|The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp by Giles, Giles, & Fripp||1968||2.39/pi|
|In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson||1969||2.97/pi|
|In the Wake of Poseidon||1970||2.45/pi|
|Larks’ Tongues in Apsic||1973||3.05/pi|
|No Pussyfooting by Fripp & Eno||1973||2.43/pi|
|Starless & Bible Black||1974||2.82/pi|
|Radiophonics by Robert Fripp||1995||2.06/pi|
Lineup: …whoooboy. Let’s just say…Robert Fripp: guitar. I’ll cover the rest as we go along.
This strange little record, reputed to have sold fewer than 500 copies during its initial run, was the first and only LP released by proto–King Crimson trio Giles, Giles & Fripp, formed when the Giles brothers placed an ad for a singing organist and got a non-singing guitarist instead.
The group is technically a power trio, but the music they play hardly has much connection to progressive rock, much less rock rock. Only a few brief moments hint at what was to come, mostly the instrumental breakage on the Fripp-penned closers “Suite No. 1” and “Erudite Eyes”. The rest consists largely of catchy lite-pop with all manner of strings, choirs, and occasional surprising guitar licks.
The lyrics range range from bizarrely inane (“The Sun Is Shining”) to the inanely bizarre (“Elephant Song”). However, there are a few fine moments of goofiness, such as the Kinksish “One in a Million” and bonus track “She Is Loaded”. Then there’s Fripp’s “Saga of Rodney Toady” skit cycle, which is actually delivered awkwardly enough to be kind of funny.
But the key to enjoying this record is to fall for the simple twee-pop pleasures of tracks like “Thursday Morning” and “North Meadow”. And in fact, by that standard, it’s a very enjoyable record indeed. Not simply fodder for King Crimson completists, The Cheerful Insanity is a fine lost 60s artifact in its own right. In fact, collectors of that stuff may like it more than the average King Crimson completist would.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitars. Peter Sinfield: lyrics, stage lighting. Michael Giles: drums. Greg Lake: bass, vocals. Ian McDonald: sax, flute, mellotron.
Lordy. Somehow, the light jazz-pop troupe Giles Giles & Fripp has morphed into a monstrous prog-rock behemoth—arguably the first ever monstrous prog-rock behemoth, although a few bands had made tentative stabs at the title. This was a political album, an Important album, an album meant to rock society down to its very foundations at the mere mention of its stunningly pompous subtitle.
But the thing that makes In the Court of the Crimson King more than just an embarrassing historical relic is, of course, the music. There was simply nothing like this in 1969. Opener “21st Century Schizoid Man” fused jazz and hard rock into a nightmarish careening bus tour through Vietnam and the Roman Empire and the Modern World. “I Talk to the Wind” was a soft, lush, flute-led alienation ballad. “Epitaph” was the centerpiece, a doomsday epic powered by the massive, slightly unreal sound of the mellotron in perhaps its biggest-ever starring role. “Moonchild” was a wispy little fantasy that floated away on a much-hated 10-minute free-jazz excursion (it has its moments, but, yes, it’s too damn long.) The title track tied it all up with string and sent it down the river on fire.
You could say that this album is dated and pretentious and flowery, you can whine about “Moonchild”, whatever. But if an album like this had to exist, I’m glad it had the courtesy to be so badass.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitars, mellotron. Peter Sinfield: lyrics, stage lighting. Michael Giles: drums. Peter Giles: bass. Greg Lake: vocals. Mel Collins: sax, flute. Keith Tippet: piano. Gordon Haskell: vocals.
The not-so-brilliant not-so-debut. The band imploded shortly after the release of In the Court, leaving Fripp and Sinfield to pick up the pieces. So they got Lake and Giles to stay on and help finish the album, and threw in newcomer Mel Collins to replace Ian McDonald, plus jazz pianist Keith Tippett and old buddy Peter Giles on bass. They also inaugerated Lake’s soon-to-be replacement vocalist, Gordon Haskell, who shows off his froggy pipes on “Cadence and Cascade”. (According to legend, the group acually auditioned a young Elton John for this job.)
