As an album this was brave in many ways; new line-up, new instruments and ambitious experiments with sound that certainly differs from the sound of earlier albums such as ‘Red’ and ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. Therefore, it is fair to call this a true example of ‘prog’ rock due to Fripp’s determination to progress the sound of King Crimson within their own catalogue but also in the wider world of music generally. It’s not their best album but it comes close and is certainly among the best Belew-era album
The first track ‘Elephant Talk’ introduces Levin’s Chapman Stick to the world through a very funky riff that drives the song throughout. The more electronic sound of the stick, that can be likened to a keyboard, gives it a very cool electronic bass sound and it works very well in the context of this song. The other notable feature of this song that exemplifies the albums experimental tendencies is Belew’s manipulation of the guitar to create elephant like noises – very cool indeed. Belew experiments with guitar sound throughout the album; in the chorus of ‘Frame by Frame’, he uses a combination of the whammy bar and striking the strings above the nut to make the guitar screech and wail. Likewise, in ‘The Sheltering Sky’ Belew creates what is known as the ‘windstorm and clouds’ sounds with his guitar aided by a series of pedals. It is nice to have the mystery of trying to figure out who or what is creating such strange effects on a song rather than being able to pick out the predictable sounds we are all used to.
‘The Sheltering Sky’ is the longest track and probably the most experimental on the album; as well as Fripp and Belew’s creation of abnormal guitar sounds, Bruford adds to the mystery of the song through the use of a very African sounding slit drum. The song definitely isn’t a long King Crimson epic, but its ambiguity is certainly thought-provoking. The other track that is perhaps quite ambiguous is ‘Indiscipline’ which has only two main sections, but their complete juxtaposition makes the song so interesting to listen to. The song goes from being a loud wall of noise, drums crashing and guitars wailing; then suddenly everything cuts out and we hear only Levin playing a menacing line on the Chapman Stick underneath Belew talking. A very long guitar trill takes us back into the chaos of the song – the repetition of these contrasting sections is relentless.
My favourite song from the album has got to be ‘Frame by Frame’. Fripp’s impressively speedy guitar playing in the instrumental section is like being hit by a machine gun. Likewise, I am also in awe of the polyrhythms created in the next section which always makes my head spin when I listen to it. This song also showcases Belew’s voice the best on the album as on the other songs he adopts a more unusual vocal style which involves a 50/50 combination of singing and talking in songs, such as in ‘Elephant Talk’.
‘Matte Kudasai’ also does justice to Belew’s fantastic voice, a much more mellow track that gives the listener a break from the heavy experimentation of the rest of the album. The whale-like guitar sounds are very ethereal and almost sound quite distant from the rest of the music. Although it’s not as ground-breaking, it’s probably the most beautiful.
Despite the opinion that ‘Thela Hun Ginjeet’ is a highlight from this album, it’s not as strong as other songs from the album. It’s very catchy but for me it’s too repetitive and is quite average in amongst a set of songs that are more ambitious in my opinion.
‘Discipline’ showcases just how well Fripp and Belew work together as guitarists, they play a complex dual guitar part seamlessly throughout the song which makes for an impressive result. Again, it’s not a song I am instantly drawn to but at least with this one I can appreciate it more for its complexity and ambition.
Overall, this has become one of my favourite King Crimson albums, the interplay between the musicians is evident on nearly every song. Fripp’s choice to bring in Belew and Levin was a wise one as they both bring so many ideas to the table; Levin adds the great sound of the chapman stick to the album, giving it a distinctive colour while also creating some catchy bass lines. Furthermore, the album is made even greater by Belew’s experimental guitar effects and vocal techniques that give this album a unique sound.
Written by Dominic Sanderson