King Crimson On (and off) The Road (Part 1: The End)

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I decided to begin my trio of reviews about the spectacular new boxed set from King Crimson called On (and off) The Road, tracking the 1981-84 era of the band, with the last of the albums issued during that period.  

AR-KingCrimsonBoxSetBluray225.jpgThree of a Perfect Pair is often overlooked, seen by some as a somehow lesser affair than its predecessors, Discipline and Beat.  I disagree and make an argument that -- despite is difficult birth, as detailed in the set's detailed LP-sized book -- it is a natural conclusion to the band's noble attempt to bring intelligence and sophistication to the popular music marketplace.  

To my ear, Three of a Perfect Pair felt more complete a statement than its predecessor, playing longer and arguably sounding richer, more forward seeking and even a bit more complex. That factor may have thrown some listeners, what with its split "left" and "right" approach, placing the more "pop" oriented songs onto one side while the more experimental musics graced the other. Together, they present two faces of the King Crimson experience, all neatly wrapped into a 40 minute listening experience.  

All this new music on the Blu-ray disc (and in general the whole boxed set) sounds fantastic! The albums are in wonderful 96 kHz, 24-bit high fidelity. 

Steven Wilson's fine new 2016 remix finds happy mid-ground between the original vinyl and the 30th anniversary remastered mixes (the latter of which is also included) 

Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew's interlocking guitar lines are warmer and richer here, with rhythm parts popping out of the mix more audibly.  Adrian's vocals are big as ever but fuller sounding.  

More prominent bass and rhythm guitar parts on "Model Man" benefit that track a great deal.  Master of all things musically tasteful and remarkable, bassist Tony Levin is also a master of understatement -- this was never more apparent in his playing across the choruses to this song which make it soar in ways it only hinted at in the past.

AR-KingCrimsonBelewBruford225.jpgSteven Wilson's approach to "Sleepless" is quite remarkable, bringing out the song's inherent Crimsonocity (if you will) than any version I've ever heard.  This arrangement allows the song to grow and explode from a funky meditation to a full on rockin' jam.  I might even use the word "revelatory" to describe it. You also get multiple versions of that tune -- their last single from the period. More than just tossed off remixes, these are compelling reinventions.

"Dig Me," arguably one of the weirdest and most challenging tracks on the record -- and easily my favorite because it contains one of Adrian Belew's catchiest choruses placed in the midst of a falling apart industrial wasteland -- also benefits from the remix.  Clearer, less effects-laded vocally, the more direct use of one of Bill Bruford's slamming snare drum hits as a rhythmic pulse, helps to propel the track forward without losing that on-the-edge sensation. The track seems to lock in more directly with Tony's bass, making for easier transitions to the chorus.  The song is still quirky no doubt, but it no longer feels like it is about to come unglued.  

You also get a bunch of outtakes from the sessions, a full recording of the 1984 Canadian concert which was broadcast on radio back in the day and eventually released on CD (as Absent Lovers) presented here in 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution. 

And now we continue with the surround sound portion of our show...

Exploring the 5.1 mix of the title track we find Arian Belew and Tony Levin's harmonies popping up in the surrounds.  Rhythm guitars again beef up the rock sensibility of this song, in keeping with the  more muscular Stereo mix.  Producer Steven Wilson put the solos in front, resisting the temptation to get too swirly and psychedelic.

Overall, there is a wonderful warm, non digital feel which doesn't always happen in surround sound mixes because, well, the underlying technology that makes 5.1 happen is digital.

In general, Mr. Wilson serves the music...

AR-KingCrimsonFripp225.jpg"Model Man" seems to place Bill Bruford's drums more the middle of the room.  "Sleepless" rocks in a ways I never imagined it might.  "Nuages" benefits greatly from the 5.1 mix -- a track that often suffered on the vinyl pressings due to it being stuck at the end of a side and thus always sounded a bit more compressed. It needed to be as open and airy as possible and on the 5.1 mix it comes alive.

"Dig Me" is so much more focused now, you can easily tap your foot along in time -- I am guessing here, but I think it might be in a weird drunken, slightly off 6/8 waltz time with 4/4 overlays dancing around it!  The layered phase-y rhythm guitars fill up the surrounds.

"Larks Tongues in Aspic Pt. III" is another track that was just crying for a surround mix to open up all its many rhythmic textures. Bill Bruford's drums -- not just his drumming -- sound amazing, with a very natural acoustic tone. His playing is, of course, otherworldly. 

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