looking back.

I know this isn't post-94 KC but since you mentioned it in the first post, Absent Lovers is the best 80's Crimson material ever released, in my opinion, better than Discipline. That album is fucking fantastic! What a band that was.

Magna Gardner (New Media Intern), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 20:36 (thirteen years ago) link

No shit re: Absent Lovers! During "three of a perfect pair," when Big Bad Billy and the towering Tony go into straight time after 98/1,2347 time or whatever it is, IT IS FUKKING THRILLING. as are many on that rekkid.

veronica moser (veronica moser), Wednesday, 28 June 2006 21:15 (thirteen years ago) link

I love me some King Crimson, but lately I wish I heard a little more Tool in their music, rather than the other way 'round.

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Thursday, 29 June 2006 00:12 (thirteen years ago) link

That said, the double-trio formation was really cool, and they haven't quite recaptured that energy or excitement. Losing Levin and Bruford didn't help. There also seems to be a resurgance of guitar-synth in the music, made even more sterile thanks to the digital technology. How did that diss go? "I'd rather sound like a first-rate guitarist than a third-rate piano player."

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Thursday, 29 June 2006 00:15 (thirteen years ago) link

Would I be wrong to say it's in "ProzaKc Blues"?

Having listened to it again on the commute home, let me be the first to say: yes, I was totally, completely wrong. "ProzaKc Blues" sounds nothing like nü metal, and a lot like "Vroom," albeit with silly pitched-down vocals replacing the mellotron. I will say, tho', that Mastelotto's hollow, tight snare sound, drum triggers and electriconic percussion have a decidedly White Zombie-esque feel to them.

That said, the double-trio formation was really cool

It was, tho' I'm actually still wondering why I didn't say anything in the original post about it.

Naive Teen Idol (Naive Teen Idol), Thursday, 29 June 2006 01:58 (thirteen years ago) link

The really weird thing about KC is that each successive lyricist is exponentially WORSE than his predecessor. And this is a band that began with Peter Sinfeld as lyric writer. And even Sinfield could never write anything as asinine "Heartbeat" or "Dinosaur".

Staggering. no?

Hot Hot Heat (Hot Hot Heat), Thursday, 29 June 2006 07:30 (thirteen years ago) link

That is, "as asinine AS "Heartbeat" or "Dinosaur".....

Hot Hot Heat (Hot Hot Heat), Thursday, 29 June 2006 07:31 (thirteen years ago) link

Thing about this era of Crimson is that Belew seems to be doing most of the way-out front guitar stuff. When I saw them live, and looked over at Fripp during all the heavy riff stuff, it seemed like he was playing something else. Not sure how that breaks down as far as who is writing what, but as much as I hate Belew as a singer and lyricist, I'll bet he's coming up with some of the musical I actually like from late-period KC.

At this point, my wish for Crimson is to just let Fripp, Belew, Levin and Bruford be the band, and hire a fucking producer (I'm thinking getting eYe to mix whatever music they come up with would be nice, or even doing a record for Ipecac and letting Patton choose the songs).

Dominique (dleone), Thursday, 29 June 2006 11:56 (thirteen years ago) link

(and of course, Fripp would never, ever allow this to happen)

Dominique (dleone), Thursday, 29 June 2006 11:58 (thirteen years ago) link

Losing Levin and Bruford didn't help.

levin is back now, allegedly, when and if they actually record again. no bruford though.

kyle (akmonday), Thursday, 29 June 2006 12:41 (thirteen years ago) link

Bruford has had it with Fripp, and likely will not have anything to do with him again. He's happier playing jazz anyway.

veronica moser (veronica moser), Thursday, 29 June 2006 13:38 (thirteen years ago) link

Fripp needs to start over from scratch like the 80s Crimson did. Or team up with Hurley & Watt or something.

DAVE, for #1 Hits of yesterday and today! (dave225.3), Thursday, 29 June 2006 13:59 (thirteen years ago) link

or Barr & Blair

Dominique (dleone), Thursday, 29 June 2006 14:06 (thirteen years ago) link

I agree with you that #1 and #2 of your list are definitely big components as to why the post-1994 era has been lacklustre.

Belew wrote some decent stuff lyrically in the 80s (Matte Kudasai, Neal and Jack and Me, Dig Me, Three of a Perfect Pair). Now, his lyrics are quite often just totally inane--those noun wordplays especially.

The self-referentiality, the 'Kc' gimmick on song titles, and, relatedly, the acquiescence and indulging of expectations to hear their 'big, bad, dark, and chromatic' sound is also a creative bad moon risin' to me.

I agree that for King Crimson to stand for something again, Fripp would need to start over from scratch, but it seems like he is involving himself with a new band project (Rieflin, who he's worked with before, but also Peter Buck from R.E.M.--he could probably use a shot in the arm, too).

Definitely the second side Three of a Perfect Pair was probably the last thing they ever did that kept me consistently interested. I am sure there is innovative stuff scattered throughout their post-1994 catalog, too, but it seems transient when it occurs.

Joe (Joe), Friday, 30 June 2006 01:53 (thirteen years ago) link

The Bill Rieflin solo album, with Fripp and Trey Gunn, is awesome.

