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King Crimson

Reviewed on this page:
The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp - In The Court Of The Crimson King - In The Wake Of Poseidon - Islands - Larks' Tongues In Aspic - Red - Evening Star - One Of A Kind - Discipline - Beat - Three Of A Perfect Pair - Absent Lovers - Earthworks - Dig? - Mr. Music Head - Young Lions - Show Of Hands - Inner Revolution - Here - VROOOM - THRAK - The Guitar As Orchestra - Op Zop Too Wah - Salad Days - The ConstruKction Of Light

King Crimson may be the only commercially important prog rock band to blend dazzling musicianship with real artistic integrity. From the start a vehicle for guitar virtuoso/avant garde mastermind Robert Fripp, they have a long and complicated history of lineup changes, breakups, and shifts in style. But in every period they've managed to come up with at least one great record, and they've never either sold out like ELP, or bogged themselves down in pompous self-indulgence like Yes. Unfortunately, Fripp's experimental edge has resulted in quite a few misfires. You'll have to dig carefully for the few Crimson albums that stay on track with crafted songwriting and economical arrangements.

Crimson immediately made a splash with its 1969 debut record In The Court Of The Crimson King, their only gold album. Unfortunately, they also immediately got into personnel problems that included the loss of lead singer Greg Lake and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, and by 1971 the lineup had already gone through three sets of frontmen and rhythm sections. A fourth and much improved lineup crystallized in 1973 around Fripp, Yes drummer Bill Bruford, and singer/bassist John Wetton. But this version of the group split completely after recording at least one fine effort (1974's Red), and it wasn't until 1980 that a new lineup appeared. Ironically, the 80s (and now 90s) King Crimson combo is probably the best and most memorable: fronted by singer/guitarist Adrian Belew, an associate of Brian Eno who'd appeared on David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Talking Heads records, it put out three fine albums, split, then reformed in the mid-90s and rushed out a batch of live and studio records. I'm missing some of the 90s discs, but I'll try to track them down.

I don't have detailed coverage of Fripp's rather complicated and productive solo career on this page, for the simple reason that I have little of his solo work. However, I've got a decent collection of Adrian Belew and Bill Bruford records, and I've tried to at least list the ones I know about. I believe Belew to be one of the most significant rock musicians of the 80s and 90s, and I strongly recommend looking in to his best records.

I have reviewed shows by Belew and Bruford and Levin on our concerts page. We discuss Tony Levin's extensive session work on our session players page. The Adrian Belew web site is quite good and has substantial input from Belew himself. Bruford's endless guest appearances are detailed on the Bill Bruford web site; fans should also note that Bruford was a founding member of Yes and appears on many of their albums. Further information on Crimson alumnus Greg Lake is on the Nice/ELP page. There is an extensive Pete Sinfield site. The fan-run Fripp/Crimson website is large and detailed, and there's also an excellent on-line Fripp discography.

Special thanks to Eric Roos for help with the discography.

For those who care, here is a list of Adrian Belew sitings on records we've reviewed. (JA)


Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron) appears in all lineups.

1969 - 1970: Michael Giles (drums, vocals), Greg Lake (bass, lead vocals), Ian McDonald (sax, woodwinds, keyboards, vocals), Peter Sinfield (lyrics). McDonald replaced by Mel Collins (sax, flute) and Keith Tippet (piano), Peter Giles took over on bass for Lake, 1969.

late 1970: Mel Collins (sax, flute), Gordon Haskell (bass, vocals), Andy McCulloch (drums), Keith Tippet (piano).

1971 - 1972: Sinfield, Boz Burell (bass, lead vocals), Mel Collins (sax, flute, mellotron), Keith Tippet (piano), Ian Wallace (drums). Burell later joined Bad Company.

1973 - 1975: Bill Bruford (drums), David Cross (violin, viola, keyboards), Jamie Muir (percussion), Richard Palmer-James (lyrics), John Wetton (bass, lead vocals). Muir left, 1973, Cross left, 1974.

1980s - 90s: Adrian Belew (guitar, lead vocals), Bill Bruford (drums), Tony Levin (bass, stick, backing vocals). Group disbanded, 1984, reformed, 1994, adding Trey Gunn (stick, backing vocals) and Pat Mastelotto (percussion).

The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp (Giles, Giles And Fripp: 1968)
The infamous pre-Crimson Crimson record. Bizarre in the extreme, it takes a jazzy, trippy, light-hearted pop approach ("Digging My Lawn") - there's even a 1920's orchestral pop parody ("The Sun Is Shining"). Jaunty melodies, meandering instrumental breaks ("Erudite Eyes"), Peter Giles' walking bass lines, and Michael Giles' super-tasteful jazz drumming and deliberate, low-key vocals create a sound that's somewhere between wildly experimental and embarassingly dated ("Newly-Weds"; "How Do They Know"; "Little Children," with intrusive female harmony vocals). Topped off with genteel comedy lyrics and flakey "concept album" voiceovers a la Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, it's almost like a Monty Python soundtrack album but not as funny. Fripp mostly uses a clean, low-volume tone and fumbles a bit, but he is interesting ("The Crukster") and dextrous ("Suite No. 1"), and he does add a bunch of swelling mellotron lines. And there are a few memorable tunes: the genuinely funny, horn-fortified "Elephant Song," the breezy, tautly arranged "North Meadow," the bossa nova-meets-the Kinks-style societal commentary "One In A Million," and the pleasant, dreamy ballad "Thursday Morning." Produced by Wayne Bickerton; Nicky Hopkins is among the session players. McDonald adds ballsy sax and flute parts to a couple of late 1968 GG&F bonus tracks that bridge this record's comedy approach and the acid-drenched fantasizing of the next disc ("She Is Loaded," funky and queer; the hippy-dippy semi-acoustic ballad "Under The Sky"). (JA)

