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King Crimson On (and Off) The Road Box Set (Part 3: The Beginning)

Mark Smotroff drives to end of the road to 1981…


I saved the review of the third Blu-ray Disc in the new King Crimson boxed set extravaganza called On (and Off) The Road for last for numerous reasons.  

AR-KingCrimsonDisciplineBonusLiveDisc225.jpgFor many people this first next generation King Crimson album — the focus of the first Blu-ray Disc in the set — is the pinnacle of Robert Fripp’s vision for a progressive rock entertainment group, offering compelling songwriting, heavenly vocals and masterful instrumental prowess from all band members with a eye to commercial salability (that is: hopes that this material might well get played on the radio and maybe sell a few records along the way). 

For some, Discipline — the name of that first new-era King Crimson album issued in 1981 simply presents a memory of a moment when there was still great hope for 80s popular music, a reprieve from the cheesy downfall of Disco, the implosion of Punk and New Wave and the “jump the shark” excesses of some progressive rock pioneers. 

For me, this album ushered in a breathtaking era of King Crimson — and related solo musics from Fripp and singer/guitarist Adrian Belew — which indeed merged the energies of Punk and New Wave with the precision dynamics of Progressive Rock and Avant-garde experimental music. 

That said, with regards to this special edition Blu-ray Disc within the new On (and Off) The Road box set, some of this music has been issued previously, notably on the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition which came out in 2011 (in CD plus DVD Audio Disc package). 

AR-KingCrimsonBelewLevin225.jpgNow, previously some of you with good memories may remember that I sort of kind of reviewed the 5.1 surround mix of Discipline at that time for another (now defunct) publication.  You can read at this link (note: it might take a few moments to load up as its cached on the web somewhere).

Looking back on things I didn’t go into on that review, here are some things to consider:

The 5.1 mix of Discipline remains true to the original recording yet opens up the sound of the band so you can hear much more of the interlocking parts which make this era of King Crimson so special.  Mostly, Steven Wilson keeps the rhythm section in the front channels, saving the surround sound fields for other layers

On the title track, Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew’s initial guitar layers burble in the rear speaker, freeing up the front soundstage focus for drummer Bill Bruford and perhaps most notably Chapman Stick & Bass player Tony Levin. It feels almost more like a live performance of the band, one where you can better track of the parts that make this celtic-knot-like music tick.

Those logos which graced various incarnations of this album’s cover art really do present a visual image of what the music is like inside.

On the opening track “Elephant Talk,” the opening sonic shwang of the band kicking in sweeps over the listener from back to front, before the group locks into the funky jam groove. 

AR-KingCrimsonDisciplineOGWT225.jpgOn “The Sheltering Sky,” Bill Bruford’s melodic wooden slit box hits subtly bounce around in the surround fields without appearing gimmicky or annoying.  “Matte Kudasai” is really gorgeous and lush, with Adrian Belew’s seagull-sounding guitar parts almost floating over you like the ocean air on a balmy Sunday at the beach.

Steven Wilson’s fine Stereo remix of Discipline also offers a bit wider scoped presentation of the music sound stage wise even when only listening via two speakers. The instrumentation is about the same but little details jump out at you differently at key moments… 

Bill Bruford’s kick drum seems a bit more defined and pronounced, much audible through out dead center in the mix compared to the original 1981 vinyl mix.  Actually in general, his drums are much more well defined in this new mix without losing the locked in gears which makes the Crimson grooves so unique, especially on tracks like “Indiscipline” and “Thela Hun Ginjeet.”

There are some little changes in the actual mix which I noticed this time around. For example, at the end of “Indiscipline,” Adrian Belew’s now-classic shout at the end of the song — “I Like It!” — has been nudged ahead a bit, appearing a hair later than on the original version, allowing a full presentation of the band’s shattering distortion crunched conclusion which was lost on the original mix. A minor detail to some, but a big deal for the hard core Crimson head.

The early bonus mix of the Discipline album is fascinating not only for its different running order but more aggressive mix of elements of the music that were recorded. More and/or different feedback, skronks and otherworldly guitar pyrotechnics.

Other groovy things on this new Blu-ray Disc edition include a nice update of the The Noise: Live At Frejus 1982 film, now presented in a widescreen format (it was previously released on VHS in the 80s and DVD in the 90s)

This edition sounds particularly great, presented with Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound tracks in 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution. The video was always a bit on the dark side but when there are close ups it looks quite nice on my 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV. 

]]>There is a cool bonus interview segment from French TV from back in 1981 which features footage from the band’s first performance at Moles Club in England while they were still called Discipline. This is before the group realigned with the King Crimson brand name. Actually, technically it is footage from just before the first performance as they are shown rehearsing and sound checking.  It is a fascinating clip which really gives you an idea of just how TINY the Moles Club was (side note: Peter Gabriel apparently has played there too!).  

AR-KingCrimsonLevPlaying225.jpgOf course, in the set you also get the full audience cassette recording of the Moles Club performance (previously released via The King Crimson Collectors Club), newly remastered and recompiled. It is what it is, a fascinating early document of the then new band just as it was about to take flight. 

Ok, a moment of thoughtful reflection:  

These Stereo and 5.1 surround mixes are great. I am very happy with them…

They were part of producer Steven Wilson’s early wave of King Crimson remixes — surround sound reinventions which helped usher in a series of acclaimed re-releases from many other popular progressive artists. Today there are now commercially available many incredible Wilson-produced 5.1 mixes of seminal albums by XTC, Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant, Tears For Fears, Emerson Lake & Palmer and others (many of which I have reviewed here on Audiophilereview.com

AR-KingCrimsonRedBandPlaying225.jpgI bring this up because.. well… five years is a long time and I suspect that there has been a lot of experience Wilson has gained betwixt and between this original 40th anniversary remix… So… I only wonder what if Mr. Wilson had decided to again revisit Discipline for this new definitive edition package, what might he have created? 

We may never know, but we can dream. 

Thanks for Mssrs. Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin for creating such amazing music for the ages. And thanks to Steven Wilson for keeping the Crimson flame burning brightly for a new generation of 21st century schizoid fans to discover.  

Bravo!

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