King Crimson - Discipline Album Of The Week Club review

A prog album for Talking Heads fans? Or a new-wave album for King Crimson fans? Either way, Discipline sparks debate

King Crimson: Discipline
(Image: © King Crimson)
King Crimson: Discipline

(Image credit: King Crimson)

Elephant Talk
Frame by Frame
Matte Kudasai
Indiscipline
Thela Hun Ginjeet
The Sheltering Sky
Discipline

Seven years after 1974's Red, King Crimson returned with a revamped line-up. Only Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford remained from the previous era, joined by former David Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew and bassist/Stick maestro Tony Levin. 

Fully aware of the way music had changed while they’d been away, Crimson adapted to modern tastes, mixing jazz rock with a new-wave approach – something best encapsulated in the way Fripp and Belew’s wildly differing guitar styles complemented one another. 

The result was 70s prog meets 80s art rock, and as such it seemed to be a linear extension of what Fripp had done the previous year with his short-lived League Of Gentlemen.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

Any account of Robert Fripp’s route from retirement in 1974 to his emergence spearheading a new incarnation of King Crimson in 1981 will usually include a couple of notable stopovers. His cautious return to the music industry included supplying the soaring guitar line on the title track of David Bowie’s Heroes in 1977. 

That same year he went back on the road as part of Peter Gabriel’s touring band, albeit under the pseudonym Dusty Rhodes, performing not quite on stage, but behind a curtain. With a producer’s credit on Gabriel’s second album and Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs, he relocated to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, which resulted in appearances with Blondie and others on the emergent new wave scene.

From there, in 1978, very much relishing the role of an Englishman in New York, he launched his personal manifesto that mapped out his career for the next few years. Entitled The Drive To 1981, it was, he says: “A campaign on three levels. Firstly in the marketplace, but not governed by the values of the marketplace; secondly, as a means of examining and presenting a number of ideas which are close to my heart; thirdly, as a personal discipline.”

The ‘number of ideas’ close to his heart included his first solo album, Exposure (1979). This was followed by God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980), and, perhaps most significantly in the context of what was to come next, The League Of Gentlemen, formed in March 1980. 

When considering the reformation of King Crimson in 1981, the importance of The League, as they were known, is often overlooked. It’s not hard to understand why in a way. Their short, four-to-the-floor instrumental tracks, with titles like Inductive ResonanceDislocatedThrang Thrang Gozinbulx and Ooh! Mister Fripp contained skewed, quirky melodies, animated with a punkish pace. 

Other albums released in September 1981

  • 1234 - Ronnie Wood
  • Dead Ringer - Meat Loaf
  • Allied Forces - Triumph
  • Abacab - Genesis
  • You Are What You Is - Frank Zappa
  • Camera Camera - Renaissance
  • Dangerous Acquaintances - Marianne Faithfull
  • Grand Funk Lives - Grand Funk Railroad
  • Mark of the Mole - The Residents
  • MSG - Michael Schenker Group
  • Nine Tonight - Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
  • Premonition - Survivor
  • Rock Until You Drop - Raven
  • Snaz - Nazareth
  • Special Forces - Alice Cooper
  • Time Exposure - Little River Band
  • Too Late the Hero - John Entwistle

What they said...

While the influence [of Talking Heads] is obvious, especially in Belew’s David Byrne-esque vocal acrobatics and increased use of electronic devices (Fripp’s self-invented Frippertronics), the main comparisons stop there. Discipline is, luckily, still very much a King Crimson record, and the darker sounds and typical charisma, quirkiness and innovation of the group’s first decade are very prominent still. (Sputnuk Music)

Discipline doesn’t move completely outside the ever-shifting King Crimson’s age-old vernacular — notably on the trippy instrumental The Sheltering Sky, titled after the 1949 novel by Paul Bowles. Adrian Belew’s jabbing style, we learned from the beginning, makes for an intriguing passenger during Robert Fripp’s familiar explorations into texture. Together, they created an anchoring point for a series of thrilling musical adventures. (Something Else)

Belew's vocals fit the music perfectly, sounding like David Byrne at his most paranoid at times (the funk track Thela Hun Ginjeet). Some other highlights include Tony Levin's "stick" (a strange bass-like instrument)-driven opener Elephant Talk, the atmospheric The Sheltering Sky, and the heavy rocker Indiscipline. Many Crimson fans consider this album one of their best, right up there with In the Court Of The Crimson King. It's easy to understand why after you hear the inspired performances by this hungry new version of the band. (AllMusic)

What you said...