In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)
Their only gold record, which comes as no surprise. "Prog rock" was just lifting off in 1969, and the new band was primed to take advantage, with a brilliant, completely idiosyncratic guitarist (Fripp); a smooth-singing, melodic bass player (Lake); a first-rate jazz drummer (Michael Giles); and full-time specialists to handle the pretentious Tolkien-inspired lyrics (Sinfield) and assorted quasi-classical woodwinds and keyboards (McDonald). On their first go almost everything works, with a good balance of loud, Hendrix-inspired hits ("21st Century Schizoid Man"; title track) and artsy, oh-so-white ballads ("I Talk To The Wind"; "Moonchild"). However, they'd already developed enough of the jazz-influenced prog rock jamming formula to screw things up - especially with the endless atonal experiment that trails off of "Moonchild." With McDonald writing most of the better tunes, the group's artistic chaos in the wake of his departure comes as no surprise. (JA)

Epitaph (rec. 1969, rel. 1997)
A box set compilation of live cuts by the classic Crimson lineup that pretty much covers everything of interest that group ever did. Everything substantial on their debut LP gets reprised, often more than once, and there are early versions of "Cat Food" and "Pictures Of A City" (here called "A Man, A City"), plus a couple of tunes that didn't make it to a studio record ("Travel Weary Capricorn"; their deafening, nearly tuneless arrangement of the ominous march "Mars," which is like a high-volume blueprint for Fripp's later Frippertronics experiments). The set comes with two discs, but you can order two more directly from Fripp's record company: each comprises a full show from the same period with basically the same set lists. (JA)

In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970)
What an amusing mess. Lake left the group in the middle of recording to join Emerson, Lake & Palmer; his replacement Gordon Haskell makes his first appearance with a vocal on "Cadence And Cascade," a really lush ballad with acoustic guitar, flute, and piano that radically and entertainingly departs from the band's previous sound. However, much of the rest does sound like it came right off the last record: "Pictures Of A City," with a huge metallic chorus and a crazy instrumental middle; the title track, with a lilting Lake vocal, a load of mellotron, and a deadening eight-minute running time; and the even longer experimental noisefest "Devil's Triangle," with a lot of ominous instrumental squawking and twiddling. Basically, the problem here is that Fripp just doesn't know what the hell he's doing: he runs with bad ideas like massive under- and over-amplification and ambient sound-making, instead of writing enough good tunes to fill out an album. One of the few exceptions is the single "Cat Food," a strikingly modernistic pop song that fuses a wild piano part, funky bass line, and Zappa-esque chorus. It and a couple other tracks do salvage the record, but you won't want to start with it. (JA)

McDonald And Giles (McDonald And Giles: 1970)
What happened here is that McDonald and Giles quit the band just after the end of its final tour in late 1969, but then regrouped a few months later to make a studio album of their own. Actually, this is more promising than you might think because Giles was a competent vocalist and McDonald a first-rate songwriter and extremely versatile instrumentalist. Peter Giles is on bass; presumably Lake wasn't involved because he was still half-in and half-out of King Crimson. Steve Winwood appears as a guest. (JA)

Lizard (1970)
Unfortunately I don't have my own copy of this yet, but I've heard it. Fripp veered off here in a semi-acoustic jazz-classical direction, and the result is a mixed success. There's much more attention to songwriting, with Sinfield contributing some of his cleverest lyrics as he openly apes Lewis Carroll. The dark, dramatic heavy rock of earlier discs comes up only in one or two places, and instead the tunes are driven by horn, acoustic guitar, and/or piano parts, with Fripp playing less electric guitar than on any other King Crimson album I've heard. The bad news is occasional chaos and boredom in the looser arrangements, most notably on a twenty-plus minute track that eats up side 2. At this point the original lineup had almost completely metamorphosed, with only Fripp and Sinfield remaining; but both Mel Collins (flute, sax) and Andy McCulloch (drums) succeed in imitating their predecessors. A three-man horn section augments the band on some tracks, and Jon Anderson of Yes sings on one ("Prince Rupert Awakes"). (JA)

Islands (1971)
By now Fripp and Sinfield were intent upon pushing the experimental edge, and the result is a predictable catastrophe. The band seems lost on either spacey, cryptically orchestrated numbers ("Formentera Lady"), structureless jams that retread their first album ("Sailor's Tale"), sloth-like piano/horns/choirboy-vocals balladry (title track), or the occasional rock song ("The Letters," which goes to hell in the middle; "Ladies Of The Road," the only really good tune, but a truly snotty tribute to the band's groupies). At least you get to hear more of Fripp's mellotron playing and his loud and crazy guitar parts. And it's interesting to hear classical music on a rock record - Fripp's stately "Prelude: Song Of The Gulls" is right out of the 18th century. On the other hand, it doesn't approach Frank Zappa's similar and much more focused and creative efforts from this era. Another album, another drummer and another singer/bassist: this was Boz Burrell's sole appearance on a Crimson studio recording. His voice is grittier, lower, and less far-ranging than that of any other singer associated with the group, but since there aren't a lot of vocals here it never really matters. (JA)

