Home > Music > King Crimson – Discipline (1981)

King Crimson – Discipline (1981)

folderDiscipline is never a means in itself, only a means to an end. It’s presumably the crowning achievement of an era of King Crimson that progheads don’t seem to like as much as their ’70s proto-metal or even their earliest, standard creating recordings. Difficult to say, since like your average genre listener, they are hard to please and even harder to taxonomize. Discipline is strikingly different from its not-so-immediate predecessor (Red), but the changes it introduces pale in comparison to the rest of King Crimson’s unusual 1980s period… well, I say unusual, but in the context of what this band has done, maybe not so much. Still some remnants of the experiments here found their way into the band’s music for decades to come…

Important to understanding this band’s evolution is how much of an ensemble it was; on Discipline, founding veteran Robert Fripp and his trusty drumling Bill Bruford are joined by two newcomers. On wacky guitar effects and main vocals is Adrian Belew, who’d built a reputation as a skilled performer under famous musicians like Frank Zappa and David Bowie. Meanwhile, Tony Levin introduces listeners to the Chapman stick, which definitely changed my understanding of what you could do with a bassline when I first listened to this. These four musicians take two major musical ideas and forge them into one unusual sound – complex, polyrhythmic interlocking riffs hammered into structures that resemble the rising “New Wave” sound that dominated other slots on the rock and pop charts of the time.

In contrast to the band’s next two albums (Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair), which shift the balance ever towards pop music, and also in contrast to the relatively consistent sounds used, Discipline is ironically all over the place, effortlessly shifting between bouncy, sound effect laden arrangements, semi-ambient guitarscapes, and even one improvisational piece vaguely reminiscent of the band’s previous incarnation. Even with the important glue of Bruford and Levin holding things together, Fripp and Belew’s guitar parts take prominence in the mixing (which is competent and effective in ways I find uninteresting) and the writing, as they handle most of the interlocking melodies. The emphasis on this aspect of the band’s arrangements comes at the expense of the dynamic range that distinguished much of their older work, which is most understandable and justifiable when the band locks into soundscape mode (for instance, “The Sheltering Sky”) but doesn’t necessarily jive with the vocals, since Adrian Belew relies heavily on the dynamism of his vocal parts to define his style.

For any flaws it has, Discipline is certainly a dramatic restructuring of King Crimson’s sound, although whether you find that to be worth your time may depend very heavily on how you value ’80s rock tropes. I had the fortune to go through a period of new wave obsession just before I learned about this band, so one of my primary motivations for acquiring this album was, in fact, seeing how the band adopted to the decade. For that, Discipline may forever hold a special place in my heart, even if others exert a stronger influence on my brain…

Highlights: “Elephant Talk”, “Indiscipline”, “Thela Hun Ginjeet”

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  1. 2015/03/12 at 16:56

    It’s weird to think of King Crimson has having anything to do with New Wave. I only heard their famous debut, which was pretty great. I could only see them growing further into overblown rock songs with long instrumental sections. That’s not a bad thing. They did it well in their debut.

  1. 2016/03/24 at 21:58
  2. 2017/01/12 at 19:08
  3. 2017/01/18 at 19:00

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