Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...King Crimson (If There Wasn't Anything Else Available That I Wanted More)

You can tell by the equivocal title that I'm not a BIG King Crimson why would I "buy anything?"

I don't so much ENJOY the band as I respect their MUSICIANSHIP. Much of their music is sheer wankery, but it is technically brilliant wankery, even if the spectacular fireworks are little more than ear-candy or flat-out "showing off."

There are many King Crimson songs that I like, of course, but for the most part I buy their albums to hear Robert Fripp and his hand-picked bandmates go "look at what we can do!" Crazy tempos, micro-managed song-structures, elaborate fret-picking, Chapman Stick, over-the-top production, unconventional instrumentation...well, that's all pretty nifty but it doesn't necessarily make for "great music."

They started off in the late '60s mixing prog rock and highly-structured jazz, occasionally dipping into saccharine psychedelic folk. In the '80s they picked up Adrian Belew -- have I mentioned that I'd Buy Anything by Adrian Belew? -- and started doing adult contemporary art pop that I find ultimately forgettable.

I like their subsequent music much more: extremely heavy, noisy, somewhat discordant angst that probably got them their gig opening (!) for Tool. Here's their "double trio" act from 1995 performing "B'Boom" and "THRAK." Warning: sheer noodling on display, but it's meticulously rehearsed and sort of awesome. I think Belew is using some sort of MIDI guitar device.

Albums to buy: "In the Court of the Crimson King" (their debut) is pretty darn good and probably the highlight of their early period, but I personally like "The Power to Believe." Albums to avoid: I'm not a fan of "Starless and Bible Black" but apparently I'm a minority. For fans only: I don't think you even dabble in King Crimson unless you're already a fan, but I think TRUE fandom would be to watch the '80s concert videos without getting distracted by Belew's terrible clothes. I am unable to do so.


Kimber said...

"Wankery..." Now that's a gem of a word, Muffy.

Adam Thornton said...

Thanks! I like the word, because much of what I do in my spare time is "wankery" as well.

Anonymous said...

Their first album I listened to a lot back when I spent evenings high as hell, hanging out with musician friends, and had to actually "buy" music. I understand that tho..

There used to be a REALLY cool indie music store near me. The guy who ran it was the hipster type, he got me into and over Soundgarden in the 1980s. HE was an education. One of the last times I was there before he closed down, I waxed loquacious about Primus, their musicianship, so he did his thing and put on a King Crimson live album and had me convinced it was Primus because it was such great bass work and freestyle guitar talking.

I guess they're a band where you make a note of the songs you liked, and make a mix tape, because they're always technically awesome, but you're only INTO a few songs.

Adam Thornton said...

Yes, Syd, they're that sort of band. You can also put on the headphones and listen and wonder "HOW?" (instead of asking the equally-obvious question, "WHY?")

I liked the popular songs off the first Soundgarden album ("Louder Than Love") but I questioned their brainpower when I bought the album and listened to the OTHER songs. "Full on Kevin's Mom?"