Earthbound (1972)
A live record featuring the Burrell lineup; it's apparently very hard to get in the U.S. The title track was a new composition, and "Groon" had appeared before only as the B-side to "Cat Food" - here it runs 15 minutes. There's also a presumed jam entitled "Peoria," and then a take on "21st Century Schizoid Man" that runs nearly 12 minutes. (JA)

Ladies Of The Road (rec. 1972, rel. 2002)
A two-disc live record; the first one compiles performances from this period, while the second is a long mix of guitar and sax solos excerpted from "21st Century Schizoid Man" performances, drawn from throughout the band's history. (JA)

Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973)
The debut of a completely new King Crimson lineup, with lyricist Richard Palmer-James, bassist/vocalist John Wetton, violinist David Cross, and ace drummer Bill Bruford (how did Yes let this guy get away?), rounded out with occasional sax and/or woodwinds (percussionist Jamie Muir is also in here somewhere, but was out of the group by the time it was released). There's one really pretty, quiet, and frankly slight pop song ("Book Of Saturday") that harkens back to (say) "Moonchild." But four of six tracks run seven minutes-plus, and the 13-minute jam "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part One" just rumbles along with no rhyme or reason, often dissipating thanks to some of the almost-inaudible undermixing Fripp seemed obsessed with in the early 70s. Meanwhile, "Talking Drum" is an improvised-sounding, unenlightening groove. That said, "Exiles" is a gorgeous, langurous ballad with that classic early Crimson sound; and "Easy Money" is a winner, with a demented, irresistable vocal riff and sinister ensemble playing. And the instrumental "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two" is a landmark: an intense, heavy metal-like, mathematically precise assemblage of Fripp riffs contrasted brilliantly by a dreamy violin melody. More in line with Crimson's preceding discs than with Red, it's still an improvement over Islands. (JA)

(No Pussyfooting) (Fripp & Eno: 1973)
Perhaps the most infamous instrumental record either of these guys ever made, which is saying a lot. It consists of two long jams recorded a year apart. I've got it and I'm having trouble thinking up anything insightful to say about it; it's basically ambient noise, which must have seemed ground-breaking at the time but today is just plain dull. (JA)

The Nightwatch: Live At The Amsterdam Concertgebouw November 23rd 1973 (rec. 1973, rel. 1997)
A live double CD featuring Fripp, Wetton, Cross, and Bruford. Because more than half of Starless And Bible Black originated from the same live tape, it seems that Fripp has released this with the intention of rendering that album superfluous. Two of the songs (title track; "Fracture") were overdubbed before appearing on Starless, but the overdubs are removed here. All of the tunes were written during this period except "21st Century Schizoid Man." I have a copy and I'll review it eventually. So far I just don't like it; there are a ton of really loose jams, there are very few vocal sections, and generally it's just a damn mess. (JA)

Starless And Bible Black (1974)
Mostly recorded live, with some studio overdubs and a couple of studio tracks. The single here was "The Night Watch." I have a copy and I think it's a decent effort; Fripp repeats some of his earlier brainless experiments like undermixing a track to the point where you just can't hear it, not bothering to write vocal parts for most of the tunes, and letting the band veer off into utterly amusical jamming over and over again. But Wetton's few vocals are arrestingly dramatic, and both Bruford and Fripp get to show off their maturing, entirely innovative and idiosyncratic styles in several places. So it's not up to the next album's level but definitely heading in that direction. (JA)

Red (1974)
Crimson had long since become a revolving door for prog rock musicians, with Fripp being the only constant and none of their efforts approaching the debut in quality or commercial success. But this lineup's last try in the studio resulted in the most enduring 1970s Crimson album. The record does have an Achilles' heel: a long, tedious, almost completely chaotic jam ("Providence"). But Fripp's ominous, high-powered instrumental title track is a classic, showing what prog rock could be in the hands of a virtuoso with something to say - and it maps out the sound of the 80s King Crimson in its entirety. The remaining tracks are often brilliant ("Fallen Angel"; "Starless"), and sound suspiciously like ELP minus keyboards plus guitar, thanks to the eerie resemblance of Wetton's voice to Lake's. Bruford's drumming is close to Palmer's as well, but better. These guys had all of ELP's talent, plus the artistic integrity ELP threw away with their pathetic attempts to ape 19th century classical composers. David Cross left the group in the middle of recording and is credited on some of the tracks. All of the horn players had appeared in earlier editions of the band - Mel Collins, Ian McDonald, etc. (JA)

USA (1975)
A live album with Cross but not Muir, plus overdubs by Roxy Music member Eddie Jobson (violin, piano) on a few tracks. There's another version of "21st Century Schizoid Man," three cuts from Larks' Tongues, one from Starless ("Lament"), and one new title ("Asbury Park"). After this, Fripp, Bruford, and Wetton all continued to make solo and supergroup records; Fripp probably kept the highest profile by collaborating with Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Darryl Hall, and David Bowie. (JA)

Evening Star (Fripp & Eno: 1976)
I have to admit that I find Frippertronics boring. But this time around there are enough distractions to at least make the record good background music. Side 1 is broken up into four segments. "Wind On The Water" is standard-issue Frippertronics, one big soup of humming noises that does nothing more interesting than gradually increasing in volume. The high point is the title track: Fripp taps out a gentle harmonic arpeggio and solos atonally while Eno plays some mellow keyboard parts reminiscent of his slightly later work with David Bowie. On the briefer "Evensong" and "Wind On Wind," Fripp mostly lays off but Eno pumps out more of the same. All of this is relaxing and aesthetic. But with a half-hour running time, side 2 ("An Index Of Metals") is more daunting. Eno and Fripp trade off introducing tonal ideas that take minutes to build, and although there's a progression and they succeed in creating an eerie mood, the lack of any melody or rhythm leaves you unsatisfied. More substantial than much of Fripp's solo work, the album is still only of interest to serious fans. (JA)

Feels Good To Me (Bruford: 1977)
By now Bruford had formed an instrumental combo with Allan Holdsworth (guitar), who had just left Tony Williams' jazz-fusion ensemble Lifetime; Jeff Berlin (bass, some vocals); and Dave Stewart (keyboards). Vocalist Annette Peacock and horn player Kenny Wheeler also appear on the record. (JA)

UK (UK: 1978)
A temporary diversion for Bruford and Holdsworth as they teamed with ex-Crimson frontman John Wetton and ex-Crimson/Roxy Music multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson to take a stab at the prog rock supergroup thing. The result was critically acclaimed, but Bruford and Holdsworth ditched the band almost immediately. Despite this, Jobson and Wetton quickly recorded two further UK records before folding the band. (JA)

In 1978 Fripp produced Peter Gabriel's second self-titled solo album and appeared on Blondie's Parallel Lines. (JA)

One Of A Kind (Bruford: 1979)
This an immediately likeable effort, although it's completely in the mainstream of late 70s instrumental jazz-fusion. Berlin sounds exactly like Jaco Pastorius, Holdsworth a lot like John McLaughlin, and Bruford like himself, which is a damn good thing. But there's a big difference: unlike such highly commercial fusion acts as Weather Report, these guys manage not just to stay melodic and accessible even at their most technically dazzling, but to avoid the repetition, self-indulgence, and sentimentality that often made the genre unbearable. Better still, you'll hear encouraging echoes of 1980s Crimson in Bruford's clattering technique and arrestingly unusual time signatures; Berlin's moaning bass; and Holdsworth's vaguely Fripp-like speedy arpeggiation, imaginative dissonance, and synthesized noisemaking. And impressively, Bruford wrote most of the material himself. In sum, a good buy for any Crimson fan who doesn't care about vocals. The occasionally over-the-top, but mostly tasteful keyboard mania was handled here by the Dave Stewart who wasn't in the Eurythmics. (JA)

Danger Money (UK: 1979)
By now Bruford and Holdsworth were both gone, so they recruit drummer Terry Bozzio (who had just left the Frank Zappa band), and apparently focus on Jobson's keyboard and violin playing instead of trying to find a high-powered guitarist. (JA)

Exposure (Fripp: 1979)
Fripp's first real solo album, with vocals by guests like Darryl Hall and Peter Gabriel. I have it and it's pretty good, stylistically varied and occasionally hard-rocking. Also in 1979, Fripp produced the debut, self-titled album by the Roches. (JA)

Night After Night (UK: 1979)
A live album documenting their tour in support of Danger Money, with Jobson, Wetton, and Bozzio. Most of the track listing is drawn from their two studio albums, but there are a couple of song titles I don't recognize ("Night After Night"; "As Long As You Want Me Here"). (JA)

Gradually Going Tornado (Bruford: 1980)
I've actually seen this one, but figured I'd start with One Of A Kind because Holdsworth is replaced here by self-described no-name guitarist John Clark. Not the easiest pair of shoes to fill; I pity the guy. (JA)

God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (Fripp: 1980)
An instrumental album with a solid block of Frippertronics on side 1 but a rhythm section added on side 2. Fripp produced Darryl Hall's solo album Sacred Songs the same year. (JA)

Let The Power Fall (Fripp: 1981)
A full-length album of Frippertronics. (JA)

Discipline (1981)
Easily one of the best records of the 80s, although precedent was set by Fripp's earlier work with Crimson and Eno (e.g., on late 70s David Bowie records). What's really striking about it isn't just Fripp's stuttering, broken-record lead arpeggiations and Bruford's precise, creative polyrhythms, but the new elements: Tony Levin's bass parts throb and pulse like nothing that went before, and Adrian Belew delivers some impressively fractured poetic imagery and a haunting vocal delivery. He owes a lot to David Byrne, but he's got greater vocal range and a better command of balladry ("Matte Kudasai") and wordplay (the alphabetical, free-association "Elephant Talk"). Together, the result is one of the hardest-hitting, technically impressive, and, well, disciplined rock records ever made: it all comes together on tracks like "Thela Hun Ginjeet" that you won't soon forget. The good news is that this, the ultimate Crimson combo, stayed together for three studio albums in the early 80s. The bad news is that the later albums are weaker; only Discipline is a fully realized masterpiece. Start here if with anything by the band. (JA)

At this point John Wetton joined Asia, which also featured members of Yes and ELP. Wetton lasted a couple of years before quitting. (JA)

Beat (1982)
There's some good material here, but it doesn't have the depth of the last record, which it otherwise closely resembles; there's just too much instrumental messing around (the formless, noisy "Requiem") and not enough crafty songwriting. Several tracks are merely loud instrumentals with Belew improvising melodically inscrutable vocals (the World Music-y "Waiting Man"; "The Howler"). On the plus side, the single "Heartbeat" is a truly great tune, and even if it's a bit on the pop side for Crimson, its extraordinary backwards lead guitar part lifts it above mere balladry. "Sartori In Tangiers" is a first-rate instrumental; "Neurotica" captures the crazy, electronic rhythms its title suggests, as does "Neal And Jack And Me"; and "Two Hands" is yet another fine, if slightly over-mellow Belew love song. Move on to this if you found Discipline totally enthralling, like I did. (JA)

