Three Of A Perfect Pair
Warner Bros., 1984
REVIEW BY: Eric Atwell
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/12/1999
When Celine Dion is said to have made the best record this last year I know the fix is in. Will we ever put the kibosh on "adult contemporary"? Edgy music can be so much more emotionally stimulating than, say...the entire catalogue of our cultures' so-called Divas; those VH1 appointed representatives of soulfully bland balladry. While I don't groove on French Canadians out-screaming the likes of Barbra in the name of emotional release, a lot of people apparently do. It's this shady percentage of the population that buys the records, and they always seem to be falling for shit that's shoved down their throats at the Grammies.
Not to mention the ugly fact that much of the supposed "rock" on the radio is still, after so many years, essentially ramped up Hootie and the Blowfish. Why must I hear one more self-conscious vocal from some suburban white boy when all I want is something a little different? Then of course, adding insult to injury, the last "real" jazz station around here goes soft and starts playing that evil of all evils; that destroyer of anything rebellious; that genre that suckles on Satan's charred and worn teats: smooth jazz.
Which in a roundabout way brings me to King Crimson. Specifically the early eighties configuration of the group, which in my obviously tainted opinion was the best of the tortured bunch. Three Of A Perfect Pair was the last of a loose trilogy based around Robert Fripp's unearthing of the Crimson name after a five year hiatus in the late seventies. Originally the lineup of Fripp, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin was to be called Discipline, and this was indeed the name of the first album put out by the revamped Crimson.
Discipline established the standard of clean guitars running through heavy chorusing effects playing odd-time single note rhythms; complex drumming patterns with a minimum of cymbal or high hat activity; bass lines that were ominous to the point of terrifying thanks to Levin's work on the Chapman Stick; and Belew's nasally post-Zappa vocal delivery.
Beat, Crimson's second effort in the '80s, lacked some of the crystalline production of the first album, and according to Belew was nearly impossible to execute in the studio. This exertion shows on the album, which sounds forced and less distinct than Discipline.
On Three Of A Perfect Pair, Fripp and company returned to a tighter sound and production, producing an album impressive in it's scope (five songs that toe the line between new-wave and progressive along with four heady instrumentals) and brilliant in it's execution. Three Of A Perfect Pair delivers that emotive edginess that is so compelling - the vivid textures and bleak lyrics create a composite universe, something so sorely lacking in current music.
Crimson is well known for their strange but sometimes beautiful instrumental tracks. I made the mistake of purchasing Thrakattak in '96 - an album that represents the ugly (and boring) side of Fripp and Belew's noodling. Within the context of a proper studio album however, the soundscapes deliver a nice respite and often contain material that is truly interesting. On Three Of A Perfect Pair, the instrumentals take on a life of their own with dense mellotron interludes and futuristic percussion sounds that push and pull Fripp's angular lines.
"Nuages" is a soft track that might fit an early '70s science fiction film. Fripp goes for a Koto sound on the guitar, picking high up on the string and lending a weird Asian accent to the piece. "Industry" follows with its ominous drum and stick bass underbelly - and a sinewy melody weaving through the delicate synth washes that pan side to side. An insistent technoid guitar sound enters at around 2:30, evoking images of the Terminator and John Conner. It sounds positively...uh...industrial.
The title track opens with tight harmony vocals from Belew that soar over top of intricate guitar picking of Fripp and the amazing work of former Yes drummer Bruford. Crimson manages to use the word "cyclothymic" in the lyric - a true and lasting accomplishment that I particularly appreciate.
Levin kicks off "Sleepless" with a rapid fire bass lick that is soon joined by Bruford's insistent bass drum beat and Fripp's altered guitar sound - one that permeates the track with a horn sound that can only be described as demonic. Lyrics about a scary dream launch the song into the surprisingly funky chorus and eventually a twisted Frippertronic-inspired guitar solo punctuated with Levin's bass line at its terminal moment.
A searing chromatic guitar run from Fripp signals that "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III" has arrived. As the closing track, this song accomplishes quite a bit - wrapping up with the most powerful playing on the album. This fire breathing prog-rocker jumps keys and time signatures with impunity, flailing about with clean guitars and neurotic harmonies. And just as Fripp lends one more chromatic interlude, the outro appears in yet another time signature fueled by an enormous sounding guitar thing (I believe it's a fretless guitar) and a thudding beat that threatens to eat your children and then crush the house underfoot.
There are moments during the recording of Three Of A Perfect Pair where a mere mortal might have decided enough was enough, but the ever-pretentious yet brilliant Fripp has always impressed me with his ability to succeed in very non-commercial environment using anti-mainstream methods to do it. The song deconstruction called "Dig Me" (track 7) says more about the extremes of Crimson than I possibly could in this review. Buy it. Or else.