King Crimson was a band that began in 1969 in London, from the first generation of Progressive Rock groups. They've pretty much existed ever since, despite some pretty regular break-ups and reformations (1969-1974, 1981-1984, 1994-2009). Also debatably proof that time travel is real.The only constant member of the band is guitarist and mastermind Robert Fripp, and indeed the band's 1969-1974 period was plagued by unstable lineups. However, things have stabilised somewhat since their 1981 reformation.Their music is characterised by really impressive instrumental technique, Uncommon Time signatures, Epic Rocking, pretty extreme dynamic contrasts, lots of Improv, lyrics that usually sound cooler than they read (when they appear), and a large percentage of tunes that seem specifically designed to fuck with your head.Not counting any ProjeKcts (side albums from various subsets of band members used as "research and development") since then, King Crimson had been on another hiatus since 2009. In August 2012, Fripp announced his retirement from live performance, seemingly disbanding the group. However, in September 2013 he announced a new lineup of seven musicians (including three drummers) which began touring in 2014. It is being billed as a 'farewell' tour, but if this tour truly remains the last hurrah is to be seen. As Fripp is approaching 70 and his dissatisfaction with the current state of the music industry is well documented, it very well could be.Has spawned two bands, 21st Century Schizoid Band and The Crimson ProjeKCt, comprised of former and current members who also play the band's repertoire, ostensibly with Fripp's blessing. Four of the current seven-piece band are in these units as well, putting the status of both effectively on hold.Current band members:
Robert Fripp (1969 - Present): guitar, guitar synthesizer, etc.
Beat (LP, 1982) - "Heartbeat", "Sartori in Tangier"
Three of a Perfect Pair (LP, 1984) - "Three of a Perfect Pair", "Sleepless", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III"
VROOOM (EP, 1994) -
THRAK (LP, 1995) -
The ContruKction of Light (LP, 2000) -
Happy with What You Have to Be Happy Withnote partially recorded live as well (EP, 2002) -
The Power to Believe (LP, 2003) -
"ProjeKct" studio album discography:
(as "ProjeKct Two") Space Groove (LP) - 1997
(as "ProjeKct X") Heaven and Earth (LP) - 2000
(as "Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp, and Mel Collins - A King Crimson ProjeKct") A Scarcity of Miracles (LP) - 2011
Added Alliterative Appeal: Each verse of "Elephant Talk" is a list of words that mean "talk" that share the same first letter. This gets lampshaded in the fourth verse with the line "These are words with a D this time."
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In a live performance of "Thela Hun Ginjeet", Adrian Belew recounts how the gang he encountered wanted to "Kill me! Rip my limbs off! Smash my tape recorder!"
Berserk Button: Robert Fripp hates (unsolicited) flash photography during concerts (and doesn't feel too hot about bootlegs, either).
To the point of actually stopping concerts when it happens and having the roadies take away the camera.
Don't ask him for an autograph either.
Specifically, RF believes that such things screw with a musician's ability to perform music in a honorable fashion. If you're "the right person," (who isn't out to sell autographed material, disrupt performances, or ask anything of him so you can brag about it to your buds later), at "the right place," (namely, not at concerts or out of the blue on the street), at "the right time" (when he's prepared to do such things), you may just get lucky.
Generally, anything to do with the inherently shitty nature of the music business (such as the folding of the record label King Crimson was under due to unsound business practices, ill-designed venues, self-serving promoters, jerkass "fans," and a consistent ignorance of anything KC did after 1974 by the press and the public alike) can cause the soft-spoken Englishman to make the word "fuck" REALLY stick more than any DI could hope to achieve.
It took decades, with the discography passing through a few different labels, but Fripp now finally controls the Crimson catalog. Beginning in 2008, each album is being re-issued, with new stereo mixes, bonus material, and a 5.1 surround mix (coordinated by Fripp and produced by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree) on the majority of them.
"I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat-"
"In the court of the crimson kiiiiiiiiiing ahhhhhhhhhhhhh... kiiiiiiiiiing ahhhhhhhhhhh..."
Cover Version: "Get Thy Bearings" by Donovan, "Mars, the Bringer of War" (from The Planets) by Gustav Holst, "Prism" by Pierre Favre, "Heroes" by David Bowie (note: Fripp played guitar on the original version of this song, and Belew played the song live as a member of Bowie's touring band).