Lone Rhino (Belew: 1982)
Belew's solo debut. I've heard it's a good one, but it and the follow-up are not available on CD (fortunately, the compilation Desire Of The Rhino King collects much of the material). Belew recruited a full-blown band to record it, but played all the drum tracks himself. (JA)

In 1982 Fripp recorded I Advance Masked with Andy Summers. (JA)

Twang Bar King (Belew: 1983)
The same band appears here, augmented by a full-time drummer. (JA)

Three Of A Perfect Pair (1984)
Another sporadically brilliant effort by the hottest instrumental combo of the decade. There's plenty of Levin's hyperkinetic slap bass and burbling stick parts, Bruford's tricky time signatures and unexpected electronic drum noises, and extraordinary guitar parts by Fripp and Belew. The vocal numbers are outstanding: the title track, an exciting and monumentally complex rock song; the crawling, cathartic "Model Man"; the double-time funk-neurosis masterpiece "Sleepless"; and "Man With An Open Heart," a solid rock ballad with clever Japanese motifs. All of this is on the first side. But then Fripp takes over with the usual pointless instrumentals: there's a densely arranged Frippertronics showcase ("Nuages"), an ominous, updated take on "Mars" ("Industry"), and a bunch of random noisemaking ("No Warning"). They do pull out one jaw-droppingly impressive instrumental with crazy modulations and warp-speed digital delay guitar parts ("Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III"), and the only vocal number on side 2 is unclassifiably brilliant ("Dig Me," which swerves from mock-automotive sounds and bizarre rhythms to a Paul McCartney-like chorus). Flawed like Beat, but with a few more quality tunes this time. (JA)

Absent Lovers (rec. 1984, rel. 1998)
A live double CD recorded at the band's last show before taking a decade-long break. This being Crimson's tightest, cleverest, and funkiest lineup ("Elephant Talk"), they mostly focus on the stronger material from their last three studio albums. But they do deliver impressively accurate recreations of two key instrumentals from the mid-70s lineup's repertoire: "Red" and "Larks' Tongue In Aspic (Part II)." Belew's poppier tunes get plenty of air time ("Matte Kudesai"; "Three Of A Perfect Pair"; "Frame By Frame"; "Heartbeat"), and the parade of ear-blasting instrumentals is mostly compelling ("Thela Hun Ginjeet"; "Discipline"). Admittedly, you do have to tolerate a chaotic noise jam ("Entry Of The Crims"), the oppressively militaristic "Industry," and a bit too much of Bruford and his tuned electronic drums ("Indiscipline"). But Crimson's arrangements had gotten staggeringly complex by this point, and hardly anything is lost in the transition to the stage - thanks to the rhythm section's jaw-dropping virtuosity and the rich interplay between Fripp and Belew's arpeggiating guitars ("Sleepless"). You won't find "Court Of The Crimson King" here, but who cares? (JA)

In 1984 Fripp recorded a second and final collaborative album with Andy Summers called Bewitched. (JA)

In 1985 Fripp guested on ex-Japan frontman David Sylvian's solo album Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities. (JA)

Desire Caught By The Tail (Belew: 1986)
An experimental guitar album without vocals or much of anything else, other than some creative percussion. (JA)

Live! (Fripp & The League Of Crafty Guitarists: 1986)
Fripp's first release of a set of acoustic guitar instrumentals played by himself and a large group of students, this one cut live. (JA)

Earthworks (Bill Bruford's Earthworks: 1987)
With Crimson on hold, Bruford went back to jazz, this time using more traditional jazz instruments (sax, acoustic bass and keyboards) instead of the usual jazz-fusion instruments (electric guitar, electric bass and keyboards). In terms of tone he gets the worst of both worlds - breezy, Kenny G-like sax and fuzzy, cloying New Age synth ("It Needn't End In Tears"). But the music is so solid that it hardly matters; tons of his signature freakazoid time signatures and madcap percussion, plus plenty of spacey Third World world influences ("The Shepherd Is Eternal"), unexpected modulation, repetitive Fripp-like melodies, and Mick Hutton's pulsing stick-like bass lines. If you have an aversion to "lite jazz" you might not be able to stand it, but if you can cope and you're a Crimson head anyway you'll find a lot to like. And there's even a dissonant, Crimson-style meltdown jam ("Emotional Shirt"). Bruford, keyboardist/trumpeteer Django Bates, and saxophonist Iain Bellamy wrote the tunes; co-produced by ex-Bruford member Dave Stewart, who adds some synth parts. (JA)

Dig? (Bill Bruford's Earthworks: 1989)
This is another pleasant, enjoyable jazz record, with essentially the same band (Hutton was replaced by Tim Harries, and Bates handles all the keyboards). There isn't as much of a Crimson influence this time, so the Muzak factor is starting to be a problem - the World Music elements on the sprightly, West African pop-influenced "Libreville," and on "Corroboree," with its atonal intro, didgeridoo and assorted noises, don't really ameliorate the album's easy-listening vibe. Worse, several tracks are longwinded, forgettable, generic, and low-energy jazz tunes ("Pilgrim's Way"; the late 50's-style "A Stone's Throw"). But it's still well-performed and tasteful enough to be worth a few spins: "Stromboli Kicks" is indeed a kick, with a mesmerizing, Mach 2 jazz-fusion bass line; "Gentle Persuasion" has a catchy, mellifluous theme that nearly rises above the shopping mall-style arrangement; "Dancing On Frith Street" can't make up its mind between hi-tech funk and updated big-band swing, which is more fun than you might think. Co-produced by Bruford and Adam Moseley. I suspect there are one or two other albums by the band, but I can't say anything more definite right now. (JA)

