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Music / Three of a Perfect Pair

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"Oh, what a perfect mess!"

Three of a Perfect Pair, released in 1984 through EG Records in conjunction with Polydor Records in the UK and Warner (Bros.) Records in the US, is the tenth studio album by English Progressive Rock group King Crimson. The final entry in the Incline to 1984, the band's trilogy of New Wave Music albums under their "Gamelan Trio" lineup, it presents a middle-ground approach between the experimental Discipline and the commercially accessible Beat, influenced heavily by the Troubled Production of the latter and the strain in placed on the band. The members attempted to diffuse lingering tension among each other well in advance, but still found themselves unable to fully reconcile the radically different approaches of their previous two albums, reflected in the more anxious tone of the music on this record. As a result, they made the decision to split Three of a Perfect Pair directly down the middle, providing a side of accessible songs and a side of more aggressive, avant-garde material.

Although it ended up being the highest-charting of the 80's trilogy in the UK (and indeed their highest-charting release in the country since Starless and Bible Black), peaking at No. 30, in the US it was their lowest-charting album since Red, only reaching No. 58 on the Billboard 200. Fripp himself had grown disillusioned with the Gamelan Trio configuration of the band and how it operated, and would dissolve King Crimson a second time following the album's supporting tour, exactly ten years after their first breakup; another decade would pass before Fripp decided to reform the band again.

Three of a Perfect Pair was supported by two singles: the Title Track and "Sleepless".


Left Side
  1. "Three of a Perfect Pair" (4:13)
  2. "Model Man" (3:49)
  3. "Sleepless" (5:24)note 
  4. "Man with an Open Heart" (3:05)
  5. "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)" (4:47)

Right Side

  1. "Industry" (7:04)
  2. "Dig Me" (3:16)
  3. "No Warning" (3:29)
  4. "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" (6:05)

Principal members

  • Adrian Belew - guitars, lead vocals
  • Bill Bruford - drums
  • Robert Fripp - guitar, Frippertronics
  • Tony Levin - bass, chapman stick, synthesizer, backing vocals

This dead end demolishes the tropes:

  • And I Must Scream: "Dig Me" is narrated by a rusting car trapped in a junkyard, longing to escape but stuck in its prison of rust and decay.
  • Anti-Love Song: Both "Model Man" and "Man with an Open Heart" revolve around men caught in dysfunctional relationships, the former having fruitlessly tried to match his partner's unrealistic ideals, and the latter suspecting that he's being cheated on.
  • Book Ends: The Right Side opens and closes with Epic Rocking instrumentals.
  • Central Theme: As given away by the title, the album loosely revolves around themes of dichotomy, specifically the idea of two opposing subjective truths and a third objective truth (playing off of the saying that there's "three sides to every story").
  • Continuity Nod: "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" acts as a belated sequel to the title tracks on, well, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, quoting passages from both.
  • Distinct Double Album: Single-disc variant: the Left Side consists of commercially accessible New Wave Music in the vein of Beat, while the Right Side consists of experimental industrial material in the vein of Discipline. Robert Fripp respectively described the two sides as "accessible" and "excessive" in a contemporary BBC Radio 1 interview.
  • Drone of Dread: "Sleepless" features repeated synth hums throughout its runtime, tying in with the eerie mood and lyrics about insomnia and unease.
  • Epic Rocking: Both the first and last tracks on the Right Side exceed six minutes.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Industry" is an industrial song.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Every track on the Right Side hard cuts into the next, giving the impression of a unified suite.
  • Foreign Language Title: "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)"; "nuages" is French for "clouds."
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The album cover follows the same template as that for Discipline and Beat, featuring a stark symbol in the middle and the band name and album title besides it in plain text, all atop a solid-color backdrop.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: LP and cassette releases are divided between a "Left Side" and a "Right Side". The 2001 remaster meanwhile includes a number of bonus tracks, listed on the back of the CD case as the "Other Side".
  • Industrial: Elements of this are prominently featured throughout the album's Right Side, most significantly on "Industry".
  • The Insomniac: "Sleepless" is narrated from the perspective of one.
  • Instrumentals: "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)" and most of the Right Side, with the sole exception of "Dig Me".
  • Male Sun, Female Moon: The album art provides an abstract take on the concept, in which the sun and moon are respectively represented as a masculine phallus and a feminine crescent, the former preparing to penetrate the latter.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Like Discipline and Beat, the cover for Three of a Perfect Pair (designed this time around by Peter Willis) consists simply of a symbol against a solid-color background with small text atop— in this case, an abstract blue sun and moon design on a yellow backdrop.
  • Mythology Gag: The album cover is an abstract reinterpretation of the Larks' Tongues in Aspic cover, tying in with both the experimentalism of the Right Side and the inclusion of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" as the closing track.
  • New Sound Album: While the Left Side is just as new wave as Discipline and Beat were, the Right Side incorporates prominent industrial influences that would more thoroughly define King Crimson's later output.
  • New Wave Music: King Crimson's third and final album in the genre, sitting between the experimental Discipline and the accessible Beat.
  • No Ending: "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)", and by extent the album, doesn't properly end, instead abruptly fading out in the middle of an idea.
  • One-Word Title: "Sleepless", "Industry"
  • Perfection Is Impossible: "Model Man" is narrated by a man coming to this conclusion, learning to accept his flaws after sacrificing so much of himself to fit his partner's unrealistic ideals.
  • Performance Video: The music video for "Sleepless" (one of the only two entries in King Crimson's videography, alongside "Heartbeat") intersperses footage of the band performing with sequences based on the song's lyrics (e.g. water ripples and bare feet treading on broken glass).
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Sleepless" was inspired by Adrian Belew's unpleasant nights in the old house the band were staying at during the album's production. He kept having weird dreams, found it difficult to fall back asleep, and became convinced that the building was haunted.
  • Re-Cut: Most copies of the initial US LP release on Warner (Bros.) Records feature the single mix of "Sleepless" in place of the original; the packaging doesn't make note of this aside from the song's timestamp on the disc label being roughly two minutes shorter. CD releases, meanwhile, feature the album mix in all regions (though the initial "target" US CD still features the timestamp for the single mix on the disc label).
  • Rule of Three: The album called Three of a Perfect Pair was the third and final album by the Gamelan Trio incarnation of King Crimson, closes out with Part III of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic", has a total of nine tracks (3x3) on it, and released three years after the first Gamelan Trio album, Discipline. Furthermore, the 2001 remaster splits the album into three "sides," reflecting the "Left" and "Right" portions of the original LP and an "Other Side" of bonus tracks.
  • Sequel Song: "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" is a belated follow-up to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" from, well, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, reprising melodic elements of both of its predecessors.
  • Sexy Packaging: The album art is designed to allude to penetrative sex, featuring a phallus rising towards a labial crescent.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Industry", "Dig Me", "No Warning", and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" are composed and sequenced as a single, multi-movement suite.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Dig Me" features Adrian Belew reading out an inner monologue by a rusting old car in a junkyard, speaking the verses and singing the choruses.
  • Title Track: "Three of a Perfect Pair"
  • Two-Part Trilogy: The album title (and that of the Title Track) suggests this, and while the album itself is universally considered part of a unified trilogy with Discipline and Beat, its middle-ground approach can give the impression of this trope at face value.
  • Uncommon Time:
    • The first two songs alternate between standard 4/4 verses and unconventional 7/8 choruses, with "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part III)" being based entirely around the latter time signature.
    • "Industry" is in 9/8.
  • The X of Y: Three of a Perfect Pair