Love him or hate him, guitarist and King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp is one prolific mofo. Suspicious of bootleggers and evil record companies, Fripp has been gradually releasing dozens of live documents of various Crimson manifestations. But for those wary of progressive rock, King Crimson's early-'80s incarnation—a supergroup (of course) that collected drummer Bill Bruford, bassist Tony Levin, singer/guitarist Adrian Belew, and Fripp—was a surprisingly accessible beast. Just prior to reconvening King Crimson in 1980, Fripp had begun to explore new-wave and punk music (on his Exposure album), and King Crimson began to reflect those experiments. While the trio of albums the group released in the first half of that decade (Discipline, Beat, and Three Of A Perfect Pair) are packed with the kind of prodigious playing for which Crimson is both reviled and renowned, the records also contain their fair share of catchy songs. "Sartori In Tangier" and "Sleepness," in their own way, are pretty funky, and "Three Of A Perfect Pair" and "Elephant Talk" match potent hooks with weird arrangements. Credit Belew, whose playing with David Bowie and The Talking Heads, not to mention his love of The Beatles, informed his input. Fripp has always been the band's de facto leader, but he allotted Belew a great deal of leeway for these projects, thus allowing King Crimson to enter new, unlikely pop directions. Absent Lovers: Live In Montreal 1984 reveals these Jekyll & Hyde sides of King Crimson as not-incompatible personalities, and the relationship between abstract intellectual exercises ("Industry") and pop songs ("Heartbeat") isn't as contradictory as might be imagined. Fripp's copious, pretentious liner notes are a real hoot, too.

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