Friday, July 30, 2010

King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black


Starless and Bible Black is a funny album in that there's considerably more mellotron than the albums that preceded it, and also for the fact that a lot of it was recorded live, with overdubs added later. I don't know whether studio time was too expensive, but it doesn't really sound too different than a regular studio album. Unfortunately, a lot of these tracks were improvised, and it shows- some of them just aren't very interesting, particularly the title track, which takes forever to get started, and the instrumentals on the first side aren't that great either. This is a a stark contrast to the actual songs, which are fairly well thought out and unusually catchy. My favorite song here is "The Night Watch," which is about the famous Rembrandt painting- I just love Fripp's unique guitar tone here.
My second favorite track here is the closing instrumental Fracture, which is by far the best of the instrumental tracks here. It wasn't improvised at all, which isn't too surprising because it actually builds up effectively instead of meandering around like the improvs on this album, and uses all kinds of weird instrumentation and unusual guitar effects (there's a triangle at one point). It's really a shame that so much of Starless and Bible Black is taken up with lame improvisation- there's some great music on this album, but most of the worthwhile stuff was well-planned out beforehand..

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

King Crimson - Larks' Tongues in Aspic


Lark's Tongues in Aspic has too much instrumental noodling on it. It doesn't come in doses quite as big as the infamous free jazz sequence on Moonchild, but it's common enough that it gets pretty annoying. Even the non-instrumental song "Book of Saturday" has a weird, tossed-off quality that I dislike. People who complain about prog songs taking forever to get started aren't going to have their minds changed by this album- Larks Tongues Pt. 1 and The Talking Drum are the big offenders here.
However, there's plenty of good stuff here as well. Fripp formed a completely new lineup, featuring John Wetton (most famously of Asia, but who was in about a million other bands) on bass and vocals, Bill Bruford of Yes on drums, David Cross on violin, and Jamie Muir on assorted percussion. The latter two aren't always used well (some of the violin and weird percussion noises just sound like the band was just throwing crap at the wall), but at other times, they're amazingly effective (Cross does a great job complementing Fripp in The Talking Drum). I also like Wetton's vocals a lot- he's not a great singer by any stretch of the imagination, but his voice has loads of personality (it's a shame that he would sound generic as hell by the time Asia formed).
Larks' Tongues in Aspic is one of those albums where one just has to appreciate how much experimentation is going on. There are some parts that just don't work, but the albums highs are good enough to make it a worthwhile experience.

Monday, July 26, 2010

King Crimson - Ladies of the Road


Ladies of the Road is another live album from the Boz Burrell era, and it's definitely an improvement on Earthbound. Ladies is split into two discs- the first is a bunch of regular songs, and this disc is pretty good- Formentera Lady is wisely shortened, Cirkus can't quite match up to the studio version, but makes a valiant attempt, slowing down the rhythm to make it sound more imposing. There's even a hilarious blues version of In the Court of the Crimson King at the end. There are a few changes I don't like, however (Boz pronouncing the middle syllable of "century" in Schizoid Man, the line "impaled on nails of ice" not being sung louder than the rest of the song).
Disc two is an interesting idea- it consists of nothing but solos from 21st Century Schizoid Man. Unfortunately, while this disc does a better job of presenting Crimson as noise rock than Earthbound, it just wears out its welcome after a while. Maybe it would've been fine at 20 or 30 minutes, but it gets kind of dull- the fact that the sound quality in some parts is only slightly better than Moonchild doesn't help. Still, the first disc is well worth checking out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Birthday break

My birthday is coming up in a few days, so I'm taking the week off. Peace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

King Crimson - Earthbound


From the liner notes:

"The recordings were captured live on an Ampex stereo Cassete fed from a Kesley Morris custom built mixer operated by John Robson and Hunter Macdonald on Schizoid Man and Groon and Hunter Macdonald on the other titles: at Jacksonville in the rain from the back of a Volkswagen truck. VCS3 operated by Hunter"

