- Vancouver, British Columbia - With the dissolution of King Crimson in 1974, the band members went their separate ways and continued to be active in the music industry with varying levels of success. Having Crimson on their resume was considered a badge of honour as the band was notoriously difficult to work in, both as a test of skill and on a personal level. Bill Bruford and John Wetton were the last members of the band to play with Robert Fripp on their last album Red. The two of them would go on to have success elsewhere in the music industry. Fripp on the other hand, had decided to leave the music world.
His departure was strangely well timed, though it was unknown to many in the music world at the time. Progressive rock, as the 1970s continued, had expanded quite a bit and many of the leading bands in the genre gained popularity to the point where it was all becoming a little bit ridiculous. Live shows from top acts such as Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes were getting too busy, self indulgent, and pretentious. The main problem was that the crowds were no longer connecting with the music. Most of the progressive acts of that era either dissolved or had to completely reinvent themselves to survive, but due to King Crimson ceasing to exist before this Prog-implosion, they were left with dignity and sense of reverence remained. Doesn't hurt that Fripp and company didn't really seem concerned with super stardom in the first place.
England could no longer connect with these extravagant shows and rich musicians that Progressive Rock had to offer because the majority of people had become extremely poor. Thus, Punk Rock was born and complex time signatures and outlandish riffs were replaced by three chords and screaming vocals. Acts like The Sex Pistols and The Clash would rise to fame and of course implode themselves eventually, but that's neither here nor there.
Having foreseen the economic collapse of his home country, Robert Fripp found himself in the United States in New York with a complete absence from the music industry for three whole years. He had no intention of returning. However, in June 1977 he received a call from his former collaborator, Brian Eno who was working on an album with David Bowie. Bowie asked if Fripp would be willing to help out on the album because they felt they needed something more with the guitar on some of the songs. Fripp admitted that he hadn't played guitar in three years, but agreed to join them if they were still interested. Bowie sent him first class tickets to Berlin, Germany. There he recorded on several well known tracks on Bowie's “Heroes” including the title track.
Around the same time, Fripp was approached by Peter Gabriel who had left Genesis. The two had met several years before in 1974 and had become personal friends. Gabriel asked if Fripp would be willing to play on his first solo album, which Fripp agreed to do provided that he could leave after three days if it wasn't working. Fripp didn't feel like it was working, but stayed through the sessions more as a personal friend and support. Just a year later, Fripp was asked to play on and this time produce Gabriel's second album, which he did. At this point Fripp would be quite active in the music world, producing albums like Daryl Hall's Sacred Songs and playing with bands like Blondie and Talking Heads.
Exposure - 1979
Over a year's period Fripp would go on to recording with various musicians to put together his first solo studio album. Exposure was the end result and would be released in January 1979. His vision for the album was much more grand than just that release as he linked it with some of the other albums he produced. It shares several songs with Sacred Songs and Peter Gabriel's second album, though these versions are different. I quite like the ambition of the cross over albums, even though it didn't pan out as Fripp had envisioned, particularly due to resistance from Daryl Hall's management who feared that such a move could damage Hall's commercial appeal.
I enjoy Exposure as it has a very eclectic sound and often doesn't resemble King Crimson, with some exceptions. It takes a lot of cues from the punk rock scene as well as taking inspiration from the classic rock of the 1950s, while maintaining Fripp's intellectual approach to music. It is very much a departure from the sort of music he was making with Brian Eno before his break, so it became clear that he was interested in getting back into rock music.
Exposure, while good, is a very uneven album and doesn't appear to have a very specific goal in mind. Individually, these songs are very good, if not a bit abrasive at times, but as a whole the album doesn't really completely satisfy me. It's no surprise that it's uneven though, considering the diverse collection of contributors. Daryl Hall and Peter Gabriel have some tracks with co-writing credits and both sing on it. Phil Collins contributes on the drums on a number of songs. Brian Eno plays the synthesizer and what is of note to me is that Tony Levin plays the bass on the whole album. While that isn't overly surprising because Levin was a strong presence in the session musician scene, I wasn't aware that he collaborated with Fripp this early in their careers. More on that later.
What I do appreciate about this album is the collaborative aspect of it and that it links with other releases of the era. It's fascinating hearing some different versions of the same songs in a different context. The title track, “Exposure,” is on Peter Gabriel's second album and I appreciate both versions more because of this. I'm intrigued by the context of the music and its era as much as the songs themselves and I enjoy the multi-level experience that this album provides. It's a great time capsule as to where Robert Fripp was at musically and personally.
Fripp also meanwhile had another musical project that he put together called The League of Gentlemen, which he felt had some limitations. Either after or during the Drive to 1981 tour that accompanied the Exposure album, he began to put together a new band that could go further than his other musical endeavours.
He contacted his old Crimson band mate, Bill Bruford about starting a new band and was met with a great deal of enthusiasm. The next person they contacted was Adrian Belew, a unique guitarist who had recorded and toured with both Frank Zappa and David Bowie. Fripp had seen him play when he opened for The League of Gentlemen while they were on tour. Belew was working with and touring with Talking Heads who were promoting their album Remain in Light, which Belew played on, though wasn't an official member of the band. He agreed to try out the new band after he fulfilled his commitments with Talking Heads. Fripp also brought in Tony Levin, a bass guitar player who had worked with Peter Gabriel on all of his albums at that point, as well as Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Paul Simon and John Lennon. He had already at this point garnered an impressive resume. This, however, was a big step for Levin as, although he was a very adept musician, hadn't really taken on the challenge of songwriting before.
The four musicians get together to rehearse and started making some new material. They were called Discipline and just after three weeks of working together, they started to play some live shows and were met with very positive reviews. Robert Fripp started to feel something stir with this group of musicians and began to suspect that this was the latest incarnation of King Crimson if they all agreed that it would be. He hesitated because of the amount of attention it would bring if he were to resurrect the name King Crimson, but he pitched the name change to them anyway and they felt it worked for the kind of music they were making. King Crimson was active again after seven years.
Discipline – 1981
Robert Fripp – Guitar
Adrian Belew – Guitar and Vocals
Tony Levin – Bass and Chapman Stick
Bill Bruford – Drums
The return of King Crimson was extraordinarily well timed for a number of reasons and I don't know if it was intentional or not. The music world had changed since the band departed in 1974 and it was changing again. Punk music had take over, but was now dying off for a number of reasons. Leaders of the genre like The Sex Pistols were no longer and The Clash was dissolving also. Punk music was transforming into New Wave, which is comparable in structure, but New Wave was more commercially viable and glossy, driven more by synthesizers than three guitar chords and attitude. The rawness of Punk music and the attitude was not present, but it had other charms to it and had great innovators in the field also. The new King Crimson's vision had parallels to New Wave, but they wanted to take the ordinary and do it a little differently.
There were several key elements to this new Crimson that made it stand out from its peers, as well as previous incarnations of the band. First, this was the first time that there were two guitarists, which was a new for Robert Fripp. This allowed for more complex arrangements in the compositions. Tony Levin would also not use the bass guitar on the majority of the songs, instead, he would play the Chapman Stick, a ten stringed instrument that had both bass and treble range. And also, Bill Bruford would temporarily put aside his old traditional drum kit in favour of a new electronic drum kit, which also lent to a wide range of sounds and arrangements. At this point, the mellotron was no longer a part of King Crimson's music, but it no longer fit the lighter style that this band possessed. Fripp would instead incorporate his Frippertronics technique, involving tape loops, which he developed with Brian Eno not long after the band broke up in 1974.
The first album of this new King Crimson would be Discipline, which took its name from the band's previous title. This time the lyrics would be contributed by Adrian Belew making it the first time their lyricist was a musician within the band itself. The recording of the album was not put together in a studio in the traditional fashion in which all the parts are played separately and layered on top of one another, but most of the tracks were conceptualized, rehearsed for several weeks, and then recorded together live, but in a studio where slight adjustments would be made afterwards. It lends a strong sense of spontaneity to the music which recalls much of the earlier work of the heavily improvised versions of King Crimson from the 1970s, though what is different is that, for the most part, the songs are relatively short. While the Crimson of old would have ten minute long jams, the songs on Discipline were not much longer than pop songs of the era.
It opens with “Elephant Talk,” which introduces us instantly to the more playful sound of this band. Tony Levin opens with a dizzying display of prowess on his Chapman Stick, with a quick fingered intro before the other players come in and add their layers to the song. Fripp adds quick guitar riffs while Belew tinkers around with quirky effects, including one that sounds like an elephant. Well, enough like an elephant that you know what it's supposed to be. It's a great introductory song to the band.
