Pity is a strange thing. I rarely feel pity in a serious situation. In those times my sense of empathy is surely at full throttle, but never pity. Pity is reserved for moments that are near silly or ridiculous. I pitied John McCain as he performed his march of death into the 2008 election. I pitied Indiana University in 2011 as they were seemingly mauled to death in a 80-7 loss over the University of Wisconsin. Pity is reserved for situations where they should have known better, but still paraded into the lion's den for one reason or another.
So in the same way I feel pity for this next review since it really is not fair. There are a few first round pairings that even now I am not sure how they will end and some that were painful to write because of how one-sided the pairing was. Red v THRaKKaTaK is a choice example of a match-up that never had a chance of being remotely fair and here we go again with another one of them
Genuinely what can be said about Discipline that has not already been said. It is such a great performance by a line-up that broke the 80s rock mold, and not only broke it, but smashed it into a million pieces. I have gushed about it so much already that it is pointless to even say more.
The Power to Believe, then, is in a bad position, pitted against one of the super-heavyweights of the King Crimson catalog. Like Rocky, it has no chance of winning, but can it at least last all twelve rounds (that is how boxing works right?)?
This is admittingly one of my least favorite Crimson line-ups. It is so stripped and bare compared to the double-trio before it and really has no new exciting component. In terms of similarities, it holds a lot of them to the 80s line-up, but without the shock factor or fun. All four men were getting old at this point, and you hoped they had a proper nap before performing, lest they get crabby and walk off stage. As I mentioned already, I am not the biggest fan The ConstruKction of Light. It is a mix of pop songs that do not exactly work and reliving former glory. It has its moments, but it never truly shines.
It seems then, that the band got their act together for their second effort, and to date the last studio LP released from the court. The Power to Believe is a mixture of soothing ambiance with fast and furious hammer blows thrown in. Level 5, the first full track, is so close to being up there with the great instrumentals made by the King such as any of the Lark's Tongue in Aspics, Red, and VROOM VROOM. It has so many original components to it, such as Pat Mastelotto's glitchy sounding drums and the rapid time signature changes. King Crimson has been desperate for a song like this since the near decade old Thrak had given us the opener and closer VROOM and VROOM VROOM.
I say almost because the song breaks a somewhat unspoken cardinal rule of all great Crimson instrumentals, and that is the inclusion of an overindulgent wailing guitar solo. Yes there have been endless guitar solos in Crimson material no doubt, but they were often masked in distortion and sound manipulation. Level 5, however, breaks that trend and proceeds into a way too long, way too boring, and way too screechy solo that does more harm than good to what was such a breath taking opening number otherwise. Overall it still stands tall and is an astonishingly fun track to listen to.
Round 1: Still standing and even throwing a few blows.
Eyes Wide Open and EleKtrik (did I ever mention how much I hated Fripps new spelling scheme?) are well done comedowns from the heavy force of Level 5. Eyes Wide Open is a much better pop song than Belew had composed in the previous album, with no completely ridiculous lyrics about Alien cocks or Prozac. It felt infinitely more personal and less like a bad attempt to have a sense of humor that only he got. It is easy to compare it to Matte Kudasai, something like a 21st century version of it. EleKtrik is a strange number, but fits within the framework of the album, with more drum loops and sampling. The layering does justice to the name King Crimson.
Rounds 2-5: On the ropes, but surviving.
We start to see cracks in presentation as we get back into more Adrian Belew pop numbers. Facts of Life revives his pension for stupid word salad that I have a hard time thinking anyone would enjoy genuinely. At least on a musical level we do not hear anything as criminal as ProzaKc Blues. Belew has an obvious love for goofy lyrics, and it has worked in the past. Dinosaur, for example, has a great use of comical lyrics that work and poke fun at his age. Here it sounds like a five year old wrote some words and he just went with it.
Round 6 and 7: It's looking tired folks!
The album gets a brilliant second wind in its tail end. The Power To Believe II is a stellar low tempo build up. Opening with a percussion medley then slowly turning into a chill jam with minimal vocals. It runs right into Dangerous Curves, a six minute rehearsal of one riff. It sounds boring on paper of course, but the way the sound shifts and mutates provides for a great visual of driving way to fast down way too narrow of a road. It builds tension so well. It is somewhat similar to The Talking Drum, but very futuristic and clearly its own entity as opposed to FraKcture.
Rounds 8 and 9: They're playing the theme to Rocky and it's back swinging!
In all of the pop songs in this line-up of King Crimson, this is the only one that does that humor aspect well. Although its obnoxiously long name Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With is a bit of a mouthful, Adrian's humorous declaration of singing the actual chorus has a balance of silliness and seriousness. The music is smarter than some of the older mind numbers like ProzaKc Blues as well.
Round 10: I can't believe its still standing!
Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With is somewhat an unofficial end to the album. The following The Power To Believe III and IV: Coda are come downs from all the information that has been thrown at you. The way III ends makes you feel like the electricity bill wasn't paid in the court of the Crimson King and everyone is leaving it empty...abandoned. Which is fitting since this still is the last studio album released under the name King Crimson.
Rounds 11 and 12: There is the bell folks! I can't believe it! It is still standing. This is incredible.
It has its faults, no doubt. Yet, for all its shortcomings it really works too. The album gave hope that this line-up could really churn out some promising music, but this was to be it for this line-up and for King Crimson's studio presence. Let us not forget, though, that King Crimson was essentially the last surviving prog rock act from the glorious late 60s. All the others had called it a day long before, excluding the sporadic reunion shows. Hell the amount of bands that existed that long were just as few and far between. Yes, King Crimson spent nearly half that time broken up....or more, but aside from the rare exception we never got a bad album in exchange.
Discipline is the far more cohesive and well thought out album, but 20 years later it is impossible to deny that these guys could still put out a good album.