Today, King Crimson’s entire studio canon begins streaming on Spotify. It’s kind of a big deal as Crimson was one of the last hold-outs on streaming, not even releasing their catalog on iTunes when it was a thing. According to label DMG Live (founded by KC mastermind Robert Fripp), the band made more money until recently selling its music on physical media.
But this year is also Crimson’s 50th anniversary, when the band released In the Court of the Crimson King in 1969, considered a watershed moment in progressive rock. Robert Fripp, the sole consistent member, spent the next three years reshuffling the line-up and trying to recreate Court with various degrees of success. Then in 1973, he linked up with John Wetton and recently departed Yes drummer Bill Bruford for a three-album run that showcased an more aggressive, more stable King Crimson.
And then it ended in 1974. Or so everyone thought. Fripp went solo and became a sought-after session guitarist for the likes of Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, and…
Daryl Hall? Yeah, Fripp was on Daryl Hall’s first solo album. He also was drifting into CBGB’s in New York, hanging around Blondie and the Talking Heads. It was the Heads association that led to a new band called Discipline, featuring Tony Levin on bass and Adrian Belew on guitar and vocals. But if a band features Fripp and Bruford, isn’t that King Crimson?
So it was. Bruford would remain in Crimson for another 15 years, Levin, with a five-year hiatus, for 40 years, along with Belew who became “eighth/ninth man inactive” when Jakko Jakszyk (formerly of Level 42) signed on to front Crimson’s archiving phase.
Fripp has described King Crimson as less a band than “a way of doing things.” There is no consistent musical thread in the band’s history. The first three albums follow essentially the same pattern laid down on In the Court of the Crimson King, with Islands being more free-form jazz. (Ironically, lead singer Boz Burrell learned bass for this album only to become Bad Company’s bass player until his death in 2006. Crimson launched careers. See Lake, Greg; Wetton, John; Belew, Adrian.) The core of Wetton and Bruford took the standard rock formula and blended it with heavy metal and classical in much more subtle ways than Rainbow, among others, would in the years that followed. Belew and Levin brought a punk vibe to the table that lasted through the eighties and even prompted Fripp to ponder a Frippless Crimson at one point.
The nineties became about double trios while the 2000s had Fripp and Belew taking heavy metal musicians to school and teaching them a master class.
So, as a King Crimson with Jakko Jacszyk embodying every vocalist from Lake to Wetton to Belew (and sounding quite nicely like Boz Burrell at times) reimagines its entire body of work, with Belew (now the ninth man inactive) adding the latter Crimson to his power trio’s shows, they bring the entirety of their work to streaming and digital download at long last.
I couldn’t be happier, particularly since I get to listen to this on my new car stereo.