Sunday, January 29, 2012

Red in the face

King Crimson. Were it not for the Beatles, these cool cats would be my favorite band. To even begin to explain this band would take alot more than just a brief bio. Everything must be brought into context. So let's start in 1967. A year of of Vietnam conflict and U.S. peace protests. A year where a genre that would be known as progressive rock was born.

Progressive rock is a genre that can be traced all the way back to Sgt. Pepper. What the Beatles were doing was stretching the musical vocabulary as far as it could go. It's not like they weren't doing this before with Rubber Soul & Revolver. But when the gonzo section of A Day In the Life came on, you knew they weren't fuckin' around. I'm sure anyone who has proper logic can agree to this. Two years later, a band by the name of King Crimson released an iconic album- In the Court of the Crimson King. Spearheaded by Robert Fripp, the Crim were a group of musicians that layed the foundations for countless other bands.

Bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, Rush, and Van Der Graaf Generator would soon follow in their footstps. Not unlike the filmmakers of the 70's (Scorsese, DePalma, Coppola, Friedkin), these musicians had one goal: push the envelope. Going into the 70's, you had the bands drop such classics as Selling England By the Pound, Close to the Edge, Thick As A Brick, and Pawn Hearts. Albums that consisted of 20 minute epics, constant time changes and complex rhythms. Pink Floyd could even be lumped into this category.

When 1974 hit, Yes would release a double LP consisting of four songs. Each clocking in at the 20 minute mark. Critics called it pretentious. Long winded. Bloated. & every other snide comment you can think of. Peter Gabriel of Genesis going up on stage and dressing up as a flower wasn't exactly a solution to these criticism either. To use to the film comparison again, Pauline Kael would describe a film called 2001 as a pretentious borefest.

At that time Crimson were in the secon dphase of their career. My personal favorite- the John Wetton era. One that was bursting with improv sets that would make Jerry Garcia blush. Larks Tongues In Aspic & Starless and Bible Black were released. Right before the last gig of the 73-74 era lineup, David Cross left the band, leaving them as a trio. They went into the studio to record Red and decided to bring in musicians from Crimson's past: mainly Mel Collins and Ian McDonald on saxophone. The resulting album is a unique blend of the 73-74 era band's sound but mixed with the older In the Court of the Crimson King sound. Several musicians including Kurt Cobain would go onto cite Red as an album of enormous influence.

Fripp would choose to pull the plug on this incarnation. Crimson would lay dormant until the early 80's.

So along comes 1977 and a band called The Sex Pistols debut. Punk had arrived. With it, the proverbial axe to the prog rock genre. This wouldn't last long however. Prog rock would experience a revival of sorts. Albeit in the underground music scene. Bands like Marillion & IQ would become legends of the 80's Neo-Prog rock genre. At the same time this was going on, the 70's proggers Genesis & Yes would go the way of the radio. Releasing hits like Owner of A Lonely Heart and the Patrick Bateman favorite In Too Deep. Don't get me wrong, I dig some of the Collins-era Genesis, but seeing these bands who once played 10 minute songs turn into radio can get under the skin. It's a regression.

1981 hits and Fripp decides to kickstart the Crim engine into overdrive. Enlisting former Talking Heads member Adrien Belew to the cause. Fripp's decision to axe the band in the mid 70's was in many ways wise. They basically evaded the punk rock scene and went the way of new wave bands like Talking Heads. Incorporating jungle- like rhythms into their ever expanding musical pallette. It was more as opposed to gloss and glamour. Fripp's philosophy was that when King Crimson had nothing more to say musically, they would stop until they actually had something to say. A philosophy that he still sticks to. So around 1984, the 80's lineup would bow out.

After ten years, Crimson would reform. They would bring their harder-edged tendencies that they experimented with in the 70's to the fore. This time with a little more modern sound. There's even ingredients from their 80's era sound in songs like Dinosaur. Thrak would be the one album released in the 90's. Coming into the new millennium, this lineup would release The ConstruKction of Light and go on tour with Tool in 2001. A band that has stated several time just how influential King Crimson are to them. So in 2003, these 60 year old musicians would drop an album called The Power to Believe. An album as heavy as anything in Tool's catalog.

The band hasn't released an album since. But I still am hoping they have at the very least, one more album in them.

This genre of progressive rock or 'prog' was never one that gained alot of mainstream appeal. Don't expect to hear Close to the Edge playing in any hipster coffee shops anytime soon... (Something I'm very thankful for). With the exception of Pink Floyd & Genesis, you won't find any of the aforementioned bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then again, you won't find Rush, Warren Zevon, Link Wray, Iron Maiden or Deep Purple in there either. Further proof on how much of a fucking joke that place really is.

King Crimson is a band that has always strived for musical progress. Which I must stress above all else. Progressive rock is a hell of a lot more than playing a thousand miles an hour and having songs clock in at half an hour. This is probably why I love the genre yet also hate some of the new bands that are misguided about what it really means to be progressive. Radiohead going from OK Computer to Kid A is progressive. Metallica going from And Justice For All and winding up somewhere with St. Anger is not.

Besides, all you need to know is this: Christina Ricci danced to KC's Moonchild. & what's good for her should be good for you too.

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