Mr. Music Head (Belew: 1989)
This is a gorgeous record, but it has some weak points. Although it's pretty and extremely clever, it's more generic and less well-written than his 90s offerings. The big number is unfortunately a gimmick tune that gets old fast: "Oh Daddy," with 11 year-old Audie Belew's surprisingly mature, but cloying backup vocals, and a doubled-note riff that won't go away. Several other tunes like "One Of Those Days" are interesting but fluffy, and even when Belew goes native with the pseudo-African "Peaceable Kingdom" or wheels out a psychedelic experiment ("Hot Zoo"), it's feather-light. Worse, the CD bonus track is a dull sound collage, really a photocopy of "Revolution No. 9," that in all honesty detracts from the listening experience. Still, the album does feature a ton of great tunes: the rocking, intricately arranged "House Of Cards," the heart-rending breakup song "Bad Days," the goofy, irresistable "Motor Bungalow," and "1967," a jaw-dropping psychedelic pop symphony that's even more eerily similar to Paul McCartney than the rest. As on all of his later records, Belew handles virtually all the instruments here, except for string bass by Mike Barnett on two tunes. (JA)

Young Lions (Belew: 1990)
Adrian Belew is indeed a talented guy. But here he mostly falls back on his resume, needlessly reworking Crimson's great ballad "Heartbeat" and summoning David Bowie to sing lead on two tracks. There's also a cover of an Everlys-like Traveling Wilburys tune and an instrumental with a dopy, rambling street preacher voiceover ("I Am What I Am"), and frankly a professional rhythm section would have helped. But most of the record sports a completely unpretentious attitude that belies Belew's David Byrne-like vocal mannerisms and lyrical acrobatics. There are plenty of squawking guitar noises and retro rock riff tunes to liven things up, and Bowie's actually in peak form here, lifting his two tracks to the inventive punk/art rock heights of his late 70s Brian Eno period - "Gun Man" hits harder than almost anything else he's done since then. Plus Belew gets in a marvelously neurotic environmental tirade ("Men In Helicopters"). If you've got any liking for Belew to start with you'll find the record witty and tuneful, but occasionally insubstantial. (JA)

Show Of Hands (Fripp & The League Of Crafty Guitarists: 1991)
Another all-acoustic instrumental guitar album with Fripp leading a score of students. This time he varies the formula in two ways. First, he showcases 11 of the students' own compositions - only two tracks are his ("Eye Of The Needle," which uses his usual arpeggiating triplets-plus-madcap modulation formula, like almost everything here; "The Moving Force," a duet with violist Cathy Stevens). At least the students have a subtle sense of humor (Nigel Gavin's joyful Mediterranean circus tune "A Connecticut Yankee"; Ralph Gorga's aptly named "Spasm For Juanita"), or at least a solid sense of melody (Steve Ball's "Scaling The Whales"). It's also intriguing that future Crimson member Trey Gunn is in the mix, as are all three future members of the California Guitar Trio - Bert Lams gets in three tunes, and his "An Easy Way" stands out with a majestic Aaron Copland-y sound; however, Hideyo Moriya and Paul Richards aren't spotlighted. Fripp's second and much more foolish innovation is to let soprano Patricia Leavitt ruin the record with five solo a capella numbers. Unlistenably pretentious, her main talent is enough range and pitch control to imitate Fripp's geometric riffs, and add to it some stridently "soulful" note bending. And most of the student tunes aren't very enlightening because they're so imitative of Fripp's approach, whether fast-paced (Curt Golden's "Bicycling To Afghanistan") or stately and cerebral (Gorga's "Hard Times"; the spaced-out group composition "Circulation"). (JA)

Inner Revolution (Belew: 1992)
This and the next solo album are Belew's best. Adrian proves here, for example, that you really can rock out in 7/4 time. But more importantly, he pulls off the most convincing middle-period Beatles imitation I've ever heard. Everything sounds authentic ("Everything"): gorgeous harmony arrangements, Ringo-ish thumping drums, George-ish 12-string guitar, Paul-ish piano and bass, and startlingly authentic Lennon-ish vocal mannerisms. There are even some specific Revolver references like backwards solos and a psychedelic string quartet arrangement ("Big Blue Sun"). A few tunes actually sound more like the Traveling Wilburys ("I'd Rather Be Right Here"), there's a small Crimson influence in the throbbing bass lines and modernized guitar effects ("Member Of The Tribe"), and the lyrics are up-to-date, complete with eco-ranting ("Only A Dream") and current events ("The War In The Gulf Between Us"). But it's always a joyful, clever, and engaging homage: Belew seems to grasp - and everyone else seems to have forgotten - that intricate harmony and unexpected melody are the key to great rock music. No guests at all, and since Belew's bass and drum machine playing are more solid here it doesn't matter. (JA)

Here (Belew: 1994)
This is another enjoyable, Beatles-influenced, one-man-band pop record, stuffed with superb song material and awesomely complex arrangements ("May 1, 1990"). There are several powerful rock songs that are piled up with hooks and layers of blaring instrumentation ("I See You"), and there are some mid-tempo numbers that again strongly recall Paul McCartney ("Burned By The Fire We Make," yet another eco-anthem and a damn good one). But much of it is quieter and less bold than the preceding effort; several dreamy, competent, and entertaining sitar parts really set it apart ("Fly"). Not surprisingly, Belew's progression to a mellower, more complex, and more tripped-out sound parallels the difference between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's. The only weaknesses are relative: a few stridently political lyrics ("Peace On Earth") whose sentiments can't be argued with, and some drum machine parts that do sound cold and mechanical despite being loud and exciting. You'd have to be deaf not to enjoy this pop masterpiece, but being more of the same approach you'll probably want to hear Inner Revolution first. (JA)

VROOOM (1994)
A dispensable, for-collectors-only six-track EP heralding the group's return after a decade off for solo projects. It's basically the 80s King Crimson lineup with two additions (Trey Gunn, stick; Pat Mastelotto, drums), making them a doubled power trio. Most of the selections are simply alternate takes of songs that resurfaced on the next album, and for the most part it's hard to hear any substantial differences, as on the intricate title track - which doesn't help, because the vocal numbers are outnumbered by occasionally daunting instrumentals like "Thrak." The one instrumental they didn't rerecord is a loose, flakey jam loaded with electronic noisemaking, which is interesting only because it shows how well the group could improvise ("When I Say Stop, Continue"). The good news is a first-rate Belew spotlight that wasn't rerecorded later by the band and should have been (the manic, nightmarish "Cage"). Plus "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" is harsher, looser, and arguably funkier here, and this early version of the ballad "One Time" is of course gorgeous. (JA)

THRAK (1995)
The new lineup's first full-length record sounds like Crimson all right, especially on the instrumentals: Fripp hauls out the mellotron, gets the whole band arpeggiating, and lets Bruford bash and clatter. Some of it's so harsh it even sounds like mid-70s Crimson ("VROOOM"; "VROOOM VROOOM"; etc.). But the half-dozen vocal tunes are much softer, and so close to Belew's recent solo work that it's hard to see what the band is contributing - they just make him sound like more of a Beatlemaniac than he already is, with Levin echoing McCartney's bass ("Walking On Air") and Fripp adding psychedelic solos and "soundscapes" ("People"). With such a split personality, the record is a little frustrating. But Belew's pop formula is so melodic it's irresistable ("One Time"), and the instrumentals are an enjoyable blast from Crimson's past. And when they blend the two styles, it's a brief trip to nirvana (the cathartic "Dinosaur"; the funky "People"; the blistering, 60s Crimson-style "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream"). The first single ("VROOOM") appeared in 1994, well in advance of the album; "Dinosaur," "People," and "Sex Sleep..." also became singles. (JA)

The Guitar As Orchestra (Belew: 1995)
A set of guitar improvisations, lightly edited and with minimal overdubs, with the only point of interest being Belew's extremely deceptive aping of classical orchestral instruments with special guitar effects. So there are lengthy solos on "piano" (the watery "Piano Recital" and "Piano Ballet") and "strings" ("Finale"), occasional mock-horns, and modernistic percussion parts, often with two different voices sounding at once - there's even fake crowd applause ("Score With No Film"). You can only tell something's "wrong" because the notes often bend unpredictably. All of which sounds impressive, except that Belew can't be bothered to write a solid, coherent tune, so he falls back on snobbish, academic, tuneless expressionism of the most indulgent and impenetrable sort ("...Strangers On A Train..."). One track after another leaves you with nothing to think about other than which instrument is being imitated and just what the heck all these notes are supposed to add up to - although there is some pure, note-free soundscaping ("If Only..."), and a couple of near-melodies that get drowned by all the randomness ("Laurence Harvey's Despair" and "Rings Around The Moon," both on "strings"). A record you might put on only if you have no intention paying attention to it. (JA)

B'Boom (1995)
A live double CD recorded in Argentina. Some of the oldies include "Red," "Elephant Talk," "Matte Kudasai," "Heartbeat," and "Sleepless." Have this one and I look forward to reviewing it. At this point I think it's a pretty good buy, although the jams and instrumental solos aren't so fantastic. (JA)

THRaKaTTaK (1996)
Another live album, this one with two versions of "THRAK" and some titles that sound like jams ("Fearless And Highly THRaKed"). (JA)

Op Zop Too Wah (Belew: 1996)
Apparently tired of releasing high-quality, but basically conventional pop records, Belew tried here to make an album that was more than just a collection of songs. His approach was to frame the finished numbers with a bunch of song fragments. You have to give a guy credit for breaking rules, but most of the shorter tracks just don't go anywhere, and several are little more than sound collages ("Word Play Drum Beat"). This sort of incoherency even disrupts finished compositions like "Modern Man Hurricane Blues," which literally sounds like Captain Beefheart. The record is so long that of course there are plenty of good numbers: some piano-driven, McCartney-esque ballads ("On"; the beautifully harmonized "Time Waits"; the mid-60s style "Something To Do"; the melancholy "The Ruin After The Rain"), a jazz guitar solo ("Conversation Piece"), a nice psychedelic tune a la late 60s George Harrison ("Sky Blue Red Bird Green House"), an exciting, 90s King Crimson-style pop song ("I Remember How To Forget"), another Travelling Wilburys-style roots rocker ("Six String"). And he successfully adds wild tabla and manic guitars to his usual pop craftsmanship on "All Her Love Is Mine" and "Of Bow And Drum." But this is an advanced course in Adrian Belew, not for beginners. (JA)

Starting in 1998, Crimson began releasing an endless stream of live records, numbering over two dozen at this point. Most of them are in the "King Crimson Collectors' Club" series. I won't even try to document them, but I might review a couple if I happen to find them cheap (which seems very unlikely). (JA)

Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (Bruford & Levin: 1998)
By now the group had splintered again, but this time into just two factions: Belew and Fripp absconded with Gunn to record a double album and go on tour as "ProjeKt Two," while Bruford and Levin formed a new band, recorded a disc, and embarked on a tour of their own. I think the ProjeKt Two disc goes under that name; I've seen that act live and explain why I think the "project" is a mistake on our concerts page. As for the other band, the frontmen are guitarist David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti. I've also seen them live (see the concerts page), and although Botti is talented, Torn's relentless avant-garde noisemaking nearly drowns out Bruford and Levin's usual brilliance. (JA)

Cirkus (1999)
A double live CD compiling performances from across the band's lengthy career. (JA)

Salad Days (Belew: 1999)
By now Belew had released two solo acoustic records that got very limited distribution in the USA: The Acoustic Adrian Belew (1993) and Belewprints (1998). This confusingly packaged disc presents three tracks from the former record and 11 of the 15 that appeared on the latter record, plus two live cuts recorded in Argentina ("Fly"). He turns "Men In Helicopters" into a 90s "Eleanor Rigby" by handing over the instrumentation to an energetic string quartet, and several numbers have piano, standup bass, and even percussion ("Everything"; "Cage," otherwise available only on the EP VROOOM; his bass really swings on "Never Enough," "Bad Days," and the jazzy "One Of Those Days"), But the two new titles are expendable, tuneless, and mercifully brief instrumentals: "Return Of The Chicken" is a collage of one-bar piano/harmonica/guitar/vocal/etc. snippets, whereas "Things You Hit With A Stick" is another of his chaotic percussion-plus-effects experiments. Elsewhere, he mostly stays pretty close to the original arrangements ("The Man In The Moon"; "I Remember How To Forget"; "Young Lions"). And almost all the tunes will be familiar to fans, including some real oldies ("Lone Rhinoceros"; the plaintive steam train epitaph "Rail Song") and a few Crimson songs (the live "Three Of A Perfect Pair," showing off his awesome Fripp-style technique; "Dinosaur"). It ends up like a low-budget greatest hits compilation: not enlightening for veterans, but so crafted and crowded with songwriting gems that it might convert a few newbies to the Belew cult. (JA)

Coming Attractions (Belew: 2000)
A sampler of cuts from multiple new records that Belew plans to release. It's weak to the point of being annoying. There's a trio of new compositions that rehash his early 90s sound, pointlessly if impressively (the poppy "Inner Man" and the Crimson-y instrumental noisefest "Predator Feast," from a planned solo album; the joyful "117 Valley Drive," from a Bears reunion). There's a really dull, chaotic 12-minute percussion selection from an ill-advised instrumental project ("Animal Kingdom"). There's a pair of live solo acoustic numbers ("Inner Revolution"; "Time Waits"). And most of all there's a pile of alternate versions and re-recorded classics from an enormous box set - including the excellent demo of Crimson's "People." Much of that stuff is expendable (remixes of "Bird In A Box" and "House Of Cards" and a remake of "The Man In The Moon"), or second-rate ("No Such Guitar," an instrumental with plenty of guitar; the incredibly annoying "I Know What I Know And That Is All I Know And I Know It," a retread of "I Am What I Am"). But at least the record gives a good sense of Belew's artistic range. (JA)

The ConstruKction Of Light (2000)
Fripp reforms the band minus Levin and Bruford, which leaves Gunn and Mastelotto as the rhythm section. The result is shockingly weak. The songwriting is mostly to blame, but the new guys combine a lack of virtuosity with deadening volume on some tracks and wimpiness on others ("Kitchen Floor Wax Museum," where they sound like a herky-jerky one-man metal band). Gunn's use of the stick, which Levin pioneered, doesn't make it any easier to avoid comparisons. The super-indulgent running times don't help ("FraKctured"), and most tracks are discombobulated riff sessions - who cares if they're well-practiced (title track, with Belew doing a Jon Anderson impersonation on the better second half). The low point sees a failed, unintentionally funny attempt to push the band's limits with a deconstructed blues progression, where Belew employs a pitch-lowering vocal effect that's annoyingly mannered ("ProzaKc Blues"). It's not at all a disaster: Fripp's unpredictable and dextrous work is still awe-inspiring ("The World's My Oyster Soup"); "Coda: I Have A Dream" is a good example of their usual ominous trance-rock thing; and like several tracks, the intentional instrumental retread "Larks' Tongue In Aspic-Part IV" and the plodding psycho rocker "Into The Frying Pan" are pleasingly familiar. But where's Discipline when you need it? (JA)

Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With (2002)
An 11 song EP featuring the title track, previewed from Power To Believe, and an acoustic version of "Eyes Wide Open," also on that later record. It's awful, with lame performances and sketchy songwriting despite the fact that the band sounds the same as ever. (JA)

The Power To Believe (2003)
A new 11-track studio album. I'd be a lot more excited if it weren't the same lineup that did the last couple of discs. (JA)

Side One (Belew: 2005)
The first of three discs that Belew cut in short order. The first two are so short they would have fit on one disc. This one features Les Claypool on bass and Danny Carey of Tool on drums on three tracks. (JA)

Side Two (Belew: 2005)
Entirely solo this time. Apparently a highly experimental effort, which doesn't bode well. (JA)

It's all talk.

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