Monday, July 2, 2012

I Love You Just The Way You Were

Last week I wrote a positive review of Joe Jackson's new tribute to Duke Ellington. This past weekend I spent some time listening to King Crimson, specifically "In The Wake Of Poseidon," their second LP and last with Greg Lake and "Red" their third and last LP with John Wetton. It made me think of Joe Jackson again.

Jackson, since his debut, has dabbled in pop, punk, jazz, rock, classical, Latin and swing, and with each release, has left his fans in the wake of his whimsy. Diehards take to it all with grace. Casual fans, not so much. Not everything worked, but J.J.'s arrogance aside, none of the records sounded slapped together. The records were smart, whether you liked the result or not.

King Crimson, up until 2003, has been a constant. Well, at least founder Robert Fripp has. Since their debut, KC has not only shifted gears as much as Joe Jackson, releasing records covering genres such as prog rock, jazz, heavy metal, industrial, new wave and folk, but they have had as many line changes as a pro hockey team. If King Crimson was a man and each line-up was a job, this man hasn't kept a job longer than 4 years. (2000-2003 seems like the longest stretch with the same band members and the same sound.)

Many would argue that King Crimson is not a band, but an aggregation. People come and go, simply to act out Robert Fripp's musical fantasies and whims. I would imagine there are just as many fans of both as there are fans of neither. But what strikes me is the way KC (Fripp) has jumped from ship to ship, leaving employees in his wake, and has seemlessly created a career that for the most part, is unblemished, with a fanbase, for the most part, wholly satisfied.

I'm not comparing the artists. Nor am I creating a case for Joe Jackson. This is a curiosity. Is it simply the music? Does the free-form attack of King Crimson allow for the not-so-subtle changes in what they've delivered from LP to LP? What it is about pop artists that gets them less leeway in their creativity?

Another artist that comes to mind of course is Todd Rundgren. Many gave up on this poor guy 40 years ago, the second he followed the pop masterpiece "Something/Anything?" with the psych/prog/metal/soul/pop/funk of "A Wizard/A True Star." Or how about David Bowie? Poseur or visionary? Personally, I think Bowie's been one step ahead of everyone since 1970's "The Man Who Sold The World."

Any thoughts on artists or bands who have been musical chameleons for bad or worse?

In the meantime, here are two fave KC moments--one from each of the records I mentioned earlier.


soundsource said...

I like em and I respect em even if I don't really care for their music. I'd rather have and elegant failure than boring repetition.
Neil Young could be the poster child for this in a sense.
He's had plenty of dogs out there (makes me shudder just to think of some of em) but he's hit a few grand slams and had haf his fair share of home runs and triples. And he keeps trying new things. Sometimes it works other.....OY VEY.
I'd rather have a grand failure than a retread oldies act with dyed black wigs and paunchy bellies trying to regain past glories or some aging rocker hiring the producer of the moment and adding the electronic effect of the day to update their sound.

just thought I should give a shout out to Robert Plant in this category cause he could be a template for how to due it with grace and style and some great results.

oldkdawg said...

I was reading your post and started thinking about Neil and get to the end and go to the comments and Soundsource has already posted about Neil and did it much better than I would have. I will just agree with everything Soundsouce has said. I would add to his comment about Robert, that he does it with grace and style but he also makes it look so dang easy. Great post to get us thinking on a Monday morning.

Bansheeva said...

I think most bands try to vary things a bit but some stand out more than others.
madonna has had a few changes in direction. Whether she is a leader or a usurper I am not sure.
REM tried to be different on their cds especially on albums like Out of time and UP.
Blur varied things from cd to cd whereas their arch rival Oasis stuck to the "beatles love-in" route.
U2 re-invented their sound from The Joshua Tree with Achtung Baby.
Even Guns and Roses varied it a bit on their Use you Illusion cds.
Metallica have had a few changes not to mention their collaboration with Lou Reed!
By the way, KC are great and have one of the most iconic LP covers in..In the court of the Crimson King. Check out a guy called Steve Wilson, he remstered their cds recently. He is a solo artist as well as a band member. His main band being Porcupine tree.

misospecial said...

very interesting post. thought-provoking... requires thought. will try to find two to rub together and comment again later.

but i love this!

Jeff Matthews said...

Evolving is one thing - many, many bands and artists have done this over the course of their careers. But the continual, intentional/self-conscious reinvention like JJ, Bowie, KC, or Neil Young is another matter. I would float two, maybe three other names for your reaction:
Frank Zappa?
Beck Hansen?
Paul Weller (less so, but I think he qualifies)?

Sal Nunziato said...

"But the continual, intentional/self-conscious reinvention..."

Is that a sore point that outweighs the output? Would say Bowie's "Black Tie, White Noise," a overlooked, solid piece of glam and soul, just get dismissed because of Bowie's agenda?

Jeff Matthews said...

