Tracks: [Disc 1 – 1969-1971] 21st Century Schizoid Man; I Talk to the Wind; Epitaph; Moonchild (edit); In the Court of the Crimson King; Peace – A Theme; Cat Food (single edit); Groon; Cadence and Cascade (remix); The Sailor’s Tale (abridged); Ladies of the Road; Bolero (remix); [Disc 2 – 1972-1974] Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: Part One (abridged); Book of Saturday; Easy Money; Lark’s Tongues in Aspic: Part Two; The Night Watch; The Great Deceiver; Fracture (abridged); Starless (abridged); Red; Fallen Angel; One More Red Nightmare; [Disc 3 – 1981-1984] Elephant Talk; Frame By Frame; Matte Kudesai; Thela Hun Ginjeet; Heartbeat; Waiting Man; Neurotica; Requiem; Three of a Perfect Pair; Sleepless; Discipline; The Sheltering Sky; The King Crimson Barber Shop; [Disc 4 – Live 1969-1984] Get Thy Bearings (1969); Travel Weary Capricorn (1969); Mars (1969); The Talking Drum (1973); 21st Century Schizoid Man (1973); Asbury Park (1974); Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: Part Three (excerpt) (1984); Sartori in Tangiers (1984) Indiscipline (1982)
Best track: [Disc 1] Epitaph [Disc 2] too hard to pick one [Disc 3] Frame By Frame [Disc 4] The Talking Drum
Tracks to skip: [Disc 1] none [Disc 2] none [Disc 3] Requiem [Disc 4] Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: Part Three
Robert Fripp remastered the King Crimson catalog in 1991 and to celebrate he released a boxset that replaced the long out-of-print Young Person’s Guide to KC. The songs sound much better here than in the previous CD issues (released without sonic approval from Fripp) and there’s such a huge cross-section of material here that it was the best career-spanning set that could have been released. Given Crimson’s long career, not to mention how powerful they were as a live band, this is only 1 of MANY boxsets KC has released over the years. This was my first introduction to most of these songs, as I only owned Discipline before shelling out the cash for this. As with the Young Person’s Guide
, the packaging is excellent and the accompanying book is full of pictures, tour dates, reviews, diary entries & general commentary from Fripp. On to the individual discs!
Disc 1 features 67 minutes that highlight the early incarnations of the band, from 1969-1971. Nearly the entirety of the debut album is here; only a (thankfully) shortened version of Moonchild is different. It’s very nice to hear the tune without the plodding improvisation that follows on the album proper. The other three albums that this time period covers are In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands. With half of this disc focusing on only 1 album, the other three tend to get shafted. In my opinion, anyway. Poseidon has 3 tracks, which is good, but I would have loved to hear Pictures of a City or the title cut on here. Peace – A Theme is the same version, but then there’s also the inclusion of the single edit of Cat Food (along with its B-side, Groon…seeing its first CD release) and a remixed version of Cadence and Cascade. Due to legal problems with former member Gordon Haskell, his contributions on here were replaced. On Cadence and Cascade Adrian Belew does a wonderful job with the vocals and Tony Levin replaced Haskell’s bass on Bolero. Bolero is the only track from 1971’s Lizard. It works in its place on this disc, but having 1 track from Lizard really sells it short. Lizard’s a difficult listen, sure, but the material is still good. I have to say, I have no problem with Haskell being replaced, esp. vocally. Belew sings Cadence MUCH better than Haskell did. Sailor’s Tale and Ladies of the Road represent the Islands album here and they’re definitely the best tracks from that album.
To be honest, I think Fripp did a good job on this first disc. Of course there are some songs missing, but for the most part it really represents the essential songs from the first 4 albums. The sequencing is good and I found myself really enjoying a number of these tracks on this listen – Epitaph, Cadence and Cascade & the Sailor’s Tale especially. Best track on the disc? Today it was Epitaph; it continues to be a brilliant and moving song.
Disc 2 is concentrated on the brutally powerful ’72-’74 lineup. By taking the best moments from this band, disc 2 becomes something completely out of this world. Power, pure and simple. Granted, there are a ton of beautiful moments on here (Book of Saturday, The Night Watch, the first section of Starless to point out the obvious ones), but the overwhelming sense on this disc is of a band that literally stomps on you. It’s insane how good these guys are. As I said, I was already familiar with the Discipline lineup of Crimson prior to buying this set, but it was really this 2nd disc that made me a fan for life. Discipline is the greater album, but if you take the entirety of this lineup vs. the ’81-’84 lineup, there’s no doubt that this 70’s version of King Crimson is the best the band has ever been. Nothing comes close, really. They are absolutely fearless and they had the most perfect chemistry.