Earthbound has some of the worst sound quality I've heard in my life, to the extent that I'm amazed that it ever got released in the first place- and I have the cleaned up remaster! There's just so much noise that it's hard to take (although I'll grant that it makes Fripp's playing sound especially interesting at times, it wears out its welcome quickly). And far too much of the record is taken up by improvs that go nowhere- the Poseidon B-side "Groon" is stretched out to fifteen minutes, and Boz Burrell does some embarrassing scat singing and yelling in the improvised pieces "Peoria" and "Earthbound". Fripp mostly stays out of those two, as if he were embarrassed to take part, leaving most of the emphasis on Mel Collins' sax, and while he's a fine session musician, he's not much of an improviser, with most of his playing ending up dull or unpleasant to the ears.
This album reminds me of Van der Graaf Generator's "Vital" not so much in its sound (Vital focused on different arrangements of old songs while Earthbound focuses on improvisation) in that it's a disaster, but it's still pretty interesting and a departure from the band's studio work. Completists should definitely listen to this at least once.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

King Crimson - Islands


This is an album I don't listen to that often. The awesome dark atmosphere of the earlier King Crimson albums is replaced by dreariness- most of these songs are just slow and dull. It doesn't help that new singer Boz Burrell (later of Bad Company- now there's a band you wouldn't expect to see connected with KC) is just awful- his voice is just boring most of the time. There are a few parts where he sounds okay (the "IMPALED ON NAILS OF ICE" bit from "The Letters" is overdramatic but effective), but he has no personality at all for most of the time.
However, when Islands manages to get out of first gear, there are some decent moments- "Ladies of the Road" is ridiculously sleazy but enjoyable, and "The Sailor's Tale" is a pretty good noise/free jazz instrumental, while "Song of the Gulls" is a perfectly acceptable string-based piece. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album is just dreadfully dull and has almost no energy at all. I have to rate boring songs like "Formentera Lady" and "Islands" just a rung or two above Moonchild- they're too damn quiet, and go on way too long.
So yeah, this is probably my least favorite studio album by King Crimson. Only small parts of it even come close to working, and the rest of the album is just boring soft rock songs that go on forever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

King Crimson - Lizard


This album isn't too well liked, which is a shame because I think it's wonderful. It's very horn-heavy, and the songs' atmospheres range from dark (Cirkus) to epic (the titular suite, the only sidelength that King Crimson ever recorded) to sickly sweet (Lady of the Dancing Water) to quirky (Happy Family, Indoor Games). One of the reasons that this album gets panned so often is that Gordon Haskell did most of the vocals, and he's really, really not a good singer. His voice works fairly well on the opening song, Cirkus, where it fits in well with the dark lyrics and mellotron, but he just sounds goofy on most of the other tracks. The only other vocal performance I enjoyed on this album was a guest performance by Jon Anderson of Yes in the first part of the title track.
But the music is excellent. Lizard is a very fusion-esque album, and the title suite in particular has all sorts of lengthy instrumental passages that are dominated by reeds, brass and piano. If you're not into jazzy stuff, this will sound little better than the endless noodling in Moonchild, but if you're like me, you live for this shit.
NOTE: The 40th Anniversary remaster of this album is the one you need. I normally don't put much of an emphasis on remasters, but this one sounds like a completely redone version at times. Not all of the production changes work well (there are some vocal effects added to Happy Family that I didn't like), but they're great improvements in most cases.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Lovedrive

Some bands just don't have any luck when it comes to album covers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

King Crimson - In the Wake of Poseidon


In the Wake of Poseidon is kind of a mess. There wasn't much of a real band at this point- Greg Lake was leaving to form ELP, Michael Giles was just a session drummer, and Ian McDonald is nowhere to be found. Yet it's not completely terrible, even though it is a bit of a rehash of the first album. "Pictures of a City" uses vocal effects similar to Schizoid Man, the title track is basically a rewrite of Epitaph, and "The Devil's Triangle" does for noise what Moonchild did for silence.
Some of this material had already been written and performed live with the original lineup, and other tracks were specifically written for this release. Songs in the latter category include an okay song called "Cadence and Cascade" that's kind of spoiled by lame vocals (performed by Gordon Haskell, a childhood friend of Robert Fripp, probably because Lake wasn't available) and three acoustic toss-offs that go nowhere. "Cat Food" was written when McDonald was still in the band, but it's a humorous piano jazz piece that doesn't sound like anything on In the Court, and "The Devil's Triangle" is a lengthy avant-garde piece that's actually interesting (it samples from the first album! Sampling! In 1970!), even though not all of it works (it incorporates Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War, but it's a bit clunky; other bands would do a much better job of adopting classical pieces later on)
Despite the fact that Poseidon isn't too innovative, it's still pretty good and should do a decent job of whetting the appetite of anyone who loved the debut. It isn't quite essential, but it's still worth seeking out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King


