Music News

CRIMSON TIDE

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By the next year, Crimson was in flux. In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard, from 1970, and 1971's Islands featured a variety of contributors, including Boz Burrell, a co-founder of Bad Company, but they simply didn't measure up to Court. In the bio, Fripp himself acknowledges that "it was probably not as radical an outfit as the others; the musicians were more linked to the tradition than myself, and were better partiers."

In other words, Fripp was unhappy with Crimson and decided to turn it upside down again. The results were 1973's Larks' Tongues in Aspic and 1974's Starless and Bible Black and Red, all three of which featured Wetton and Bruford, making his first Crimson appearances. The discs were more rigorous and interesting than their predecessors, in part because Bruford's complex beats propelled the music while avoiding mechanized or metronomic patterns. Red, in particular, was positively radical, an edgy, sometimes abrasive opus that influenced some rather unexpected performers. "This gent Kurt Cobain evidently called Red one of the seminal albums of his movement," Bruford notes. "And there are a number of other bands, such as Nine Inch Nails, with whom Adrian Belew has performed, Primus, the Rollins Band and so forth, that are going around indicating that King Crimson had something to do with their particular style of music. So we are in danger of becoming as fashionable as we've ever been."

At the time, however, Fripp was feeling trapped. No matter what he did musically, he still found himself lumped in with other acts for which he was fairly contemptuous. As he wrote in a 1993 letter to Vox magazine, "By 1974, the `movement' as a whole had been corrupted, diverted and gone irretrievably off-course...I believe I was the first person to use the term `dinosaur' to describe prog groups, in interviews during Autumn 1974 explaining why I was then quitting the music industry."

Fortunately, Fripp's retirement was short-lived. He worked with Brian Eno, whom he'd met after Bryan Ferry failed an audition for Crimson, on both 1976's Evening Star (a de facto sequel to the 1973 tape-loop classic, No Pussyfooting) and Discreet Music (an early experiment in ambience). Fripp also added his unique guitar stylings to two of David Bowie's best records (Heroes and Scary Monsters), Talking Heads' tremendous Fear of Music and the first three solo discs (all brilliant) by former Genesis leader Peter Gabriel; he also produced the second of these pieces, as well as a pair of excellent packages by the Roches. Exposure, an extremely worthy 1979 solo project, subsequently led to two more records that listed his name above the title (1980's God Save the Queen and 1981's Let the Power Fall) and 1981's League of Gentlemen, by a dance band of the same name in which Fripp's tricky, precise picking was transformed into a sweeping rhythmic device.

The last recording spurred Fripp to contact Belew (who'd played with Bowie and Talking Heads), Bruford and Levin; this grouping, he thought, could take the League of Gentlemen approach to a higher level. He originally intended to call the quartet Discipline, but during rehearsals, he came up with a better moniker: King Crimson. Belew, Levin, Bruford and Fripp proved to be among the sturdiest collectives to wear the Crimson tag, staying the course for three years and producing three provocative and deeply gratifying efforts: 1981's Discipline (highlighted by the surprisingly accessible "Elephant Talk"), 1982's Beat (kicked off by Belew's best recorded moment, on "Neal and Jack and Me") and 1984's Pair (erratic by comparison, but worthy of attention for the sprawling "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III").

And then, as abruptly as this version of Crimson had coalesced, Fripp shattered it. Even today, Bruford isn't sure what caused Fripp to take this step. "The band has always managed to implode just as it kind of scales the American Top 40," he says. "I have no reason why that should be. No doubt Fripp has his reasons."

One of the obstacles for Fripp was warfare with EG Management, which had handled Crimson since 1969. It took several years of legal wrangling to disconnect himself from the company's tentacles, and even though he's now free, he insisted that Bruford also sever relations with EG. Bruford didn't share Fripp's anger at EG, but he acquiesced anyhow. "I had no problem doing that," he notes. "Managers are a dime a dozen. So now the firm's no longer in the picture." Other complications included Levin's commitments to Peter Gabriel, Belew's solo career and Fripp's own promise to work with ex-Japan leader David Sylvian; the Fripp-Sylvian CD The First Day turned out to be among 1993's finest.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts