King Crimson - Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) album review

These Crimson Kings continue to confound and surpass expectations

King Crimson - Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) album cover

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This latest incarnation of Robert Fripp’s touring band has been well presented via two recent live releases, yet Crimson fans should prepare themselves for Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) upping the ante. For completists, the three CDs (and accompanying Blu-ray/DVD discs) here bring together every track performed live by the band since 2014, giving us about seven extra tunes absent from the previous couple of albums.

The songs include compositions written specifically for this line-up, such as Suitable Grounds For The Blues and Radical Action II, and older works in the shape of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part Two and The Talking Drum. In addition, with audience noise expunged completely, this almost becomes a lovingly recorded ‘live in the studio’ triple album, with added concert hall ambience.

Unfamiliar twists invite exploration and expansion.

As Prog’s own Dom Lawson has reflected, this line-up is “part wholesale reinvention, part meticulous refinement”, and that’s firmly restated by the Radical Action… collection. Familiar Crimson cuts such as Larks’ Tongues… Part One, Red and Easy Money are given unfamiliar twists and invite both febrile exploration and thoughtful expansion, while new compositions are injected with the same self-assurance and attitude afforded to tunes over four decades old.

The range and contrast possible with this band are also well delineated, with drummers Harrison, Mastelotto and Rieflin helping to propel the metric meanderings and menace of tracks like Radical Action II, Level Five or One More Red Nightmare, which so effortlessly give way to the languid lament of The Light Of Day or the sublime ache of Epitaph, with Mel Collins’ sax or flute flourishes.

One of the more ingenious tricks the band pull off is the manner in which challenging, fresh interpretations of so many classics are presented, while retaining so much of what made them classic in the first place. While the ‘reimagining’ of some tracks provides a jolt, there’s also comfort in hearing the strains of Mellotrons, or Jakko Jakszyk performing the vocals to songs like In The Court Of The Crimson King and 21st Century Schizoid Man with such deference to the originals.

With minimal whistles and bangs, the video components add further perspectives: honest documents of stellar musicians doing their jobs with conviction. Fripp is masterful, of course – a largely impassive, still presence, seated in his equipment-littered cockpit, just occasionally allowing himself a sly smile: moments that betray just how well he thinks it’s all going, perhaps, or just imagining how to ensure his next project will shake everything up… again.

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Gary Mackenzie

Gary has contributed reviews and news features for Prog Magazine for over a decade now. A fan of prog and heavy rock since childhood, his main areas of interest are classic and symphonic prog, prog-metal and modern acts bringing in fresh influences to the genre. He has a professional background in youth and community work, he teaches drum kit in schools and is a working musician. Gary was the drummer in semi-legendary NWOBHM band Praying Mantis for a couple of years and has been a member of indie-prog-pop-art-rock combo The Mighty Handful for more than twenty years. He loves cats and skiing, and has a Blue Peter badge.