The whole Wetton, Cross and Bruford line-up could be considered this. After the complete personnel turnover from "Islands" to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic", the band metamorphosed from a lush, symphonic prog band into almost a metal group. Starless and Bible Black is probably every bit as edgy as Red but just not quite as heavy.
Allmusic's review of In the Court of the Crimson King even refers to the trope by name.
Adrian Belew also qualifies. His ability to make his guitar sound like another instrument or an animal call, combined with the dexterity of the other band members, is probably what Fripp meant on making Crimson a "Small, mobile, intelligent, self sufficient unit".
Gratuitous Panning: The studio version of "VROOOM" from the THRAK album is mixed with with half of the band members (Fripp, Gunn, and Bruford) on the left channel and the other half (Belew, Levin, Mastelotto) on the right channel.
Have a Gay Old Time: "Faggot" in "The Great Deceiver" is intended to refer to a skinny person (the "stick" definition of the word), not as a gay slur. Richard Palmer-James was apparently pretty embarrassed when he remembered the word's alternate meaning (which was not commonly used in the United Kingdom at the time, so this could also be an example of Did Not Do the Bloody Research or Separated by a Common Language).
Instrumentals: Lots of them. Some King Crimson fans resent that they do songs with vocals at all.
Improv: From beloved ("Asbury Park") to almost universally despised by fans.
A curious example: "The Deception of the Thrush", an improvisation featured on many King Crimson live albums. Each iteration follows the same basic structure, but with wild variations in actual content. The linked version is arguably the best one.
Last Note Nightmare: "21st Century Schizoid Man" is probably the best known example, but the band use this trope pretty often. It's especially commonplace during live improvisations.
List Song: "Elephant Talk" lists ways to say talking ("Arguments, agreements, advice, answers...")
"Coda: I Have a Dream" (from "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV") lists major events of the 20th century.
"Coda: Marine 475" (from "VROOOM") lists… something… related to "a Lloyd's insurance syndicate which suffered huge financial losses and whose members included [the band's former managers]"
A bit of detail: The executives of the record label KC was on (EG Records) had been using artist royalties they were "delayed" in paying to invest in insurance schemes (like Lloyd's) and real estate deals; they'd also taken advantage of Fripp's spiritual retreat in the mid-70's to convince him to sign over his publishing rights (not only did the record company now own King Crimson's actual recordings, they owned the songs in totality, including licensing rights, royalties, etc...). Due to a real estate bubble bursting in the late 80s, coupled with a tidal wave of insurance claims made in that era, the execs were bankrupted, and couldn't pay up. So they sold the company, along with all of KC and Fripp's music, to Virgin Records without telling the band, and then offered all the label's artists a lump sum settlement with a gagging clause (read: bribe) to avoid getting taken to court. Fripp said fuck that (in a manner of speaking), and took the company to court; after a really long and expensive lawsuit, he managed to get the copyrights back, though to this day, he still deals with record labels selling/streaming KC stuff without authorization, one of the reasons he left public performance in 2009. More to the point: Marine 475 is the name of one of those Lloyd's Syndicates the execs had bought into with money stolen from their artists, and whose collapse led to this whole fiasco.
Long Title: "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum", "Mother Hold the Candle Steady While I Shave the Chicken's Lip"
Loudness War: Thankfully, completely averted, as Robert Fripp hates modern recording industry practices.
Minimalistic Cover Art: Earthbound has only the band name and album name on a black background. Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair each have a symbol, the band name, and album name on a solid-color background. Red just has a picture of the band's lineup at the time (Fripp, Wetton and Bruford), with text and title. Larks' Tongues in Aspic probably takes the cake, having just a symbol on a stark white background.
Actually, every single album they've made between 1973 and 2000. These guys don't usually go for Design Student's Orgasm.
Most of Crimson's archival releases and boxsets released from 1998 onward are done by the same artist, P.J. Crook. She also did the artwork for A Scarcity of Miracles.
A circa-1975 interview with Robert Fripp mentions the difference in the public's perception of the band, depending on the country: in America, they were seen almost as something one would put on a suit and tie to go see, while they were considered elsewhere to be some kind of killer metal.