Josh in Chicago (Josh in Chicago), Friday, 30 June 2006 02:35 (thirteen years ago) link

five years pass...

more like a scarcity of publicity

buzza, Saturday, 16 July 2011 20:01 (eight years ago) link


buzza, Saturday, 16 July 2011 20:07 (eight years ago) link

I've only heard 'The Scarcity of Miracles' title terack but it was enjoyable enough.

I listened to some of Thrak yesterday and I remember thinking that 'Dinosaur' should of been a hit all over the radio (they could of easily edited it for length). 'Dinosaur' would still fit in well on a contemporary rock station.

im all out of faith, this is how i feel (CaptainLorax), Saturday, 16 July 2011 20:23 (eight years ago) link

Scarcity of Miracles is ok but there is too much Cross and Jakko's vocals get pretty breathless and precious. But the title track and The Price We Pay are good. A lot of the album does sound more improvised and not in a paricularly great way, which leads to to believe that, had it been thought through longer and worked on more, it really would have turned out as a great new, 5th or 6th version of Crimson. But as it is it is more rightly a 'projekct' as it was labeled.

akm, Sunday, 17 July 2011 02:03 (eight years ago) link

Scarcity of publicity is right.

Josh in Chicago, Sunday, 17 July 2011 05:29 (eight years ago) link

also a relief not to have Adrian Belew emoting all over it

ban this sick stunt (anagram), Sunday, 17 July 2011 06:23 (eight years ago) link

but jakko emotes all over it which is worse. i prefer belew ballads to him.

akm, Sunday, 17 July 2011 15:35 (eight years ago) link

I did review this on my site and gave it 2 stars - it's another KC improv album where everyone is afraid to step on anyone's toes, so as a result nearly all the pieces sound the same. For an album with a bunch of vocals there's a surprising lack of any melody whatsoever. Jakko has got to be the most generic, one-note (literally) vocalist for this sort of thing.

THRAK and Power to Believe are pretty good post-90's albums. ConstruKction sucks but the triple live album that came out of it was actually really good. Some of the best improv they've ever done, and it turns out the album tracks sound a lot better without all the distortion and vocal effects.

frogbs, Tuesday, 26 July 2011 15:45 (eight years ago) link

Would you mind linking to your site, I'd like to read the review. I couldn't agree more, except to call it a KC improv is a real stretch. In fact, the improv aspect is so anemic, it sounds like they jammed over one another in separate studios. Mel Collins was probably the biggest disappointment- he just does these flittery fills after every line, except for the briefest flash where him and RF double up on the melody and it sounds like something Lizard-y. I don't know what I expect guys of their age and temperament to play like, but I'm sure I never want to hear a followup to this record.

WARS OF ARMAGEDDON (Karaoke Version) (Sparkle Motion), Tuesday, 26 July 2011 17:13 (eight years ago) link - it's all the way at the bottom

I considered it improv because it isn't really jamming and doesn't sound composed. Like they just passed around the skeleton of the tune and had the musicians just play whatever they felt.

frogbs, Tuesday, 26 July 2011 17:21 (eight years ago) link

wow this is awful

hardcore oatmeal (Jordan), Tuesday, 26 July 2011 17:31 (eight years ago) link

Yeah that's a good way to put it (xpost)....also this made me actually regret Tony Levin's presence as well--his bass sounds so apologetic it just makes the whole thing more sad.

WARS OF ARMAGEDDON (Karaoke Version) (Sparkle Motion), Tuesday, 26 July 2011 19:11 (eight years ago) link

four years pass...

So after a lot of bellyaching about this era and some truly inexplicable intensive listening the last few weeks I've come to the conclusion that I really like the 2000's-era "double duo" version of this band.

I think my biggest hangup until now was Thrak, which I still find to be unremittingly loud, shamelessly in thrall to the Red-era band and, other than Bruford, not particularly adventurous (I do like Thrakatak, however, which was assembled from the very few improvisations that band did).

By contrast, most of the ConstruKction material, while still often derivative, is generally really interesting. And as noted elsewhere, this band was an absolute corker live. This version of "FraKctured" in Bonn in 2000 is pretty damn stunning:

Naive Teen Idol, Sunday, 19 June 2016 06:48 (three years ago) link

three years pass...

dunno where this should go but apparently Bill Rieflin has died.

akm, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:31 (two weeks ago) link

Oh goddamn

justice 4 CCR (Sparkle Motion), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:39 (two weeks ago) link


Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:48 (two weeks ago) link

he died this morning; Fripp posted it a little while ago. A friend in Seattle told me he's had cancer for quite a while and was on chemo until recently; I had assumed he was sick when he took a sabbatical from Crimson the first time but then when his wife died I assumed he'd done that because of her illness. I had no idea it was both of them. Terrible.

akm, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:49 (two weeks ago) link

God damn cancer. RIP

justice 4 CCR (Sparkle Motion), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:50 (two weeks ago) link

Yeah, I just posted this on another thread. Awful.

Seeing news that my old friend Bill Rieflin has died of cancer. You know him as a mighty drummer for bands from Ministry to later R.E.M. To me he was the kindest guy who worked with me at Tower Records SF when I was 19 and so uncool. Hadn't seen him for a while but I am so sad.

— Feeling Distant (@annkpowers) March 24, 2020

Naive Teen Idol, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 23:45 (two weeks ago) link

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