Unfortunately, the songs are as slapped-together as the band. “Pictures of a City” was a reject from the first album, presumeably because it’s an obvious clone of “Schizoid Man”. “The Devil’s Triangle” is also old, being a reworking of the band’s cover of Gustav Holst’s “Mars”. But the raw power of the live version, with its incredibly loud unison guitar-mellotron riff, has been mostly abandoned here for a gussied up take full of studio experimentation but lacking in urgency. The title track is just “Epitaph II: Still Waiting for Armageddon”.
The one real bright spot is “Cat Food”, a great jazzy rocker built around Tippett’s cartoonish piano, and the blueprint for much of Lizard.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitars, mellotron, keyboards, devices. Peter Sinfield: lyrics, stage lighting. Andy McCulloch: drums. Mel Collins: sax, flute. Keith Tippet: piano. Gordon Haskell: vocals, bass. Mark Charig: cornet. Robin Miller: oboe, english horn. Nick Evans: trombone. Jon Anderson: vocals.
Fripp was apparently itching to go back on tour, but now that had his new band fully assembled, he decided to cut an album with them first. Of course, the band didn’t last the length of the sessions. Thus, we have another patched-together album, this time with Jon Anderson of Yes stopping by to help finish things off.
Thankfully, the rewrites are mostly gone (although you could be forgiven for thinking that “Indoor Games” was “Cat Food” with a false moustache and glasses.) The band has gone much more progressive than ever before, loading up on classical and jazz influences and bringing in a bunch of session lads on various aerophones to spruce things up. It doesn’t quite recapture the revelation that was the debut, but it’s certainly more rewarding than its immediate predecessor.
“Cirkus” leads things off nicely, reprising the apocalyptic carnivalia of “The Court of the Crimson King”, but with a much denser sound, full of synthesizers and acoustic guitar and strange jazzy ramblings off all sorts. It’s a perfect introduction to the album, hurt only by Sinfield’s typically annoying lyrics, which have been getting more and more obscure.
The centerpiece, of course, is the 23 minute Lizard suite that takes up the whole second side. It opens with a pretty mellotron-laden ditty in which you can hear Jon Anderson sing “Stake a lizard by the throat” in the chorus. Gee, I wonder if Sinfield’s inane lyrics were an influence on young Jon? Now there’s a crime. And you know what else is a crime? Not liking “Bolero”, the second song of the suite, a kickass piece of jazz-classical fusion with a gorgeous oboe line. Then the whole thing climaxes with “The Battle of Glass Tears”, a big hard-rockin’ affair telling hte story of some sort of grand, futile battle between the humans and the lizards. Fripp caps it all off with a bagpipe-esque funerary guitar solo. Oh, and then all that pent-up drama is deflated by a minute of weird circusy mellotron mangling, which I guess also refers back ot the beginning of the album. Whatever. Write your own damn review.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitars, mellotron, keyboards, devices. Peter Sinfield: lyrics, stage lighting. Ian Wallace: drums. Mel Collins: sax, flute. Keith Tippet: piano. Boz Burrell: vocals, bass. Mark Charig: cornet. Robin Miller: oboe, english horn. Harry Miller: string bass. Pauline Lucas: vocals.
Fripp and Sinfield rebuild their band one last time here, and this time, they actually manage to get in a couple tours before disintegrating. How about that! Unfortunately, this was probably the very worst band ever assembled under the Crim moniker.
The good news: “The Letters” and “Ladies of the Road” are delightful jazz-pop songs, the latter even featuring some Beatles harmonies. The bad news: they’re rendered almost unlistenable by Sinfield’s lyrics: ugly and misogynistic on the first, embarrassingly melodramatic on the second.
Most of the remaining 35+ minutes of the album are bland fusiony noodling, like a watered down version of Lizard. The highlight is “Formentera Lady”, which features haunting wordless vocals by Pauline Lucas and a nice buildup. The rest is mostly boring.
