Wednesday, February 15, 2017

King Crimson - 2003 "The Power To Believe"

The Power to Believe is the thirteenth studio album by English band King Crimson, released in February 2003 by record label Sanctuary. It is a companion to the preceding mini-album Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With (2002).

Both Level Five and Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With acted as work-in-progress reveals for the album, which Fripp described as "the culmination of three years of Crimsonising". The album incorporated reworked and/or retitled versions of "Deception of the Thrush" ("The Power to Believe III") and four of the EP tracks, plus a 1997 Soundscape with added instrumentation and vocals ("The Power to Believe: Coda").

The Power to Believe (2003) marks the return of King Crimson for the group's first full-length studio release since ConstruKction of Light (2000). While it draws upon material featured on the live Level Five (2001) and studio Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With (2002) extended-play discs, there are also several new sonic sculptures included. Among them is the title track, which is divided into a series of central thematic motifs much in the same manner as the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" movements had done in the past. This 21st century schizoid band ably bears the torch of its predecessors with the same ballsy aggression that has informed other seminal King Crimson works -- such as In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), Red (1974), and more recently THRAK (1995). This incarnation of the Mighty Krim includes the excessively talented quartet of Adrian Belew (guitar/vocals), Robert Fripp (guitar), Trey Gunn (Warr guitar/Warr fretless guitar), and Pat Mastelotto (percussion). Under the auspices of Machine -- whose notable productions include post-grunge and industrial medalists Pitchshifter and White Zombie -- the combo unleashes a torrent of alternating sonic belligerence ("Level Five") and inescapable beauty ("Eyes Wide Open"). These extremes are linked as well as juxtaposed by equally challenging soundscapes from Fripp on "The Facts of Life: Intro" as well as Belew's series of "The Power to Believe" haikus. The disc is fleshed out with some choice extended instrumentals such as "Elektrik" and "Dangerous Curves," boasting tricky time signatures that are indelibly linked to equally engaging melodies. Both "Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With" and "Facts of Life" stand out as the (dare say) perfect coalescence of Belew's uncanny Beatlesque lyrical sense with the sort of bare-knuckled, in your face aural attack that has defined King Crimson for over three decades. If the bandmembers' constant tone probing is an active search to find the unwitting consciousness of a decidedly younger, rowdier, and more demanding audience, their collective mission is most assuredly accomplished on The Power to Believe -- even more so than the tripped-out psychedelic prog rock behemoth from whence they initially emerged.

For all his scholarly quips and curmudgeonly demeanor, King Crimson founder and guitarist Robert Fripp has gone to great pains to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground. Unlike some of his first-generation progressive rock peers of the late 60s and early 70s, he never allowed his band to leap into the abyss of new age fantasy or wanky tech-pomp. At all points during Crimson's many-membered lifetime, Fripp has been the model of humble workmanship: You can usually count on him to 1) hate the music business, 2) refuse to rest on his laurels, and 3) practice his guitar. It makes sense that he wouldn't expect much pleasure from record sales or a cult of fans as obsessive as they come-- after all, it's the musician's job to strive for excellence in the face of commerce and compromise.

And it shouldn't bother him that during the course of his 35-year, single-minded crusade he's left himself on a desert island with only his comfortable legion of fans and bandmates to keep him company. It's been a few years since he was painting London red with Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie, and these days Fripp mostly celebrates advanced middle age with his wife, English garden and the latest version of his storied band. Sure, his records sound more than a little like shadows (albeit of the highest quality) of his classic past efforts, but it's not as if rock history is littered with grandfatherly figures re-inventing the wheel. "Hey man, lay off Fripp-- King Crimson is the best prog band ever!" I know it is, I do; I really wish I could get past the irony of a progressive rock band being unable to progress.

The Power to Believe is the band's 13th studio LP, and the third featuring the current lineup of Fripp, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto. Last year, the buzz about this record was that it was going to be the result of Crimson's ear to xFC-metal, and having toured with Tool-- in fact, the working title was Nuovo Metal. Last year's Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With EP offered some preliminary tastes of this direction, as did the deluge of recent live releases, including 2001's Level Five, and the Projekcts albums. I'm happy to report that Power is much less awful than that EP, and more consistently interesting than the sprawling live CDs. That said, there is an omnipresent residue of stagnancy that has covered just about everything King Crimson have released since 1995's Thrak, and this record is no less stained.

Robert Fripp and the ever-changing lineup of King Crimson continue to fascinate and challenge with The Power to Believe. The album’s opener is an a cappella version of the title track sweetly delivered by Adrian Belew that’s reprised three times later: once with jangling Eastern percussion and a soaring guitar; once as a sci-fi extravaganza that harkens to Crimson's glorious past; and finally as an a cappella closer. In between lies the disciplined, varied, and often mind-blowing playing one expects from these accomplished musicians. "Facts of Life" is dirty prog blues, while "Dangerous Curves" is like a low-key "Kashmir" until it rises to a metallic crescendo. Then there's the sarcastic "Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With," which finds Belew berating younger outfits for their lack of artistic ambition.

"The only reward the musician receives is music: The privilege of standing in the presence of music when it leans over and takes unto its confidence. As it is for the audience. In this moment everything else is irrelevant and without power. For those in music, this is the moment when life becomes unreal."
                                                                                --Robert Fripp, 1992

Tracks Listing

1. The Power to Believe I: A Cappella (0:44)
2. Level Five (7:17)
3. Eyes Wide Open (4:08)
4. Elektrik (7:59)
5. Facts of Life: Intro (1:38)
6. Facts of Life (5:05)
7. The Power to Believe II (7:43)
8. Dangerous Curves (6:42)
9. Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With (3:17)
10. The Power to Believe III (4:09)
11. The Power to Believe IV: Coda (2:29)

Total Time: 51:11

Line-up / Musicians

- Adrian Belew / guitar, vocals
- Robert Fripp / guitar
- Trey Gunn / Warr fretted & fretless guitars
- Pat Mastelotto / drums & drum programming

With:
- Tim Faulkner / voice source (4)
- Bill Munyon / sound design (additional)

2 comments:

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  2. Thanks for the Crimson stuff.

    ReplyDelete