I think the abridged version of Larks’ 1 is quite good. Even with excising the violin solo (and a little bit more before it), it doesn’t suffer as a composition. Amazing piece of music. The abridged version of Fracture still presents a great song, but I really don’t like the edit there. I mean, Fripp completely cut out the really cool middle section. In removing that, the song feels incomplete. As for the edit on Starless (one of Crimson’s overall greatest achievements), it’s blasphemy. The 1st section is absolutely beautiful, but you NEED that 2nd section! The fade from Starless into Red is fantastic, but completely chopping off the 2nd half of the song just KILLS me. Without that second part, there’s no tension and no release.
What I noticed more than anything else on this disc was John Wetton’s phenomenal bass playing. Not only technically great (I love his bass line in Book of Saturday), but his tone destroys me. He’s such a commanding presence on this disc. It might be Fripp’s band, but Wetton’s the star here. I simply can’t pick a best track on this disc. Edited as they are, they’re all great. Only this sonically-great, but slightly weak version of Easy Money is the only downer here. It’s not bad by any means, but as I said in the Larks’ review, it’s just feeble compared to the live versions of the tune. Otherwise, this disc is simply amazing.
Disc 3 contains nearly the whole Discipline album, minus Indiscipline – a live version of the track is on Disc 4. Discipline is definitely the best of the three 80’s KC albums (Discipline, Beat & Three of a Perfect Pair), but 6 songs might be a bit too heavy on this disc. Additionally there are four from Beat and then only two from TOAPP, with the only previously unreleased studio track from this bunch, The King Crimson Barber Shop ending the disc. So this disc contains 6/7 from Discipline, half of Beat…and yet only 2 from Three of a Perfect Pair – which is a much better album than Beat. I don’t get it. Requiem annoyed the piss out of me on this listen. It could have easily been swapped out for another song from TOAPP or if you just have to another Beat track, use Neal and Jack and Me. It’s Fripp’s decision, though, so I’m just being nitpicky.
This disc is quite good, but it’s a bit much of the interlocking guitar stuff. I thought I’d never say that! Yes, Discipline is my favorite King Crimson album, but I wish TOAPP was better represented here. Not that the title track and Sleepless aren’t great songs or anything, they definitely are; I just wish there was better representation from the album. Except for Requiem, all of these songs are fantastic compositions and illustrate that Crimson was fully capable of completely reinventing themselves in 1981. You want “progressive”? That’s it. Reinvention without selling out (I’m looking at you, Yes). I could pick any number of songs that could be “best on the disc”, but the reality is that it’s still Frame By Frame. Amazing composition. I love the inclusion of the KC Barber Shop (all voices by Tony Levin) – it’s a fun and humorous way to end this studio portion of the boxset.
Disc four is the live disc of the box and the first instance of any “archival” Crimson material to be released. Only Asbury Park (an improv recorded at Asbury Park, NJ, on 6/28/74) had been previously issued (from USA). All three of the 1969 tracks (Get Thy Bearings, Travel Weary Capricorn & Mars) see their first ever appearance on a Crimson album here. All of these songs have subsequently been released in conjunction with their respective full shows. Quick descriptions: 1-3 from 1969, 4-6 from 1973/1974 and 7-9 from 1982/1984.
Man, I enjoy the hell out of this disc. It’s a great hour-long slice of King Crimson as a live band. All three versions of the band get to show off their chops and how destructive this music was in a live setting. Only the ’71-’72 version of the band is missing here, but…let’s be honest…nothing they ever did measured up to any of the music on this disc. The only misstep on this disc is Larks’ Three. While Fripp’s playing is rather scorching on here, the song is the ploddy mess it always is. The more time goes on, the less use I have for this song. Otherwise, this disc is incredibly solid. The version of Mars here is excellent; truly menacing stuff. I mentioned in my review of The Nightwatch of how amazing The Talking Drum is here. Some excellent bass playing from John Wetton on this one. And then there’s his really cool solo on Schizoid Man – very nice. It is SO hard to pick a best track from this disc – it could be Mars, Talking Drum or Asbury Park. OK, I’ll go with the Talking Drum. It’s one of the best representations of what this ’73 band could do.
This set is no longer available, unfortunately. In 2004 & 2005 Robert Fripp released 2 box sets which are essentially expanded versions of this one: The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson. Vol. 1 covers 1969-1974 (4 discs, live and studio) and Vol. 2 covers 1981-2003 (also 4 discs, live and studio). In 2006 we got the “Condensed 21st Century Guide” which is a 2-disc set featuring studio highlights from 1969-2003. That’s probably the best 2-disc summation of this wildly inventive band. As for this Frame By Frame box? This is really good stuff. My favorite disc of the set is that 2nd disc, the one featuring 1973/1974 band. The 4th live disc is right behind it. Truthfully, the entire set is stellar. After listening to all 4+ hours of this, you get a good sense of what King Crimson could do. Regardless of era, they blow you away. This is truly powerful music and just a great all-around package.