Last year legendary progressive rock band King Crimson put out a sort-of-new release somewhat quietly which kind of got lost in the sauce amidst their fantastic tour and a barrage of releases for the newest incarnation of the group (some of which I happen to have reviewed here, of course).
I finally got around to picking up a copy of the restored 40th anniversary-series edition of the group's release from the year 2000: The ConstruKction of Light. Aptly retitled The ReconstruKction Of Light, the new reinvention of this album is not only revelatory but it is arguably an entirely new record that should be considered in its own right. And it is really good!
When the original album came out I personally was somewhat underwhelmed with the recording and didn't know why... In the back of my head I chalked it up to disappointment over the end of the band's double power trio (six person) configuration, it being reduced back down to a four piece.
While still featuring founding member and lead Guitarist Robert Fripp and Singer-Guitarist Adrian Belew, Bassist Tony Levin instead went out on tour with Seal while classic era Drummer Bill Bruford reconvened in his own progressive Jazz band, Earthworks. This left "newer" members Pat Mastelotto (Drums) and Trey Gunn (Warr Guitar) to take the driver's seat as far as the rhythm section was considered.
They are both spectacular musicians, mind you...
The music itself was actually very good, dark and bordering on heavy metal shredding at times yet still melodic and compelling. It performed really well live. In fact, a lot of this material has grown in stature and popularity over the year -- many of the songs from this record sound tremendous with the current nine-piece incarnation of the group. But that original album still was lying there flat...
From the liner of notes to The ReconstruKction Of Light I think we may have found out why the album "lacked muchness" (to borrow a phrase from Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter). It turns out that this recording was recorded in Adrian Belew's basement recording studio, which is all fine and good except that there wasn't room for a proper drum kit to be set up.
So they were using Roland V-Drums -- a really cool digital drum kit that actually can sound good and is useful for a lot of things. But.... not really correct for the drive necessary for this music...
Apparently at the time drummer Pat Mastelotto was not particularly happy about this situation but made the best of it. Fast forward to 2019, when they went to do the re-mixes for the new reissue, they found that the V-Drum tracks from those sessions had been lost. So he took it upon himself, obviously with the support of Robert Fripp, to re-record entirely new acoustic drum tracks for this album!
That is NO easy task to pull off folks, especially given the complexity of this music. And that, dear readers is where The ReconstruKction Of Light gets quite fascinating because all of a sudden this incarnation of King Crimson sounds like again like band playing together. The dynamics are much better and the music is not lying there flat. Mastelotto has arguably rescued this album by adding an impassioned new live drum track.
The songs sound tremendous in the new Stereo mix by Dave Gunn and it leaves the old version in the dust. But for me, where The ReconstruKction Of Light takes off into the stratosphere is in the surround sound mix. Deeply immersive and a whole lot of fun to listen to -- yes, fun! -- songs like the former title track ("ConstruKtion of Light") and "FraKtured" are just mesmerizing with their great use of the surround channels.
Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of drum presence everywhere but that is good because on the old version the drums were compromised. Adrian Belew's vocals ping-ponging around all the speaker channels during "ConstruKtion of Light" to wonderful effect -- it is not being gimmicky.
Even though this recording was made at 24 bits and 48 kHz, everything sounds quite lush which is always amazing (at least to me it is) for a purely digital recording. Kudos must go out producer David Singleton for finding that right balance, equalizing all those tones and harsh edges so that it actually sounds like a very enjoyable classic King Crimson recording should sound!
You can get this surround mix in a very affordably priced two-disc set that includes a compact disc - - which sounds great in the car - - as well as a DVD Audio Disc. Yes you read that right -- in 2019 they still manufacture a "DVD-A" with MLP audio on it! In a way it's only appropriate that this was released this way because that's the kind of technology that would've been around had this album come out in surround back in the day.
I have to admit a little bit of frustration not being able to get a more robust Blu-ray version of this with DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD options. That version does exist except you have to buy the super duper deluxe 18-CD, Four Blu-ray Disc boxed set featuring music from this period called Heaven & Earth. That will set you back from between $160 to $250 depending on where you shop.
The best compliment I can offer about that conundrum: after hearing The ReconstruKction Of Light in MLP format, I am now super tempted to buy the Heaven & Earth boxed set (with all its incredible bonus goodies) just to get that surround mix on Blu-ray! I would never have considered that prior to hearing this DVD Audio Disc! I want to revisit what I might have overlooked back in the day.
Actually, I was paying quite a bit of attention at the time and I do own a lot of the recording's on that box in CD form (including a multitude of recordings by the side Projekt spin-off groups. But on this new deluxe that they're all in highest possible resolution so that may will be quite appealing actually.
With this new found light shed on this music, I am pleased that King Crimson also reinvented the cover with a much more appealing painting than the bleak original design from 2000.,
All in all, if you are a King Crimson fan and have been overlooking this one as I had, you probably owe it to yourself to pick it up and check it out. Heck, I almost want to pick up the 200 gram vinyl version now!
You can't hear the album on Qobuz or Tidal but there is is a wonderful mini two minute documentary there. Spoiler alert: in that mini documentary it is revealed that Tom Tom's from Ringo Starr which Pat Mastelotto bought on auction make their debut with King Crimson on these recordings! Maybe subconsciously the presence of that Beatle vibe inspired Pat to pull out all the extra groovy stops on this one. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!