Aarghh!! What a din! It’s a horrible, horrible racket, and I’m glad for it. “Earthbound” is a brief glimpse into the tour that made Robert Fripp sack the band upon their return to Britain and completely rethink Crimson from the ground floor up. Culled from recordings from their 1972 US tour, this album is one fucking shocker from beginning to end. The assembly around the electric guitar of Robert Fripp here consisted of Boz Burrell (vocals, bass), Ian Wallace (drums) and Mel Collins (the ex-Circus, multi-saxophoneer who had previously guested on earlier Crimson albums “In The Wake Of Poseidon” and “Lizard.”) And it was this very group who cut “Islands” save the recently sacked VCS3/sound mixer Pete Sinfield who was replaced on this tour by Hunter MacDonald.
Issued several months between the ever-rife personnel changes within King Crimson, “Earthbound” narrowly missed being Crimson’s swansong. The title is ominously grave-projected, the record’s recording source was a cassette, the cover is black and the back cover holds a quote that the record was “the fifth in an occasional series.” But no, they would not ‘cease to exist’…not just yet.
“Earthbound” is King Crimson’s ground zero, their dead center of their first nine releases, as its place in the perversely symmetrical, chronological pairings attest:
In The Court Of The Crimson King
In The Wake Of Poseidon
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic
Starless And Bible Black
There IS a pattern there. And of course: “Earthbound” fits within the Crimson canon like the Joker in a deck of playing cards, like the Fool in Tarot, like a hermaphrodite next to a man and woman coupled and like Harpo within the Marx Brothers. It just DOESN’T FIT into any neat pigeonholes. It’s not progressive rock. It’s not heavy metal. It’s certainly not soul, either (Although Boz, heh, tries.) It barely even sounds like a Crimson album — it’s more like a power trio with sax going off the rails over the nearest cliff.
So what DOES “Earthbound” sound like?
It’s the sound of dying in a pit of noise forever, that’s what it is.
“Earthbound” is a rare instance of King Crimson as an uncontrolled, non-reared in wall of noise forsaking their previous stance of finessed dynamics into a loud and flattening volume blur out, spurred on by Burrell’s faux-vox and Wallace’s insistence to beat the heads outta his bass drums while Mel Collins blares his gonads through parp-ola alto, soprano and baritone saxophones. And Fripp can do nothing but overdrive the volume pedal on his customised Frizzbox and just pray it comes together before the next chorus. But he’s surrounded by musicians gate crashing all of Fripp’s diametrically opposed precisions and ‘workings-at-the-structure-from-within’s, as he desperately attempt to tether it all together by blasting out in a fashion even more wayward than his raving cohorts.
A perfect example is “21st Century Schizoid Man.” It is all of the above. It opens with a clang of piercing high hats and an “Oi!” from a non-Fripp member of the band, and what cuts loose for the better part of 13 minutes is by far the most reckless version of their psychotically edged masterpiece. After you’ve heard it, your only recollections will be your mother, your name, Ian Wallace’s grossly over recorded bass drum booting and high hat crashes and Fripp’s brilliant pre-Sky Saw erratic and note flurry-clustering solo. It’s so careless, so raw, so “Metallic K.O.”, it’s unbelievable.
Boz starts scatting up a storm in the follow-up improvisational “Peoria,” and it’s so loud that when he does, all other sounds momentarily cut out, as they do on side two’s other improv, “Earthbound.” But “The Sailor’s Tale” fades in mid-blow, and the usual mellotron-in-the-USA antics ensue as the difference in voltage makes the instrument drop a good half octave causing player Mel Collins to just vamp it up for the fuck of it, while getting those massed banks of nimbus clouds assembled overhead, just in time for an ear-piercing, creaky solo from Fripp. It all fades on a drum solo. Side two sees the band tackle (or rather, get tackled by) a near fatal attempt of their 1970 single B-side, “Groon.” What was once a light country ramble disguised as a post-Django Reinhardt filigree piece is now rendered into a stupid, stomping double team of oxen drunkingly plowing through not a china shop, but an entire warehouse of Wedgwood overstock. Which is by turns a knee-slapper deluxe but also raises a gigantic question mark as to its inclusion here. Suddenly, all laughter stops with Hunter MacDonald’s shocking VCS3 entry midway into the meandering drum solo as it tears in with full shrieking thunder, effecting half the drums into pitch controlled flares that rocket and revolve at high volume like boulders in a cement mixer miked with full echo. The VCS3’s pan pot starts oscillating the whole thing side to side and up and down until even the high hat is doing somersaults. While this is still occurring, Collins cuts in with free form blowing, followed by Fripp. After MacDonald gleefully twisted VCS3 assault fades, all that is left is the briefest of unaccompanied requiems from Fripp, at full volume through his customised Frizzbox.
Aarghh!! What a din! It’ll probably NEVER be issued legitimately on CD, as Fripp consistently has left it to die a quiet death outside the walls of every King Crimson compilation he’s assembled so far.
“Earthbound” deserves a far, far better fate: to be played as loudly as possible.
- The Seth Man via Head Herritage