The 30 seconds or so of ambient noise that introduce this album are one of my favorite parts. I can't help but imagine someone popping this into their record player in 1969 and wondering, "What the hell am I listening to?" This may not have been the first progressive rock album ever (depending on your definition of the genre, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum may have had King Crimson beaten), but it's definitely the most influential. It's really hard to talk about an album as famous as this one, because pretty much everything that can be said about it already has. Nearly all of the elements that would define progressive rock are here- long songs, mellotrons, fantasy-based lyrics (I just love Peter Sinfield's work here), and extended instrumental sections.
Of the five songs here, 21st Century Schizoid Man is an abrasive saxophone/guitar workout, I Talk to the Wind is a soft flute-based ballad, Epitaph is a mellotron-based epic, Moonchild is a decent mystical lo-fi song with a horrible eternity of free-jazz noodling tacked onto the end, and the title track is another mellotron-based piece.
The only real blemish here is the free jazz section on Moonchild, which is nine minutes long and has almost nothing going on in it. Several minutes of it would get chopped out in the 40th anniversary remaster (which I haven't heard); although some die-hards might cry out "FRIPP SHOT FIRST," but it doesn't bother me too much. I would definitely give this album a 10 if it weren't for that horrible, horrible stretch.
Fripp's guitar isn't that prominent one most of these tracks; most of the emphasis is on Ian McDonald's reeds and mellotron. He does a great job of playing the saxophone chaotically on Schizoid Man, creating tense mellotron soundscapes on Epitaph, and performing serene flute melodies on I Talk to the Wind. Unfortunately, he would leave the band shortly after this album, and his later career wasn't that great (I've heard that his album with drummer Michael Giles, who left KC at the same time, is pretty good; most surprisingly, he would go on to be a founding member of Foreigner!) Greg Lake also puts in some fine vocal performances; he, of course would go on to front Emerson, Lake and Palmer; unfortunately, he would leave after the band's second album. That left just Fripp and Sinfield as original band members (Sinfield was considered a member even though he never sang or played on record). One can only wonder how a more consistent lineup would have turned out.
Despite this, it's really amazing how well this album brings you into its world. It deserves all the acclaim it gets, and is an album that no one should be without.

Monday, July 5, 2010

King Crimson - Intro

King Crimson are one of the giants of progressive rock. Led by guitarist Robert Fripp, the band has gone through a myriad of lineups and musical genres. I first discovered the band through my college library's CD collection, which had their albums from Islands through Discipline. I hadn't had a whole lot of exposure to progressive rock at that point beyond Pink Floyd, so these albums really helped open my horizons. I can't say that all their albums are great, but I feel that some of them are incredibly underrated, especially among the internet music community.

NOTE: King Crimson has an absolutely obscene number of live releases, including the King Crimson Collectors' Club live albums, which rival the Grateful Dead's Dick's Pick's series in number. I will only be covering some of the live albums that the band has produced, but I've tried to cover most of the band's eras. I also will not be reviewing albums by the ProjeKcts which were released by subsets of band members during the 1990's.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Fly to the Rainbow

Under most circumstances, this would be the worst album cover of a band's career, but it's not too bad compared to Virgin Killer. But seriously, they put propellers on his feet? That can't be very aerodynamic.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guy Lafleur - Lafleur!


Even in a world where Shaquille O'Neal released enough albums to have a "Best of," it's still hard to believe that Lafleur! exists. Who thought it would be a good idea to have Guy Laleur read hockey tips over a disco beat? Who thought that this would end up being a massive crossover hit? One can't help but wonder if this album would even exist if not for the Canadian content requirements on radio stations up north.
But Lafleur! is certainly a riot. There's something I find inherently funny about French-Canadian accents- to me, they're just different enough from French-Canadian accents that they sound like the speaker is vaguely retarded. Lafleur reads his lines in a monotone, which clashes hilariously with the generic disco beats and female backing singers. And much of the advice is so blatantly obvious- Lafleur talks about how you have to shoot when you're in front of the net (as if anyone would shoot from behind the net).
There's also quite a bit of sexual innuendo, although I wouldn't be that surprised if that was unintentional (this album was released in both English and French). The track with the most of this is called "Scoring," which features the line "Remember, back-end shots are more difficult due to the curved stick."
Unfortunately, two of the album's six songs are just generic disco songs that happen to use hockey terminology, and Lafleur is nowhere in sight for them. Still, the other songs are amazingly entertaining.

Not surprisingly, this album is long out of print, so here's a link (thanks to Disco Delivery for the upload)