Apparently, the album that became Larks’ Tongues in Aspic was nearly recorded with this band instead of the next one. Fripp fired Sinfield but, realizing that he couldn’t carry the band on his own, asked the others to write songs for a new album. Unsurprisingly, “creative differences” ensued, and thus we find Fripp all alone…
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitars, mellotron, keyboards, devices. Ian Wallace: drums. Mel Collins: sax, flute. Boz Burrell: vocals, bass.
…but first, a live album! Sinfield is gone, but the band tours on, and the whole thing was captured in this highly lo-fi contractual obligation nugget in 1972. Well, when I say “the whole thing”, I mean, “21st Century Schizoid Man” plus a lot of shitty poorly-recorded jamming. The only other ‘songs’ are an excerpt from “Sailor’s Tale”, which is at least mercifully cut at the start of the drum solo, and “Groon”, which isn’t.
Luckily, the version of “Schizoid Man” here is monstrous. Here, the poor recording isn’t a problem, because it helps turn the whole thing into a massive, grimy wall of deadly noise, with Boz shrieking as his voice is strangled by a synth processor, Fripp damaging nearby building foundations with his guitar, and some very fine sax blowin’ from Mel Collins.
Mr. Collins is a good guy. I feel for him when I listen to “Peoria”. Here he is, soloing his heart out all over the place, while all around him, the rest of the band engages in some sort of tragic jazz-funk workout. Fripp is obviously asleep at the wheel, and the less said about Boz Burrell, the better.
“Earthbound” is “Peoria II”. Move along, nothing to hear here.
“Groon” is actually excellent for a few minutes, showcasing the kind of jamming that the band is actually capable of pulling off: Mel Collins leads the way while the others build him a nice quirky foundation. Oh, and then there’s a 7 minute drum solo that turns into a freakishly mangled electro-drum solo, with a sonic treatment that would have sounded dated in 1643. Fripp caps the whole mess off with a brief, gloriously apocalyptic guitar solo that it absolutely doesn’t deserve.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron, devices. Jamie Muir: percussion & allsorts. Bill Bruford: drums. John Wetton: bass, vocals. David Cross: violin, viola, flute, mellotron. Richard Palmer-James: lyrics.
Larks’ tongues in aspic is a curious food, being an attempt to capture the transient beauty of birdsong for the consumption of the rich—by the extremely direct method of cutting out the bird’s tongue and encasing it in gelatin. It’s a rather ironic title for an album, but then, Robert Fripp doesn’t much like albums. He’s a purist of the sort who believes that true music is a spontaneous creation, hammered out between the performers and the audience, and then disappearing forever; you can record it, but you can never quite recapture it.
But of course, the man tries anyway, and on this occasion, he may have come rather close to succeeding. The music manages to evoke both spontaneity and craftsmanship, freely combining the premeditated and the improvisational in a mixture where it is often difficult to tell which is which. The result may not capture the pure experience of a live performance, but it has a magic all its own, far beyond, say, the preserved vinyl corpse that was “Moonchild”.
The first installment of the title track is our grand tour: opening with a sea of gentle percussion from Muir, the band oscillates wildly between different extremes over 13 minutes, centered around a jam in which the rhythm section of Wetton, Bruford and Muir seem positively telepathic. Each band member gets his chance to shine amongst the general chaos, yet the result is never indulgent, and not a note is wasted. “The Talking Drum” takes the same basic ingredients, but focuses them into a narrow beam, building up over 7 minutes until the band is swarming at full force around the anchor of Wetton’s bassline, until the final crash into a wall of screeching noise.
King Crimson returned to being a band with this release—a genuine collaboration, rather than a wobbly construct of Robert Fripp. Messrs. Fripp, Bruford, Muir, Wetton, and Cross don’t sound like rivals pulling and pushing in different directions—they sound like one many-limbed beast. Past Crims had merely used their elaborate experiments to create various moods: apocalyptic, sighing or perhaps just decadent, but always massive and blunt. But this new outfit threw off most of those old trappings along with Mr Sinfield, and ventured into the world of pure sonic sculpture.
