I have to be very careful about how I word this review, lest the zealots lynch me. While many would argue King Crimson is what prog rock is all about, to me the band has done very little of importance for the past 20 years, and nothing of any true brilliance since their classic early period (‘69-‘74). And if you are enraged by these statements, be assured that my rating for this album would be a half star lower if not for the band’s rightful place in the annals of progressive rock.
Except for the multi-part title track that runs throughout the CD – which really reminds me of early King Crimson – this album is really nothing more than another analytical study in the architecture of sound. Listening to King Crimson in the last few decades reminds me of music lessons, where a great instructor is providing samples of great playing, but without the embellishment of musical grace. My favorite moments on the CD, and they are superb, are tracks 7 and 8. “Power to believe, part 2”, takes the haunting, and electronically distorted vocals of Belew and counterpoints them with a jazz/latino marimba flavor. With Trey Gunn’s steady bass line and the very inventive, nuanced percussion of Pat Mastellotto, the song achieves the musical bliss of Crimson’s symphonic years.
“Level Five” is an homage of sorts to the legions of modern rock followers Fripp and company have attracted over the years. It is a brutal, heavy, angular industrial assault on the senses. It’s a showpiece as to how heavy and how well this four-piece can play.
But then we have tracks like “Elektrik” which is nothing more than repeated scales, albeit with an offbeat time signature, but it goes on forever it seems. And if you say that’s the point of these type of Crimson songs, I repeat my comment about the music lessons.
On “Happy with what you have to be Happy With”, Adrian Belew jokes “gonna have to write a chorus” to feed the music industry. Yet “Eyes Wide Open” comes complete with catchy melody and chorus hooks. One wonders - when Crimson does want to be accessible – whether the band is being self-mocking. To me the problem lies mostly in Belew’s contribution to the band. His involvement with Crimson has brought about a sort of avant-garde hip-ness but it comes at the expense of the wide-eyed fairy tale wonder of the Sinfield years. Though Fripp has repeatedly disowned the band’s early work, he has really not done anything to re-invent rock in the same manner he did with the release of “In the Court of the Crimson King”.
With Industrial rock now merging with electronica merging with metal merging with rap merging with opera (etc.), musical hybrids have become a thing of the past. If King Crimson are to survive as a band of importance, they must redefine what is enduring about Rock music. And if that means studying the past, if not borrowing from it, I think the band can spearhead a cultural rebirth of progressive rock in popular music. They certainly have the musical skills.