Saturday, June 30, 2012

King Crimson 5: Earthbound

Using a live album to say farewell to a disbanded band (and possibly fulfill contract obligations) is not a rare practice, and even King Crimson, who were so bent on challenging the norm, are part of the litany. In fact, they did it twice in their pre-digital era.
That’s not to say there wasn’t resistance from within. Robert Fripp has long insisted that the magic of a live performance can only be appreciated in person, and that no recorded artifact, where audio or visual, can do it justice. That attitude is evident all over Earthbound, collected from concerts with the Islands lineup of the band and originally mastered from a cassette, with sound quality to match. “21st Century Schizoid Man” is more distorted than it should be, and Boz Burrell doesn’t do the vocal justice. He’s not much better on “Peoria”, the boogie improv named after the town where it was recorded. With honking and shrieking sax from Mel Collins, Fripp on the wah-wah pedal, and Boz’s sub-Buddy Miles scatting (as well as on the title track), it’s hard to believe it’s the same band. “The Sailors Tale” [sic] is merely a four-minute snippet that fades out before it gets good. Slightly more interesting is a 15-minute expansion on “Groon”, the free-jazz B-side from 1970, complete with processed drums.
Earthbound wasn’t even released in America until this century, and only got bonus tracks (of equally fuzzy sound quality) 45 years after it was originally released. A much more flattering portrait of the era emerged on 2002’s Ladies Of The Road compilation, which presents the band in better form and better sound. Something of a sampler of previous archival “Collector’s Club” releases, it’s a better overview of this incarnation of the band, and how it tackled some of the more difficult material, like “Cirkus”. The first disc concludes with a hilarious bluesy snippet of “In The Court Of The Crimson King”; clearly everybody but Fripp wanted to boogie their bums off. The second disc consists of a 46-minute version of “Schizoid Man”, compiled from 13 different performances.

King Crimson Earthbound (1972)—
2017 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1972, plus 3 extra tracks
King Crimson Ladies Of The Road (2002)—3

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