King Crimson - Reissues album review

Early-80s Crimson, bossed by Belew and beatnik-influenced

King Crimson Beat album cover

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Newly mixed by Steven Wilson with Robert Fripp, these reissues – which also appear in the box set On (And Off) The Road 1981-84 – exemplify the strengths and weaknesses of King Crimson’s 80s incarnation.

After the relative success of 1981’s Discipline, a tight-collared, pristine, new wave sound seemed to be working for Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford, even if its similarities to Talking Heads, with whom Belew previously played, were acute. Interlaced lines and retentive polyrhythms wilfully took the fun out of the art-funk. Belew’s somewhat yelpy voice is an acquired taste, though in fairness he was consistently stressed by Fripp insisting he write so much of the material.

On 1982’s Beat, he finds a recurring theme, referencing Ginsberg, Kerouac and the 25th anniversary of On The Road. The quartet loosen up a little, but not much, as it develops.

By the time of 1984’s Three Of A Perfect Pair, the divisions are explicit: one side is Belew’s jittery XTC-alike songs, while the other is free-form instrumentals, showcasing their neo-jazz and including Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part 3, Levin coming to the fore. The residual sense is that this music is easy to admire but hard to love.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.