Dusted Reviews

King Crimson - The Power To Believe

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: King Crimson

Album: The Power To Believe

Label: Sanctuary

Review date: Mar. 24, 2003

Thunder and Finesse

King Crimson, according to guitarist and founding member Robert Fripp, has always been a musical force that exists outside of the musicians themselves, a force that calls upon their frail musical flesh to bring the noise of the Crim into the world.

After King Crimson’s heady and always-changing Progressive Rock line-ups of the ’60s and early ’70s came the sublime and frightening Muir-Wetton-Cross-Bruford-Fripp assembly that released Lark’s Tongues in Aspic in 1972, only to splinter – sans Jamie Muir’s conceptual Shamanism – a short two years later. The best moments of these different groupings, from 1969’s In the Court of King Crimson onward, have contributed immensely to the thing called Post-Rock: that slippery blend of improv and texture; noise and stasis; irony and naiveté.

Following a long silence, King Crimson re-invented itself in the 80s as a minimalist rock gamelan with spiritual underpinnings and a pan-global vibe, not to mention some sweet and arch melodic pop from singer-lyricist-stunt guitarist Adrian Belew. With two amazing – and very different – guitarists, and Tony Levin’s lyrical bass over Bill Bruford’s percussive juggernaut, the new Crimson made three records between 1981 and 1984 that define the outer edges of mainstream experimental rock from that era, exploring and exploiting the technology of digital guitar effects and electronic percussion.

The long history lesson here is for a reason: King Crimson has always been followed by fans obsessed with the band’s own past; and that past often casts a huge shadow over whatever King Crimson attempts. Fripp himself has expressed dismay at this fact in his on-line diary. It is, perhaps, one price to be paid for being a 30-year-old rock institution that chooses exploration and fresh ideas over nostalgia – mongering and pleasing the crowd.

The band’s work in the 90s and beyond was often brave and powerful, sometimes diffuse and unfocused. But the seeds planted in the efforts of the dense and bewildering “double trio” and the improv explorations of the various spin-off Projeckts, have at last taken root and grown into King Crimson’s best work in years on The Power To Believe.

The cover, from a painting by P.J. Crook, sets an enigmatic tone: a naked baby is born into a smoky post-industrial world of gas masks, soldiers, thronging masses. Is the child a messiah? A medical experiment? Simply a normal child born into an urban world? This is the most disturbing King Crimson cover image since the famous screaming red face on their first album.

A Belew Haiku, sung gently through a Vocoder-like effect, is the recurring theme on the album. Heard alone and in various musical settings, it is a comforting presence throughout, helping to temper the doom-laden tritones descending in metallic crunch, the dislocated pounding rhythms, the menacing but strangely alluring ostinatos. Not that lyricism and beauty are left behind: Belew’s ballad “Eyes Wide Open” lopes through a landscape that is simultaneously yearning and hopeful; “The Power To Believe II” is a tour de force of grace and dignity that moves with the gentle flow of Javanese court gamelan and the tragic depth of Korean classical music. There are also nods to detuned testosterone rock, most notably on the good-natured but satirical “Happy to be Happy With What You Have to be Happy With.”

This particular edition of King Crimson has been together for longer than any other, and I can’t help but think that the lack of interpersonal rancor – along, of course, with the impeccable and inspired levels of musicianship – are a big part of why this mutation makes such a great team. You can hear the absolute precision, yes; but the head and hands have not left the heart and soul behind. Fripp, Belew, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and touch-guitarist Trey Gunn are equal in the clean, high-resolution mix: the crystalline sonics are perfect for this particular project.

King Crimson at its best generates a big and scary, but ultimately benevolent, force. And the power unleashed on The Power To Believe, whether bruising or healing, is impressive indeed.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

Other Reviews of King Crimson

21st Century Guide to King Crimson, Vol. 2: 1981-2003

Read More

View all articles by Kevin Macneil Brown

Find out more about Sanctuary

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.