A mere seven years separates the music on the two newest reissue editions in King Crimson's 40th anniversary series. But just as the pop spectrum dramatically shifted from 1974 to 1981, the recordings parallel two dramatically different musical terrains.
Starless captures a prog-rock universe in a state of exquisite collapse. Discipline marks the beginning of a new creative order.
Remastered with often stunning new clarity by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, both albums now come with loads of DVD audio extras and a few delicious live treats. But perhaps more than on any of the previous Crimson reissues, save for possibly last year's update of 1972's underappreciated Islands, the sound clarity all but reinvents the music.
That's especially true of 1974's Starless and Bible Black, simply because it offers the greatest dynamics of any Crimson recording. A mix of spacious, concise studio tunes and fragments of concert improvisation, it is an album of exquisite extremes.
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The Mincer, for instance, oozes with whispery quiet before guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Bill Bruford trade off stark, muscular riffs. The Night Watch, a longtime concert favorite of this Crimson lineup, is all regal prog-pop majesty that places the emotive vocal scratch of bassist John Wetton front and center. Topping it all is the 11-minute instrumental Fracture, which builds to a breathtaking ensemble boil with one of Fripp's most powerful and efficient guitar lines.
The bonus from the era is the live nugget Dr. Diamond, a vocal powerhouse moment for Wetton and a vehicle for the sturdy instrumental upkeep of Bruford and violinist David Cross.
Crimson would be history by the end of 1974. In the years to come, prog would be reviled by the oncoming New Wave. As such, a reborn 1981 Crimson with Fripp, Bruford, bassist Tony Levin and Kentucky native Adrian Belew on second guitar would mirror the times with a sound that was tighter, denser and more immediate.
The band brought tremendous songwriting craft to the table for 1981's Discipline, from the atmospheric pop of Matte Kudasi to the polar-opposed tension of Frame by Frame. But it was instrumentally, as always, that Crimson simply burned. Belew employed an entire arsenal of guitar effects and noises, while Levin doubled on the versatile multistringed Chapman stick.
On the title tune to Discipline, which initially doubled as the quartet's name until the Crimson moniker was reactivated, Fripp's mantralike guitar lead, Levin's bouncy stick support and Bruford's lean, rolling drum chatter made the music rise and walk with a limber but funky strut.
But the delight is The Sheltering Sky, presented on this new edition in two versions. In both instances, the tune's chantlike beauty makes Discipline sound more vital and wondrous than ever.