Is it easier or more difficult to insult something as opposed to praising it? While that may seem like an easy question to answer I don’t believe it is such. Criticizing something, properly anyway, requires the ability to break down why the subject is bad. A simple “it sucks” hardly suffices in an actual debate. Perhaps if you are screaming like a cable news troglodyte it is a different story, but here in the real world of real people you need to articulate your opinion.
So then why is it so hard to write anymore than “it sucks” when I think of Three of a Perfect Pair? It is so difficult for me to actually put it into words, to articulate my feelings, and to make sense of the statement, but when approached about the subject I can’t get much further than “Fuck that album”.
This is supposed to be a comparison between two albums, well one EP and an album, but Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With does such a decent job of being in the middle of the road that it really does not warrant a contest here. It won this round, so if you were only here for the results you can turn off your computer until the next match up.
This was an important album because it really cemented proper decision making on Robert Fripp’s behalf, because he broke up the band after the tour for Three. It is like Robert knew this new iteration of King Crimson had run out of creative steam and it was time to kill it. What started off as a beautiful reinvention ran into stale grounds at such a rapid pace it would put any punk-pop band to shame.
So what the hell happened? How did it go so wrong? That is a question that may be too big for such a simple piece, but we can take some guesses. As I stated in my review of Discipline, Crimson did a near perfect job of being fresh and inventive in the 80s, while not falling into the traps many progressive acts did (I.E. become total shit). Cracks to this armor already appeared during the second album in the group Beat. Beat is still an excellent and rewarding album, but there are a few odd tracks in the bunch. Heartbeat and Two Hands come off much pop like than the rest of the bunch. They are forgivable, though, considering how well executed the rest of the album, overall the album does some new things, while still respecting the ethos of this new King Crimson.
The brilliance of the first albums seems totally lost on Three of a Perfect Pair. While Discipline and Beat do a good job of marrying experimentation and pop, Three, just throws that out the window and replaces it with an either/or ideology. A song can no longer be both experimental and conventional it is either strange or straight forward. This notion is expressed in the description of the album, that one half of the album is pop sounding and the other is experimental. It makes for a very jarring listen, and for a non-cohesive formula. You get the vibe that Belew and Fripp could not seem to agree on this album and decided to each make an EP and then sell it as one album. It does not work.
The pop half really only has one worthwhile song, the self-titled opener. It falls apart quickly thereafter into 80s shlock-pop. Model Man is just a painful listen and although Sleepless has a pretty damn boss bassline it just does not really go anywhere interesting. On its own you could accept that they tried to appeal to a pop market and fell flat. It is almost comical how creators of such inventive music fail so hard at making interesting pop music. It is difficult to talk about it more as there really is not much to say. It is completely forgettable.
So after a questionably uninteresting pop half we are treated to very bizarre experimental half. You would figure we would be getting back to the style of the previous two albums, but we do not. Instead all the challenging ideas are presented without any sensible counter-balance. Listen to Industry for a reference point. The drudging ambiance and monotonous drum beat does not fit in Crimson’s repertoire of tunes. We know Fripp pushed boundaries, there is no doubt, but he always seemed to know where to stop. This is not to say that he can not make experimental music, but it never really made sense with this group, and considering he had done plenty of it on his own, it begs the question of why here? Why now?
The reason 80s King Crimson started off so well was the creative marriage of pop and experimental. The two principle writers, Belew and Fripp, did a great job of balancing each other out. When they no longer would work together to do that they go too far into their respective camps, and the music suffers terribly. It is a total mess.
The saving grace is the third installment of Lark’s Tongue in Aspic. It seems as if the group could come together long enough to make one last great piece of music. It is a great 80s interpretation of a then ten year old idea. It is blindingly quick and aggressive and makes you wish there was more. The gem is tucked away at the very end, forcing you to trudge through the rest of the muck to get there.
So this is why Three of a Perfect Pair is out in our first round. There is no point in discussing its opponent, because even if it did two things right (which it does at least that much) it would beat out Three’s one.