Sadly, they were unable to launch themselves entirely into the abyss. The band chose to include three ‘normal’ songs. “Book of Saturdays is a pretty ballad, and “Easy Money” is a jerky, arrhythmic rocker with a simmering jam session in the middle, but only the sprawling, nostalgic “Exiles” feels like a part of the album’s landscape. The lyrics are an improvement over Pete Sinfield’s, but they feel tangential to the whole.
But if these songs detract from the album’s focus, they don’t reduce its quality. And any stupid qualms of mine are wiped away when “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic pt. II” arrives, pulling out all the stops for some heroic riffage, clattering percussion, and cute screaming lark noises from Cross. And hey, is that a bit of proto-Frippertronics slipped in during the ending? Could be.
With just a guitar and a stack of electronic filters rigged up by Brian Eno, Robert Fripp recreates in aural form the experience of being beaten to death with orthopedic pillows.
Okay, so maybe there’s a bit more to it than that. This album marks the first appearance of what would later be called Frippertronics. Each of the album’s two tracks is a 20 minute guitar solo run through Eno’s system of sound treatments. As I understand it, it’s a lot like regular old feedback, except its feedback that grows and expands into a huge, otherwordly ocean of sound, where Fripp’s every move is picked up, stretched out, looped, and morphed into the general hubbub, where it gradually decays away. Thus, at any time, you’re hearing not only the present Fripp but also many past Fripps all dueling with each other inside said ocean.
It’s an interesting experiment as well as the plot for a strange Freudian nightmare, and it’s even quite beautiful at times. The second track isn’t quite as pretty, being a bit cluttered with extra effects added on by Mr Eno, but it’s still a nice listen. Of course, the vast majority of the population will have no use for this piece of plastic, and you probably know who you are. But if anything I’ve just said sounds appealing to you, well…you know where to find your local record store, I assume.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron, devices. Bill Bruford: drums. John Wetton: bass, vocals. David Cross: violin, viola, flute, mellotron. Richard Palmer-James: lyrics.
Apparently, Fripp wanted to make up for the horror that was Earthbound by releasing a decent live album, but he was so traumatized by that experience that he couldn’t bear to go all the way. So he threw on ten minutes worth of new studio material to fill things out. Which was probably a pretty wise decision, because if it had all been improvs like “The Mincer” and the title track, few people would have even made it to the end of side two to find “Fracture”, arguably the best song they ever released. Yes, “Fracture” is a monster of a track, 11 minutes of pure thrashing pre–post-rock punk-prog awesomeness. I’ve heard music theory types claim that it is in something called “moto perpetuo”, which apparently means that it has no key, or, at least, the key is changing too fast to ever figure out where it might be. All I know is, the band cooks, with David Cross channeling John Cale on the screetching electric viola, Bill Bruford playing like some sort of tricked out proto-pro-tools creation, John Wetton giving his fuckedest, distortedest thumpin’ yet…and Fripp is just impossible. (I like this song.)
Sadly, you have top listen to 35 minutes of album before you get there, and it’s just a little bit messy after the near-perfection of Larks’. You wouldn’t know it from the opener: “The Great Deceiver” might be the band’s tightest little rocker ever, 4 minutes of pure riffage with a catchy chorus and all the usual weird crap. It’s interesting how well Cross blends his ultra-distorted viola with Fripp’s guitar on this one.
“Lament” segues very slickly out of its predecessor, but it’s not quite as memorable. “The Night Watch” is the single, a lovely ballad which isn’t harmed too much by Palmer-James’ inscrutable decision to write a song about a Rembrandt painting. The song is actually in two parts, with the intro being dubbed in from the Amsterdam concert that makes up the remainder of the album (plus “Fracture”, if you’re keeping score.)
