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King Crimson

Earthbound 40th Anniversary Series

Review by Gary Hill

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Earthbound album King Crimson have released this deluxe set. It's an amazing release, too. First, you get the original album with three bonus songs added to it. That would be cool enough if they stopped there. However, they also include a second disc, an audio DVD. That includes some wonderful stuff. The tracks for the expanded edition of the album are there, along with some more bonus songs from the tour. A full show recorded at a recording studio is also included (including a newly 40 minute epic). There is a vinyl conversion from the original album, and a whole series of excerpts from different versions of "21st Century Schizoid Man" (focusing on soloing) performed during the tour. I reviewed the original version of the album, and my track reviews for those songs are used below, and I've used the overall review for the next paragraph here.

 

This is a good, but not great, live album from King Crimson. The first thing holding it from the “great” title is the sound quality. Recorded in 1972 the recording technology of the time wasn’t great. However, you would think with modern sound engineering they could have cleaned it up. The other element that gives pause to me is the blues and jazz music on this. A couple of the tracks really sound nothing like the King Crimson we expect. While that’s kind of cool, it’s also like buying a burger because you want one and getting a chicken sandwich instead. It’s good, but not what you ordered. Still, there are some awesome Crimson jams here. I’d recommend this to hardcore KC fans. Less severe cases will probably want to stay away, but for a cool live recording of this lineup (Robert Fripp, Ian Wallace, Boz Burrell and Mel Collins) it’s a nice acquisition.

 

Well, that's what I said about the original edition, it still more or less applies to the CD, but the DVD here is so amazing. It makes this something that every King Crimson fan should own. Comparing the amount of music on the DVD to the CD, you'll find that the original album is the smaller part of the puzzle. That makes this such a great release. I can't imagine a better way to honor the original album's anniversary.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD
              
21st Century Schizoid Man
They lead things off with the stomper. This is noisy and a metallic with hints of Hawkwind on the processed vocal line that also reminds me of Daleks from Doctor Who. The wailing saxophone is a nice touch, but the overdriven vocals take a bit away from it for me. Of course, the smoking instrumental jam just screams. Early parts of this extremely extended journey stay close to the studio take, but as they continue on they move into some powerhouse territory and then take it decidedly jazzy. Around the nine minute mark they bring it back out into the main song structure for the careening instrumental segment. The Daleks return for the final chorus. And they bring us out into the metallic closing jam from there.
Peoria
Here we get something quite unusual for King Crimson. It’s basically a full jazz treatment blues jam. The vocals on this alternate between blues singing and scat. From another band this might be cool, but from Crimson it just seems very atypical and odd.
The Sailors Tale
This is far more along the lines of what we expect from King Crimson. It’s a great prog instrumental jam. It’s just too bad it’s less than five minutes in length. This is actually one of the highlights of the disc for me.
Earthbound
The first portion of this is quite similar to “Peoria,” but with a more funky feeling to it. They pull it out into a more typical King Crimson jam that’s quite potent.
Groon
This jam is the longest track on show here, weighing in at over fifteen and a half minutes. It starts with a free form sort of piece of weirdness but then moves out to more jazzy textures for a time. It gets a bit cacophonous from there. They resolve out into a fast paced journey that’s again quite jazz oriented. After working through for a time they drop it back around the six and a half minute mark for a drum solo. There are some noisy sounds that enter around eleven minutes in – like electronic tuned percussion in someone’s psychedelic nightmare. The rest of the group join late and bring this instrumental out with a noisy extended outro jam. Fripp’s guitar serves as the actual conclusion in a solo segment. This is really quite a cool one and more typical of King Crimson than a lot of the disc.
Bonus Tracks
                  
Pictures of a City

The first of three bonus tracks on the CD, this (along with the song that follows it) was recorded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 8th, 1972.Bursting in noisy and loud, it drops to one of the coolest jazz like grooves you'll ever hear. It works through some bits of weirdness as it carries forward. It shifts to an almost heavy metal movement for the vocal section. Bursts of saxophone punctuate things. The jam that follows the first vocal movement is a powerhouse one that's part hard rock, part tasty jazz and part Crimson weirdness. They make their way back to another vocal section from there. After that section some crazed fast paced Fripp guitar work takes over, and they launch into a cool off-kilter jam. It drifts to more jazz oriented stuff after a time as they continue to explore things sans vocals. They bring it back to the song proper for more vocals around the seven and a half minute mark and bring it home with a hard rocking delivery of that segment.

