If King Crimson fans were shocked, stunned and grief-stricken when the seminal art-rock group was disbanded by its only original founding member, guitarist Robert Fripp
, in September 1974seemingly at the height of its power and prowessthen it's certain that many of them didn't exactly know what to make of Exposure
(DGM Live) in 1979. After continuing to hone the tape-driven Frippertronics that he innovated with ex-Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno, on the equally seminal No Pussyfooting
(DGM Live, 1973), Fripp had embarked on a series of solo tours that aligned with his new model of the "small, intelligent, mobile working unit." But the guitarist's first flat-out solo record was a strange combination of tracks seemingly cut, satisfyingly, from the same weighty, nuevo-metal cloth of Crimson's swan song, Red
(DGM Live, 1975), as well as (for most prog heads) shudder-inducing vocal tracks that captured a different kind of unbridled energy, that of the punk and subsequent new wave movements of the mid-to-late '70s.
So, when a new Crimson incarnation was announced with the release of Discipline
(EG, 1981)titled with what was initially to be the group's name until, for the first but, by no means the last time in the three decades to come, Fripp decided that it had the elusive "Crimson gene"it was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that Crimheads came out of their mid-'70s time warp to see what this groundbreaking art rock band would sound like, at the start of a new decade.
There were some significant changes. For the first time, Crimson was not an English band. Other than returning über-drummer from mid-'70s Crim, Bill Bruford
, the balance of the group was Americanex-jazzer, pop session ace and unshakable groove-meister Tony Levin
on bass and stick; and Adrian Belew
, David Bowie and Talking Heads), a singer who had the uncanny ability to make his guitar sound like virtually anything
also making this the first double-guitar Crim. All vestiges of the symphonic group that defined new territory with In the Court of the Crimson King
(DGM Live, 1969) were gone along with its mellotrons, and the heavy thunder of the improv-heavy group that released Starless and Bible Black
(DGM Live, 1974) and Red
had, if not exactly lightened up, certainly changed its focus in a significant way.
If anything, Discipline
was the album that, more than any that came before it, made clear that King Crimson wasn't a certain sound or style; it was an approach, a methodology, a philosophy
. Fripp's playing had undergone its own paradigm shift in years between 1975 and 1981. The silky sustain of "21st Century Schizoid Man" was largely gone, and while he was still capable of crunching, overdriven power, Fripp had also begun to incorporate nascent guitar synth technology and an overall broader sonic palette of effects; still, it was the combination of the Crimson co-founder's studied, academic approach with Belew's greater extremes of visceral, reckless abandon that gave King Crimson, circa 1981, its own distinct sound.
Levin's sticka tapped instrument with 8, 10 or 12 strings (depending on the version)was capable of carrying a bass line while, at the same time, becoming an additional chordal or contrapuntal partner for Fripp and Belew on the upper end of the instrument. And Bruford had gained considerable additional confidence after a string of albums as a leader, including Feels Good to Me
(EG, 1978) and One of a Kind
(EG, 1979), and by 1981 was at a creative peak as he, too, began to incorporate technological advancements in the area of electronic drums.
It would have been an entirely different experience, had Discipline
been released with the original running order, found as one of the many bonus features on this 40th Anniversary Series
edition's DVD, rough mixes from the original 1981 recording sessions that, rather than starting with the eminently catchy "Elephant Talk," open with the gamelan-influenced instrumental title track, followed by the incendiary "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and the gently ambling "Matte Kudesai," before the Levin-driven "Elephant Talk" finally surfaces. The equally easygoing"The Sheltering Sky," comes next, followed by the metrically challenging yet absolutely grabbing "Frame By Frame," with the original proposed rundown closing with the hard-edged "Indiscipline"one of four vocal tracks also making clear that, with Belew penning the lyrics, this
Crimson had completely distanced itself from Peter Sinfield's flowery poetry or Richard Palmer-James' more direct but ultimately forgettable prose. Instead, Belew was capable of fascinating imagery, but in a most modern sense, as well as a stronger sense of narrative that was closer in complexion to songsmiths like Talking Heads' David Byrne in its clear appreciation of the beat poetssomething that would surface even more fully on Crimson's 1982 follow-up, the aptly titled Beat
Belew's vocal style has, since the emergence of Discipline
, endured endless comparisons to Byrne, but such comparisons are superficial, at best. Yes, he delivers the alliterative lyrics of "Elephant Talk" with a similar narrative style, more spoken word than singing, but the quirky, idiosyncratic Byrne would simply never have been capable of delivering "Matte Kudesai" with the same soft lyricism.
As knotty and complex as Discipline
is under the hood, its booty-shaking grooves were indicative of another fundamental shift. King Crimson had become a dance band---albeit a weird-ass one that, over the next few years, asked its fans to move their feet in 21, amongst many other odd meters. As great as Talking Heads was, it could never have navigated the irregular and mixed-metered polyrhythmic complexities of "Thela Hun Ginjeet," where its strummed 7/8 guitar chords are layered over a 4/4 pulse from Levin and Belew. Nor could Byrne and company manage or the interlocking guitar parts of "Frame By Frame," where Fripp and Belew begin in unison but, with one of them then dropping one beat from the 14-note pattern, ultimately diverging into two lines that gradually split apart, only to gradually rejoin in unison after 26 barsof seven, that iswith the kind of mathematical precision clearly informed by gamelan, by way of minimalist composer Steve Reich
As with the entire 40th Anniversary Series
which also includes the concurrent release of Starless and Bible Black
(DGM Live, 2011)Discipline
's lucent new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes by Fripp and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, combined with a bevy of bonus material, make it an important revisit and reaffirmation of yet another classic Crimson record. In addition to the rough mixes in original order, there's the 30th anniversary mix, including the alternate version of "Matte Kudesai" with Fripp as the soloist; a selection of vocal loops, created by Belew for use on "The Sheltering Sky" (all the more impressive, back in the pre-digital, pre-sampling days); alternate mixes of "The Sheltering Sky" and a completely instrumental version of "Thela Hun Ginjeet," rendered by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson alone"; The Terrifying Tale of Thela Hun Ginjeet," a composite first released on the 2008 King Crimson Tour Box
(DGM Live) CD; and a 12" dance mix of "Elephant Talk" that supports the group's move into dance territory. There's also some video concert footage, courtesy of The Old Grey Whistle Test
, including early performances of "Elephant Talk," "Frame By Frame" and "Indiscipline."
But when all the bonus material is seen and heard, it's Wilson and Fripp's mixes that make this 40th Anniversary Series edition the definitive one. They don't try to reinvent the music; instead, through painstaking attention to detail, Wilson and Fripp reveal everything that's always there, just not always heard, and on a soundstage more three-dimensional than it's ever been.
With the series at about the halfway mark, with five more titles (six, if Fripp changes his mind to include 2000s' The ConstruKction of Light), it's already surpassed many groups in the burgeoning market of remix/remaster/resell that seems to be the next money grab. Wilson's work hereand with his own Porcupine Tree cataloghas been so outstanding as to make this singer/songwriter/guitarist an in-demand remix engineer for everything from Caravan's Canterbury classic, In the Land of Grey and Pink (Deram, 1971) to Jethro Tull's classic Aqualung (Chrysalis, 1971). But his best work so far remains this 40th Anniversary Series, and if all of them have been superb, then Discipline stands out, along with Lizard, Islands and Starless and Bible Black, as entries which reveal so much more that they've finally become the albums they were always intendedand destinedto be.