“The Mincer”, “Trio”, “We’ll Let You Know”, and “Starless & Bible Black” are all improvs performed at this show, and they’re all pretty good. The star, as with most Crimson improvs from this ear, is Wetton’s bass. His evolving, devolving riffs are the anchors for all of these tracks, with the exception of the rhythmless “Trio” (for which Bruford is given a writing credit for "admirable restraint"—he stands there in front of the drum kit, motionless.) “Trio” is a pretty mellotron/violin confection, but a little boring at almost 6 minutes long. Remember “Moonchild”?
The other material fares better: “We’ll Let You Know” is a slick little funk duet between Fripp and Wetton, and the title track gives the band 10 minutes to stretch out, and finds the band at their most atmospheric and textural as improvisers. I tend to gravitate more towards composed material like “Fracture”, but it’s undeniable that the 1972-74 band was far more convincing in this vein than the earlier groups.
If there’s one issue I have with this album, it’s the irritating looong fade-ins to “Trio” and “Fracture”, which really rupture the already strained flow of the material. It’s not as if they even edited the damn tracks—they just decided to start them off really really soft. It sounds like the engineer just fell asleep at the mixing desk. I don’t often ask for classic albums to be remixed, but I’d love to hear an unmolested version of this thing.
With just a guitar and a stack of electronic filters, Robert Fripp recreates in aural form the experience of being beaten to death with orthopedic pillows.
Okay, maybe there’s a bit more to it than that. Then again, maybe there isn’t.
Lineup: Robert Fripp: guitar, soundscapes. Adrian Belew: other guitar. Trey Gunn: warr guitar. Tony Levin: bass. Pat Mastellato: drums. Bill Bruford: drums and strangely large quantities of marimba.
This is one of those albums that you might call “divisive”. Approximately one-third of the Crim-listening population considers it an insane masterpiece, another third considers it a decent document of one aspect of the Crim experience, and the remaining third considers it the worst piece of shit the band has ever released. And, of course, it should go without saying that the remaining 99.999% of humanity would probably wish to leave any room in which it was playing.
I fall into the happy, well-adjusted middle category—I can see the arguments of the people at both extremes, but I’m skeptical of both.
The album is structured as a single 57 minute performance of “THRAK”, with the song’s normal improvised break extended to epic length by splicing in performances from 6 different shows. The actual composed sections that begin and end the disc are excellent, if you’re wondering. Other than that, I won’t be talking about the individual tracks much, because they all run together like melted cheese anyway. Mmmm…
The 90’s version of the band has a style of improvisation that is very different from that of the smaller, tighter 70’s group. The main surface difference is the heavy use of digital effects by the band members. The lads have fallen in love with some kind of cute MIDI-piano guitar pedal, as well as Bruford’s marimbas (??), which I could really do without most of the time. Fripp largely abandons his classic guitar playing in favor of “soundcapes”, a descendent of his tape-delay work with Eno in the 70’s. I prefer the old analog Frippertronics, but the man does manage to squeeze some interesting sounds out of his bank of computers, and his spiraling washes of sound give a sense of space to the proceedings.
But the fundamental difference is the almost complete lack of structure. The old improvs were anchored by John Wetton’s stammering, grungy, slow-burning bass riffs. These provided a skeleton for the basic build-up/climax/come-down of the improvs. The result was sometimes fascinating but often disappointing; the improvs were too chaotic to be cohesive, but a little too predictable to be transcendent. But the 90s group throws structure out the window. Despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of two drummers and two bass players, there’s hardly any sustained “groove” on the album. The last fig leaf of traditional musicality has been removed, which explains the sometimes violently negative reactions to this stuff.
So the question is, what do we gain from this change? Is it sublime chaos, or is it just chaos? Well, you can probably guess my answer: it’s a mixture of the two. Sometimes the music is dense, overpowering, and alive. Sometimes the band flaps loose like a film strip that’s run off its sprockets. To a true believer, even those moments are part of the magic of the performance. To me, they are, um, not. But I find that those moments are not nearly as prevalent as the naysayers would tell you. They are there, and they detract from the power of the music, but they aren’t the sum total of it. Give it a try, I say! Don’t buy it for your mom, though. Mother-in-law, maybe…