I'm not knocking the self-conscious re-invention thing. For some artists (Todd, Bowie, Zappa etc), it's large part of what I love about them. I don't mind when they "fail" - I just don't choose to listen to that record, but I don't begrudge the effort. Other artists, for whatever reason, just don't resonate with me - Joe Jackson is in this category - I respect them, but something just doesn't work for me on an emotional level. I have always wanted to like Neil Young more, but other than maybe 3 or 4 of his records (Harvest, On the Beach, After the Gold Rush), I just don't.

Alan said...

They change too much, they don't change enough. Its the complaining that's the fun part. (just kidding ...)
Great post. Funniest line: "Another artist that comes to mind of course is Todd Rundgren." But you knew that.

Gene Oberto said...

KC has always been a favorite of mine. Any band that has a song called "Asbury Park" is OK with me. He's a very engaging man. He not only autographed my "A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson," he also annotated pages with remarks and comments on the dates and places in the booklet.

I would put Joni Mitchell in that category you are suggesting. From Canadian folksinger to Laurel Canyon muse to Mingus and beyond, she has played to her own drummer.

Miles is certainly there, Van Morrison, David Byrne, and in his own delusional way, Sting. I could guess your man, Mr. Costello, has dabbled in many different formulas. And, the only thing that is consistent with Mr. Zimmerman is his lyrics.

wardo said...

I've been educating myself on KC for the blog, filling in various areas about which I previously knew nothing. I've always enjoyed the first album, Red, and Thrak, but I have to add Larks' Tongues and Starless to those. Still on the fence about the '80s trilogy.

Sal Nunziato said...

I LOVE the "Red' & "Blue" portions of the trilogy, but in many ways, they sound more dated than the first album.

richeye said...

Back in college, several light years ago, I attended a lecture/performance by John Cage. What I remember most this many years later, was his response to an audience members question about whether he longed for some form of mass acceptance. His reply was simple and telling. "The closer I get to the garden, the faster I run for the forest."

Wonderful piece, Sal - even though I don't especially care for either KC or JJ.

steves said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Elvis Costello yet. I'm not a big fan of some of his musical adventures ("The Juliet Letters," the partnership with Bacharach, etc.), but I've always given him props for pushing the envelope.

soundsource said...

all these references to KC, I didn't realize KC & The Sunshine Band tried on that many different styles. I better go check their back catalogue.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Great post. King Crimson has produced few actual duds, making the success ratio arguably higher than JJ, Bowie,or Neil. And maybe Robert Fripp is more comparable to Miles Davis than those other guys.

A walk in the woods said...

I have a non-sequitur comment - just putting it here so more might see it. The last few days I've been using the Search function here on Burning Wood to go back and swoop up some great past posts regarding Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates and others.

And I just wanted to send a general shout-out to you Sal for several years of a great blog. So much quality material here, and it's great to have NO HASSLES regarding all the file-sharing services that have gone kaput and stuff. Just click and a quick save.

To that end, I wanted to say that, hey, if you want to put forth a request for we regular readers of your blog to put up a few bucks each to defray the convenience of you self-posting the links (instead of all that Rapidshare junk), I'm sure we'd all be glad to. I know you did that at least once before.

(Now some may want to throw tomatoes at me for bringing this up)

I know you do this blog for the love of it, but just sayin' - don't feel it's a crime to pass around the offering hat if it's ever needed.

Peace out!

wardo said...

"in many ways, they sound more dated than the first album"

That was my kneejerk reaction as well. I will have to spend some more time before I should approach an opinion.

Big Jim Slade said...

I think Discipline sounds quite cohesive and still impresses me, so if it's also a little dated, that doesn't bother me.

But I think the basic difference between the leeway given to a band like KC (boy, buzzbabyjesus, the Sunshine band, now there's something you wouldn't call a Robert Fripp band!) is that a prog band basically starts from a point of saying that they are trying something different and out there and maybe musically difficult, but Joe Jackson wrote 2 great albums of pop rock before deciding to change. Music that is, well, less popular also usually gets more leeway. A popular group gets pressure from the music industry to provide them with more money and the average fan is less adventurous and pigeonholes the artist with their expectations. More dedicated fans may be open to changes, but we don't always have the power of numbers.

Btw, a KC post on Burning Wood! Whoo-hoo! I have a limited appreciation for a lot of prog, but no other prog band can rock like KC. I consider them a different beast.

Anything Should Happen said...

Great Post Sal.

Agree with all you say about King Crimson, everyone has a favourite period, but the whole still stands up album after album.

Bowie wise, I'm not sure since Earthling, it's become more straight ahead pop, there's only so much trailblazing you can do and certainly the Eighties weren't kind.

On a complete change of musical direction, someone like Jean Michel Jarre blasted open directions as a sort of electronic modern day composer, but he too got to a stage where there was nowhere left to go, akin to Bowie.