“Frame By Frame” is a song that really soars and is easily my favourite from the album. It's the one that I can keep coming back to over and over and is still rewarding. It's starts with a fast paced stream of notes from the fingers of Robert Fripp paired with chords from Belew. This is one of those cases where they are showing off their skills, and I think it shows they have every right to, as well as a song that truly shows the cooperation and intensity of these players. Reading reviews of Discipline, “Frame By Frame” gets glossed over quite often and I'm not sure why. For me, it's one of the focal points of the album. Where “Elephant Talk” was a playful introduction, this song shows them as a force to be reckoned with, to stimulate on an emotional and intellectual level. The rest of the album builds on this.
After that there is “Matte Kudasai,” which means “Please Wait” in Japanese. It's a decidedly slower track, which is a breath of air after the previous two energetic tunes. It is a chance to hear the band pull the reigns in a bit. It actually recalls the song “North Star” from Robert Fripp's Exposure. There are some very clear parallels between the two so perhaps Fripp didn't feel that “North Star“ reached its full potential. This one feels more fleshed out and refined and leaves me more satisfied. It shows King Crimson's more romantic side, leaving the listener with a sense of longing and distance. It's a really lovely song.
“Indiscipline” is a drastic change from that though. It's a harsh and disjointed song, jolting from a moody, slow narrative to a chaotic rock section. This is where Bill Bruford really gets to shine as he breaks from the expectations that a more typical rock might have. He draws a lot of attention to himself and intentionally so. It is to contrast the title track, but more on that later. This song is one of the more unique offerings that Discipline has to offer and seems really crucial to the vision of the album. It finishes the first side of the album.
The second side starts with “Thela Hun Ginjeet,” which is an anagram for “heat in the jungle.” It's about crime on city streets and while writing the lyrics, Adrian Belew went out for some field research with a tape to record his musings. He had an unfortunate run in with an intimidating group of Rastafarians and he escaped unharmed only to bump into two police officers who gave him a really rough time. Eventually they let him go and when he returned to the other band members he was shaken up and told them his story, which was recorded without him knowing it. And the recording of his story is added in the song and really helps flesh out the subject of the song. Musically, the song is carried by the groove of Tony Levin's bass, while the two guitarists play so well together that one might not know where one begins and the other ends. It really is the narrative that makes the song though.
“The Sheltering Sky” is the longest track at over eight minutes long and is another slower and more contemplative song. I didn't like it very much at first for a few reasons, but it has grown on me quite a bit over the years. The howling Frippertronics sections don't bother me like they used to, though I can still hear how they would be abrasive to a first time listener. Those harsher moments allow the calm moments of the song to be that much more effective. Bruford's percussion and Belew's strumming are calming and absorbling. It's a really great atmospheric track that rewards the patient listener.
The final track on the album is the title track “Discipline,” which gets to be more and more fascinating the more I hear it. In contrast with “Indiscipline” the two songs were quite aptly named, being the antithesis of one another. While the other one brought much attention to itself with obvious changes in sound, going from calm to blaring in moments, this track is much more... disciplined. The changes within happen quite subtly so with a single listen, one might not hear anything happen very often. But if you take the time to really listen to the song, you can pick up on subtle changes. This song doesn't feature a whole lot of solos, so no one gets the spotlight, but it is one of the best displays of how well this King Crimson plays as a unit. This is where having more than one guitarist becomes a real asset to the band. They describe the song writing to reflect more Asian gamelan music, which differs from western music in that it isn't as much about meshing chords together, but rather having a series of notes played by one player then the next. It's not to layer the music so much as one has to wait their turn... and this happens at a very rapid rate. It's as if the players are interlocked instead of stacked on one another.
Discipline is a great success. It is loyal to the spirit of King Crimson, allowing great intricacies into a newer, more accessible sound. I would imagine that to some fans of the old Crimson, it might have not been met with much enthusiasm, but in retrospect some of the choices made by this band make a lot of sense and forever shape the direction of the band. It seems like it was the King Crimson that the 1980s needed. There is a real sense of adventure in the album and they don't seem the least bit intimidated by the challenges they face. In fact, it feels like the challenge is what fuels their energy. It's an eclectic collection of songs; it accomplishes a lot in just seven tracks. Personally, I enjoy the album immensely. It was one of the first albums I heard as a whole by the band and this era can act as a good starting point for the hesitant listener. Discipline is essential listening to those interested in journeying into King Crimson's music.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes