My first exposure to King Crimson came in 1982 via the song “Neal Jack and Me”. That song with it’s driving bass line and syncopated guitar melodies set against Adrian Belew’s voice made me a instant fan. While Beat was one of my first CDs, my interest in King Crimson would prompt me to seek out the follow up to Beat called Three of A Perfect Pair released a bout two years later.
Three of a Perfect Pair was the tenth album and third in a series of recordings that started with Discipline in 1981. More importantly, it was the beginning of the classic line up featuring Adrian Belew’s vocals. It’s my favorite configuration of the band and with Three of a Perfect Pair I was hoping for more of what I liked about Beat.
While not at all disappointing the album turned out to be an interesting compromise of forward and backward thinking. Unable to reach a compromise on a direction, the band decided to split the album into a “right side” and “left side” as if to suggest brain hemispheres that favored popular (left) and experimental (right).
The sides theme fit with the general concept of the album of perfect opposites. The opposing forces of commercialism and the band’s native tendency towards experimentation created an uneasy tension in and out of the studio.
Aside from the more accessible Andrian Belew led songs on the “left side” of the album, the other half proved that the band was not going mainstream anytime soon. This was unique in that this configuration of King Crimson with Robert Fripp, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford would reach back to the band’s past with ’70s era-like experimentation but with Belews voice on occasion. This was the side of King Crimson that was new to me and took some time to adjust to, even with Belew’s voice to make it more palatable.
In that regard the album was less a satisfying sequel to Beat and more a what could have been had Belew been part of the line up from the Red or Starless and Bible Black era. The striking duality was not expected as songs like “Industry”or Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 3” were jarring returns to the King Crimson of old. I have to admit that at the time I was not ready quite ready for such unplugged trip in a time when I was just starting to dig into electronic music. Over time I would learn to appreciate the last half of the album to the point of exploring its inspiration.
Those tracks that feature Belew’s vocals against songs very much like those on Beat were my favorites. The title song, “Model Man” and “Man With An Open Heart” are tightly constructed around Levin’s bass playing and Fripp’s guitar. The song “Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)” was one of the albums more accessible instrumentals. Due to it being on the “right side”, I always wondered if it might have been the only track without Belew’s vocals that the band truly worked together on.
Three of a Perfect Pair marks the end of an era in many ways. It was as if the band decided at some point that they would withdraw from any progress they made towards mainstream acceptance gained with Beat with this conflicted release. Shortly after the release of Three of a Perfect Pair, the band went into a hiatus and re emerged a few years later with a new line up and sound (once again). A re-issue in 2001 added a third side to the album, living up to its namesake. Despite having two and then three sides, it’s really the first one that made this album special to me.