on 20 February 2000
Having got this far you can congratulate yourself on your excellent taste. You've done the difficult bit finding this CD. Now buy it. You won't want a complete history of the 30 years, and continuing, of King Crimson - see "The Rough Guide to Rock" - but a little background won't hurt. Robert Fripp is the only ever-present member of King Crimson. Between 1969 and 1974 they released seven sudio LPs, but then split for seven years. In 1981, Fripp recalled the drummer, Bill Bruford, from the line-up that made the excellent Red, and introduced not only Adrian Belew who had previously played guitar with Frank Zappa and Talking Heads, but also Tony Levin, who brought his considerable reputation, his weird "stick" guitar and his bass. Levin's mere (stage) presence meant that this band was likely to be special, even before he had played an idiosyncratic note. Fripp had never included another guitarist in Crimson, nor any Americans; now there were two. It is worth mentioning that Red has a preominantly black cover, whilst....see above. This is typical. Although the writing credits go to King Crimson, it seems likely that Fripp had already envisaged the overall sound on Discipline even before anything was formally written. No other combination of musicians could have come up with anything like this, for whilst the songs differ in tempo and purpose, there is a unifying sound which unfortunately is almost impossible to describe. This is not a case of 4 amazingly talented musicians trying to blow their colleagues off stage, or out of the studio. It's difficult to tell, apart from the percussion and the lead vocals, who is responsible for what, and this is made more difficult by the poineering use of the (Roland?) guitar synthesisers. The instruments intertwine like rapidly rotating cogs, the same phrases emerging, just slightly altered, with the result that the tunes seem to be going nowhere, except starting a nagging resonance from which there doesn't seem to be an easy escape. At times it's a cacophony, but one that has a plan. These are not, with the possible exception of Matte Kudasai, 'pop' songs, neither are they progressive, in the sense that they don't build up to thundering climaxes. They are something else, almost a new category, though I hesitate to use the term, more like soundscapes. Elephant Talk sets the tone, which is one of tension that runs throughout. Belew recites a list of synonyms for "talk" in alphabetical order, until he gets to "elephant talk" over a constantly bubbling backing. He gets closest to conventional singing on Frame by Frame - these two tracks could easily run into each other. On Matte Kudasai I'm reminded of lying in a hammock in The Far East, even though I've never done so. It's a brief interlude before the music starts to threaten again. Indiscipline must be about the madness that results from constant exposure to modern day pressure, and Thela Hut Ginjeet continues this theme, highlighted by Belew's nervous spoken passage. Both these tracks have their amusing moments, which serve to alleviate the overall threatening feel, and perhaps make them just bearable, although this is not, I repeat, easy listening. Sheltering Sky is calmer, the atmosphere could be pastoral African rather than the earlier references to Indonesia and the urban jungle. The lead instrument is probably guitar, although it sounds more like a saw! Finally there is Discipline, which is perhaps a typical Crimson instrumental, if there is such a thing, with a glance back to the band's earlier formations. At this stage Fripp had decided that a Larks Tongues in Aspic Part III would be one too many. Two albums later, on Three of A Perfect Pair, he'd changed his mind. Anyone seeking a more scholarly guide to the music on this album would do well to read the chapter on King Crimson IV in "Robert Fripp,From King Crimson to Guitar Craft", by Eric Tamm (faber&faber 1990). Of the three albums that this line-up made (Discipline, Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair) I have no doubt that this is by far the best. It's as though the band formed with the expressed purpose of making this album and then felt that they had a duty, to Fripp, their audience, or their bank managers, to make a couple more. King Crimson split again after the last of these, but re-emerged in 1994 with an augmented line-up that includes Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunn who form what is effectively a second rhythm section. There is, as yet, only one studio release, Thrak, which has its moments, but whilst the 'extra' players complicate the sound, I'm not convinced that it actually needs it, and after all this time in the business, I suspect that Fripp may have already produced his best work, so that the twin peaks of Red and Discipline are unlikely to be scaled again. Thrak is merely a milder form of Discipline!