Ben L. Connor: Awwwwww Yeah, here we go!

The prog album for Talking Heads fans. Or the new wave album for King Crimson fans. Either way, it’s the third best Crimson LP, behind In The Court and Red. No meandering improvisations or fantastical multipart suites. As much as I love that stuff, I also appreciate this lean mean approach. 

The perfect mix of punk-funk and world music textures, this stands alongside the best art-rock albums of the 80s like Peter Gabriel 3 and 4, Remain In Light, Soul Mining, The Colour Of Spring, Secrets Of The Beehive, and Hounds Of Love.

Mark Tucker: Simply stunning. It's not often a band can produce something that is totally unique and new, Crimson do it at the beginning of every cycle. The music on this album was and is challenging to listen to but incredibly rewarding. Fripp is a true innovator and is still producing amazing music. A true classic in every sense of the word. 10/10

David Jones: I’m sorry, and it maybe a serious failing on my part, but an awful lot of prog rock leaves me cold... and this one? Freezing. It’s just too arty to be considered rock. Doesn’t get more than a three from me.

Marco LG: Not my favourite King Crimson era, but a great album nonetheless. Elephant Talk and Thela Hun Ginjeet are classics. 

Overall the sound of 80s King Crimson has not aged well. All the songs in this album sound better on the live albums of the 90s and 00s, while the title track and Indiscipline have reached new highs on the current incarnation of the band (suggest to listen to the live album Meltdown). Probably not the album I would choose as an introduction to King Crimson.

Charlie Allison: Next to In the Court of the Crimson King, this is my favourite King Crimson album. It is kind of artsy and not necessarily one to put on during a road trip, but I dug into it and listened two or three times back to back before having any kind of reaction or judgement and it was more awesome each time. I was really into jazz at the time above anything else, so those elements really hooked me. 10/10

Robert Baran: This was a refreshing return of King Crimson and I was skeptical prior to it being released. I'll probably give it an 8 or 9. If I listen to this I also have to listen to Beat because it seems to be an extension of it. Both would have made a great double album. I absolutely don't care for the current King Crimson.

Ian Kingston: This was a real jolt for someone who loved all of the 60s and 70s Crimson. I'd heard that Robert Fripp had formed a new band (called Discipline) and was gutted that when they came to my neck of the woods I had a prior engagement and couldn't go.

In hindsight that was probably just as well. When the renamed band released this album I had great difficulty getting past Adrian Belew's very different style of writing and singing. I got used to it, but I never really warmed to it. On top of that (although the Frippertronics and League of Gentlemen material should have warned me), Fripp clearly wanted to explore a different musical landscape. I'm not sure that it always works on this album; the follow-up, Beat, feels much more satisfying to me.

Highlights: Indiscipline (and do watch the YouTube performance by the current band) and Thela Hun Ginjeet.

Nate Jacobs: You can make a strong case this is an essential drumming record, thanks to Bill Bruford. Sometimes, electronic drums cause a lot of 80s music to age terribly but Bill makes it work. Back in the day, I loved Bill's hybrid drumkit.

Mike Knoop: I didn't discover this album until about a quarter century after its release. When I did, it was a revelation - like finding an alternative dimension version's of Talking Heads' Remain In Light, one of my all-time favourite albums. The two albums share dense polyrhythms and off-kilter lyrical content, as well as a vocal delivery that veers sharply from deadpan to manic. My only real complaint with this album is the two meandering instrumentals that take up the last third of the album. 

My favourite tracks are the three noisy ones: Elephant Talk, Thiel Hun Gingeet, and Indiscipline. Humour is a generally underrated quality in both rock and prog music, but King Crimson uses it to good effect with lyrics like, "These are words with a D this time" (Elephant Talk) or "I repeat myself when under stress" repeated over and over (Indiscipline). 

There is also a mad genius at work. like the fact that the lyrics of Indiscipline are based on a letter the then-wife of singer-guitarist Adrian Belew had sent him about a sculpture she had made. Or that Thela Hun Ginjeet is an anagram of "heat in the jungle," but much cooler to shout along to. Or that the "lyrics" of Thela Hun Ginjeet are actually a true story that Belew was telling and bandleader Robert Fripp surreptitiously recorded. 

Albums like Discipline keep me crate digging for other "new to me" nuggets from the 70s and 80s. Great pick!

Andrew Bramah: I can remember the first time I heard Discipline. Massively refreshing in a bizarre way and totally engaging. At a time when the NWOBHM was gathering momentum King Crimson released one of their best albums. Along with In The Court Of The Crimson King and Red, Discipline still sounds daring. Brilliantly talented creative musicians combined to create an album for themselves. Nobody else has ever sounded like King Crimson.

Pekka Turunen: I respect the musicianship involved far more than I actually enjoy the resulting music. There's a ton of great playing from each individual and some pretty memorable songs as well, but the production is not really my chosen cup of tea and most of all I'm put off by the hollering of Adrian Belew. Elephant Talk is obviously the starkest example of that, but the other songs too are invariably better when he sticks to guitar. The Power To Believe is the only Crimson album where I don't find his vocals a weak point. 

After many years of trying I find quite a few things to enjoy on this album, and the current Crimso's version of Indiscipline was one of the highlights of the show I saw couple of weeks back.

Shane Reho: I'm guessing this was the art rock group no one in the early 80s knew they needed. All four were veterans of the art rock-prog rock scene: Fripp: all King Crimson eras, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, solo; Bruford: Yes, KC, UK, solo; Belew: Zappa, Bowie, Talking Heads; Levin: all over the place. On paper, they probably should've went with naming the group Discipline. If that original plan was kept, they would've been prog's best supergroup this side of Emerson Lake and Palmer. 

No matter. King Crimson was known for constantly changing their sound from album to album, so seven years between albums, you figure something different's gonna happen. It would be hard to find many similarities between this and their then-most recent album, Red. Fripp combines all that he had been doing in those seven years, Belew brings what he gained from his experience (the Eno-Byrne Remain in Light/Bowie Lodger influence is strong here), Bruford is as good as ever and Levin introduces everyone to the Chapman Stick, which is a welcome treat. 

All this means nothing however, if the songs aren't worthwhile. But great they are, from the ramblings of Elephant Talk and Indiscipline, the calm of Matte Kudasai, the paranoia of Thela Hun Ginjeet and the somewhere in between all of that on Frame by Frame. The Sheltering Sky and Discipline are both great instrumentals, ones that probably wouldn't have felt out of place on something like Eno's Another Green World (another album that has Robert Fripp on it) or sides two of Bowie's Low or Heroes (once again, Fripp and Eno). All in all, a perfect comeback for one of prog rock's best groups. Also an album I need to find a copy of already. 10/10.

Kathy Kerr: Gonzalez Discipline is as much a comeback for King Crimson as it is a coming out party for singer-guitarist-songwriter Adrian Belew. Although generally classified as ”prog rock”, Belew has consistently defied genres. And for being on his own planet, he’s about as down-to-earth as one can get - which makes him all the more relatable and endearing. 

Robert Fripp, for his part, has not suffered from collaborations with Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie since the early incarnations of King Crimson. He knows a good thing when he finds it and constantly expands and refines his own vision with knowledge and inspiration gained. 

On Discipline, Fripp and Belew show no fear of early electronic experimentation, avant garde, spoken word, and traditional rock. Taking all these ideas and creating a coherent album shows true genius. Filled with modern classics, Thela Hun Ginjeet Is perhaps the most well-known, and features Belew’s famous monologue.

William Gowdy: Oh dear, looks like I am going to be the only dissenting voice. For the first time since I joined this group I am having trouble completing my homework assignment. In my imagination Thomas Dolby, David Byrne, a jazz quartet and a guitarist hung up on funk are locked in a room and told not to come out until they have made an album, this could well be the result. 

To make my feelings clear, if I was stuck on a desert island with only this record and Make It Big by Wham, you would find me singing along to Freedom while using this a plate for my dinner. Haven't struggled so much with an album since I bought Tarkus. Looks like I am not cut out for serious prog rock. Now, where did I put that Nick Heyward album?

Jonathan Novajosky: What a coincidence that this is the album of the week only a few weeks after I heard it for the first time. If I had to describe Discipline in one word, it would be "strange." But I mean that in mostly a good way. The Talking Heads comparison is definitely justified--there is an overall groovy sound to the album accompanied by strange lyrics. 

My favourite songs were Matte Kudasai for its soft, sweet vocals and Thela Hun Ginjeet for just being so weird. Elephant Talk has interesting and clever lyrics, but I find it to be a pretty annoying opener for the album. 

I can respect the hell out of this band and how much talent they have, but this album didn't blow me away by any means. I can understand how King Crimson fans would be divided on Discipline, but at the very least, I think the band did a commendable job in transitioning their heavy prog rock sound to a new decade. 6/10

John Davidson: Jazz Rock and Art Rock. Two sets of two words to chill the heart . Like pineapple on pizza, i recognise that other people seem to like it, but can't understand why.

Despite having a decades long love for 70s (and recent) prog I have never liked King Crimson They were too austere or just plain difficult to listen to compared to the more mainstream-friendly Yes, Genesis and Floyd. Discipline is somewhat more accessible - if approached from a Talking Heads do Prog sort of direction. Technically impressive in places, but rarely stirs the foot to tapping, far less setting the heart to pound.

I still can't imagine ever having cause to play it again, but I did enjoy the two or three listens through that I needed to feel I had done it justice enough to comment here. So while not my cup of tea, it beats the likes of Steve Miller hands down even if I am appreciating it as a work of art, far more than as entertainment.

James Last: Fantastic album! Probably my favourite King Crimson album out of the ones I've heard. It's hard to choose because they are all for the most part so different from each other. There isn't a bad song on it, and what sets them apart from a lot of the bands of their era is that the focus was still always firmly on composition first. 

Favourite tracks are Frame by Frame, Matte Kudasai and Indiscipline, but all are stellar. I have often wondered if Sting ripped off The Sheltering Sky for Tea In The Sahara, given the similar theme and atmosphere between the two tracks (even if that is all they both have in common!). An innovative masterpiece descended from a long line of innovated masterpieces!

Carl Black: What a peculiar album, that's not bad thing. They do it well. I can hear the sounds that have influenced so many bands I love. And bands that I really love. Bands such as Rush, Primus, Tool and Jane's Addiction. For every Elephant Talk, I want to listen to Tommy The Cat, for every Frame By Frame, I want to listen to The Grudge. And for every Sheltering Sky, I want to fall into Three Days

In fact, I will listen to those songs after I've written this review. The trouble is they have influenced these bands to well. And they've been completely eclipsed. They lack a bit of charisma too. And the singing is badly timed. Better if this was a instrumental album. This album is like a catwalk fashion show. Lots of ideas that others have perfected. Someone had to do it. And I salute them for it. But only this once and not again.

Roland Bearne: A very dear friend has been nudging me towards King Crimson for years. I do like a bit of prog I must confess. Rush is my absolute "church", Yes is a curate's egg, Spock's Beard et al are on the radar but for some reason I always found Crimson a bit daunting. No More! This is just wonderful. On first listening I had no blinking idea what was going on (Still don't, really!) but I was utterly compelled to listen to it over and over again. The playing, the production, the sheer musicality are just a joy. Finally, I'm in! 

Brian Carr: Albums like King Crimson’s Discipline are rather difficult for me to rate. The musicianship is an absolute 10, and it would be close to that sonically as well, but in my brief listening time this week, I struggled with the vocals. Elephant Talk had to be an influence on Primus, and I thought the lyrical content was great, but the delivery was borderline annoying.

I hope to listen again at least to get all the way through, but as much as I respect Adrian Belew, his vocals don’t quite inspire repeat listens from me, Matte Kudasai being an exception - that one is beautiful.

Final Score: 6.71 ⁄10 (176 votes cast, with a total score of 1181)

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