Mythology Gag: The lyrics of "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum" include references to earlier Crimson songs, in particular "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" ("happy as a lark's tongue in cheek bone china doll") and "Frame by Frame" ("the world's my oyster soup kitchen door frame by frame").
"Walking on Air" (from 1995) includes the lyric "In between the deep blue sea and the sheltering sky", and one of their instrumentals (from 1981) is titled "The Sheltering Sky" (itself a reference to a novel by Paul Bowles).
Then there are "FraKctured", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV", and "Fearless and Highly Thrakked", whose titles refer to earlier songs/instrumentals.
Rock Me, Amadeus!: "The Devil's Triangle" has some obvious similarities to "Mars, the Bringer of War", but different enough to not be a copyright violation. (They either didn't ask for permission or were denied permission to record it at that time. Later on, some archival live albums such as Epitaph included recordings of their adaptation of "Mars, the Bringer of War" that they performed live in 1969, titled simply "Mars".)
Rock Trio: The lineup just before their mid-70s hiatus. In the 90s, King Crimson's six-man lineup was billed as being two Rock Trios put together.
The lyrics of "Happy Family" (from Lizard) are widely believed to be a thinly-veiled reference to The Beatles' breakup ("Silas" = George, "Rufus" = Ringo, "Jonah" = John, "Jude" = Paul), which would explain the cover illustration.
The opening lyrics to "Epitaph" reference Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence"
Silly Love Songs: You wouldn't expect to see this trope here, but there you are. "Cadence and Cascade".
Soundtrack Dissonance: A French porn studio in the mid 70s used "Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part II" in one of their films (Emmanuelle). While Fripp was irked that they didn't ask for his permission to use the track, he commented/joked in his online diary that they actually couldn't have picked a better KC song to use (honestly, the song does have certain raunchy, sexy overtones). Nonetheless, the heaviness of the piece might seem a bit off to some.
Spoken Word In Music: "Elephant Talk," "Indiscipline," "Thela Hun Ginjeet," "Neurotica," "Dig Me", "Coda: Marine 475"note only in the studio version, and even there it's almost inaudible in the mix
"Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part I", near its end, includes a recording of the play "Gallowglass": "[...] you shall be hanged by the neck upon a gibbet until you are dead", with a Scare Chord at the same time as the word "dead".
Studio Chatter: Right at the end of the Islands album, there's a recording of the string and woodwind musicians rehearsing "Prelude: Song of the Gulls".
Textless Album Cover: In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, and Larks' Tongues in Aspic.
Also, the ProjeKct Two albums Space Groove and Live Groove.
The Spartan Way: Bill Bruford's descriptions of what playing in King Crimson was like almost make the band sound like this.
Bruford: In Yes, there was an endless debate about should it be F natural in the bass with G sharp on top by the organ. In King Crimson... you were just supposed to know.
Bruford (on joining King Crimson): It was like going over the Berlin Wall... into East Germany.
Title Confusion: The last song on Red is titled "Starless" on the album cover, but Fripp sometimes announced it as "Starless and Bible Black" in concert. The reason for the shortened title apparently was that the previous album, Starless and Bible Black, contained an improvisation titled "Starless and Bible Black", which was completely different from the song "Starless". The confusion is understandable, given that "Starless" actually contains the lyrics "starless and bible black," whereas "Starless and Bible Black" does not (being an instrumental). Whew.
This was actually because Wetton wrote "Starless" as the title track for the previous album, but the rest of the band rejected it and wend with the improvisation. For "Red," they brought the song back, but since the original title was already taken, they shortened it.
The band often had (private) parody titles for their LPs. Hence Braless and Slightly Slack, or Tree of a Perfect Pear.
They do this in their improvs as well; One is called "Shark's Lungs In Lemsip".
Title Track: An unusual case, in that all but one of their studio albums have title tracks (and even the one that doesn't, Beat, has a song called "Heartbeat"). It appears that Robert Fripp finds the inclusion of a title track vitally important. The most amusing example of this is the album Starless and Bible Black—although they had begun writing a song whose chorus included the title phrase, it was eventually rejected from the album, and a live improv was just added in its place and titled "Starless and Bible Black". The originally intended title track made its way onto Red, where it was entitled just "Starless"