Formentera Lady
Flute led sounds bring this into being tentatively and rather atmospheric. It grows to a mellow psychedelic approach for the entrance of the vocals. They move forward with a rather folk rock styled texture as the flute dances around those vocals.  While it remains in sort of folk prog approach for a lot of the track, they take it out into rather weird psychedelically styled stuff further down the road. It works into some killer jazzy jamming as it builds out from there. It gets into some really noisy jamming as this pounds along in that format.
Cirkus
This one comes from a show in Orlando, Florida on February 27th, 1972. The sound quality seems better. The cut comes in with a classy mellower motif that's packed with drama. Around the one minute mark the harder rocking textures enter to hold it for a time. That burst of sound drops back, giving way to a more powerful version of the opening arrangement. It starts to get hints of more rocking stuff as that works forward. Then around the two minute mark they explode to a more developed and lusher version of the earlier louder movement. As it drops back down for the next vocals, it retains some of the rocking stuff a bit more. They take it out into a jazzier kind of musical excursion after that vocal movement. As this continues to evolve and develop, they turn the corner into a killer bluesy jazz jam around the eight and a half minute. There is a lot of old school rock and roll built into it. They make their way back to more tradition Crimson weirdness before it ends.
DVD
The DVD starts with a new mix of the same songs we heard on the CD. Since it's the same music, I'm not going to review those individually here.
Ladies of the Road
The first additional song here comes from the same Orlando set as "Cirkus" did. Starting with the bluesy rocking groove that makes up the main song structure, I love when it fires out into the killer jazzy jam after the first vocal movement. These guys were purely smoking here. A particularly dirty (or as they say at the start "rude") song, I've always liked this a lot. It's a pure powerhouse in this live telling. This is worth the price of admission all by itself.
The Letters
Coming from a March 1972 show in Denver, this starts with a mellow, folk prog styled sound and gradually works forward within that concept. It screams out with hard rocking fury after a time, really bringing a killer contrast to the number. Then they move out to a jazz styled jam from there. This drops to spacey and sedate stuff from there. The jamming gets more powered up as they move forward. It works into a killer groove that features some particularly hot guitar soloing. Eventually we're brought back into the song proper, but the arrangement has a more rocking guitar sound when it does. An acapella bit brings an evocative vulnerability as the cut approaches the end.
The Sailor's Tale
Recorded the day before the Orlando show, this is an extended run of the same recording heard on the original album.
Groon
Another that's extended from the version on the main album, this works well with the extra time.
Live at Summit Studios
Next on the DVD is a set of songs recorded live at Summit Studios. The sound quality on this is better than the sound on the main album. In fact, this sounds like a studio recording, which it really is despite being recorded live.
Pictures of a City
I love the killer jazz groove that drives the opening movement of this. The hard rocking section works so well. I love the powerhouse trademark early Crimson jam later in this track. It shifts in some killer ways as they march forward. This thing is purely on fire with a great balance between the more straight ahead rock based vocal movement and the jazz prog instrumental sections.
Cadence and Cascade
I've always been a big fan of this mellow number. The sedate musical elements packed with folk prog sounds work really well in this live take. The better sound quality allows the nuances to shine brightly.
Groon
Here we get a repeat from the main song, but a different performance. This comes with the typical "Groon" weirdness and works out to some interesting explorations from there. A killer jazzy groove ensues after a time, taking it outward into new vistas. There are some amazingly powerful instrumental movements on this screaming hot beast. There is some powerful Fripp soloing on this while the rhythm section holds it down in style. There is an extensive drum solo in the midst of this piece.
21st Century Schizoid Man
A different live performance of this classic Crimson song, this one sounds so amazing. This performance is absolutely on fire. They take it through some smoking hot stuff as they expand and revise the song.
Summit Going On
They bring this in as a full on jazz jam and work forward from there bringing some Crimson textures to it. Some killer guitar soloing emerges as it continues to grow and evolve. After a while some scat vocals join and create an interesting movement as they hold court. Some screaming hot jamming emerges beyond that point. The later moments of this piece are made up by stage banter.
My Hobby
This is a weird voice bit much like the shouted stuff by Monty Python. If you've seen the bits with the odd guys shouting weird statements, you'll understand what this is.
The Sailor's Tale
Frantic guitar work leads this out in strange ways. From there it rises upward with the bass bringing it outward. They turn out into a more traditional King Crimson styled jam as they march forward. It gets incredibly intense as the saxophone wails over the top of this and Fripp produces some killer sounds just beneath it. That reaches a conclusion, and it drops down to a mellower, rhythm section based movement to continue. The guitar soloing takes it at the end to really power it through in style.
The Creator Has A Master Plan (Including Summit & Something Else)
It rises upward with a bit of a jazzy vibe. The non-lyrical vocals that come over the top are a bit odd to me. As the lyrics it's better, but the vocals seem a bit high in the mix. Still, the saxophone brings some magic and the jazz prog arrangement works well. It eventually gradually drops back and some melodic guitar work takes it in a fusion kind of vein from there. Then other elements are added to the arrangement as this continues. The work it through a number of changes as it continues. It's a melodic jazz meets prog kind of excursion with different instruments painting pictures along the road. After moving along in an instrumental way, after a while the voice returns with "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah..."  a couple times before working back into the lyrical section. It builds back upward as the vocals continue to weave their tale, at times getting into rather scat like territory. It gets a little crazed at points. Another jazz rock groove ensues after the vocals drop away. I love the bass work on this section. It gets rather freeform, but eventually drops way down. Then a cool jazz groove rises up gradually from there. The voice returns as this shifts to a stripped down blues arrangement. It's a full on blues jam as it makes its way forward. They take it through some shifts and changes before making it back to more pure blues for more vocals. Blues guitar jamming ensues beyond that section. The jazz meets blues jam that ensues is just so cool. Working its way toward more standard cool Crimson jamming from there, the jazz and blues elements are still at the heart of the thing. It drops way down further down the musical road, to mostly just cymbal work. The guitar gradually starts to come up from there with trademark Fripp work. It seems about to explode, but it sort of stops and a different type of thing emerges abruptly. That grows slowly outward as they work forward. We're eventually brought back to the original song structure for a return of the "Creator..." lyrics. It's a nice way to bring all the wandering home in style. They take that to a noisy, crazed extended crescendo with just some percussion remaining at the end.
Live at Summit Studios - Quad

The next tracks are the Summit Studios pieces in a quadraphonic mix. Since the songs are the same, I won't be reviewing those individually.

Schizoid Men

The next segment is sort of mash-up version of "...Schizoid" with various parts assembled showcasing the different instrumental work at the different shows. While this is quite interesting, it probably doesn't warrant individual track reviews for each of them.

Original Vinyl Transfer

The final feature on the DVD is the original vinyl transfer of the main album. Since, again, I've reviewed all those songs already, I won't be addressing them individually here.

 
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