Earthbound (40th Anniversary CD/DVD)

King Crimson

Inner Knot, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Without a doubt, this is the Metallic K.O. of the progressive rock world.

Like that classic live Stooges album, Earthbound features a band in its death throes playing clanky, lo-fi, abrasive music that’ll likely piss you off. You know how most King Crimson albums are very proper, humorless, technically proficient affairs that can be alternately beautiful, thrilling, angry, and boring? This is the exact opposite.

The original Earthbound was so bad, sonically, that the record company wouldn’t release it in the United States. Sound engineer Hunter MacDonald recorded the brief North American tour on a cassette tape in the rain, so Fripp already was at a disadvantage when he attempted to transfer and master the tapes. And although this reissue tries valiantly, it cannot overcome the inherent flaws of the original recording, meaning you have an album full of distortion and hiss that pushes the needle into the red when the band gets really loud.

Furthermore, the five songs are taken from four concerts, so they randomly fade in and out and there’s almost no crowd noise (when you do hear them, at least they’re not throwing beer bottles at Boz Burrell, one of the few differences between this and Metallic K.O.). And it’s necessary to know that the band was pretty much broken up at this point but the record company made them go on tour after the 1971 release of Islands, so things weren’t exactly free of tension. At one point, Fripp commented that this version of the band liked to “jam” instead of improvise; more bluntly, he also said they “liked to blow.” Mind you, coming from Fripp, these are major insults. He even went so far as to try to delete the album from the discography, but as it was an official bootleg, it would never have truly gone away.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If the music was worth all this, then one could overcome these problems. But oy, this album is a noisy mess. Only two of the five songs were on Crimson albums, while one was a B-side and the other two are onstage jams that made it in place of proper songs. This is by far the jazziest Crimson ever. Hints of Bitches Brew can be heard in some of the playing on the title track and “Peoria,” which are interesting but not essential (and feature Burrell attempting to scat-sing, which is funny). Better is the band classic “21st Century Schizoid Man,” with one of Fripp’s best solos, if you can get past Burrell’s shouting robotic voice. Better still is “The Sailor’s Tale,” a frantic instrumental with a killer bassline that improves on the studio version due to Mel Collins’ sax work and Fripp’s guitar section, which is more fluid here than the clanking, irritating counterpart on Islands. It’s the best song here and the best take I’ve ever heard on the track.

But the final 15 minutes are taken up by “Groon,” a complete atonal racket with a couple of decent passages and a lot of awful ones, especially the nadir when Ian Wallace’s snoozefest drum solo decides to go into VCS3 rotoscope mode and oscillate around the speakers. Having enough of this, Fripp then wanks around with some feedback for a while, and then the track just sort of stops. Maybe I’ll drink a pint of tequila later and give this one another shot, because that’s the only way it will be good.

This reissue, however, salvages the release somewhat by including three songs that should have been on the original disc in place of the (somewhat aimless) jams. “Formentera Lady,” “Cirkus,” and “Pictures Of A City” were all album tracks in the band’s repertoire at the time and are played well; it’s pretty much the only place to hear an original lineup of the band play these songs live, as they were dropped from the setlist for decades. And unlike the other songs, these are solid renditions – if a bit slower, but no less doom-laden – of fan favorites. It forms a more complete picture of the tour.

Still, this is a disc definitely for collectors, and even they will have a hard time getting through “Earthbound” and “Groon” more than once, though they will appreciate the bonuses and the accompanying DVD. Crimson has many more live albums out now, making this one unnecessary but still a fascinating, flawed disc with obnoxiously bad sound quality.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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