Sound — 9
With King Crimson's much-heralded return to stage in 2014, fans are left wondering when, and in what form, they'll be returning to the studio to record a new album. But many fans who aren't familiar with the ongoing "ProjeKcts" may overlook this album without realizing that most of the current lineup of King Crimson is featured on this album. Guitarist Robert Fripp, vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, woodwind player Mel Collins, bassist/Stickist Tony Levin, and drummer Gavin Harrison are the featured lineup on this record, only missing Bill Reiflin and Pat Mastelotto from the current KC lineup.
And fans who either attended the band's fall 2014 Elements Tour or purchased their "Live at the Orpheum" record will note that the band brought back some older pieces that haven't been played since the 1970s, such as "The Letters" and "Starless." And as such, the material presented on "A Scarcity of Miracles" is very much in line with their Wetton-era material. Or, at least, the lighter bits of it. Most of the songs start with several minutes of atmospheric, ambient guitar synth sounds, acoustic or clean guitars, little to no percussion, and take a good while to get started. Sax and flute solos are peppered throughout the album and Fripp's playing, while still undeniably Frippesque, leans more to the melodic side of things. Jakko's vocals seem like a much softer version of their '70s-era vocalist, John Wetton. Tony Levin's bass and Chapman Stick playing are as great as ever, though definitely more leaned into the pocket than on some past Crimson works. Gavin Harrison, best known as drummer for Steven Wilson's band Porcupine Tree, offers a great performance and his drumming can be considered a lesson on the effectiveness of ghost notes.
The songs themselves are great. The opening title track has many great guitar and vocal melodies, some interesting excursions into 7/4 time, a huge anthemic guitar lead, and some truly beautiful ambient sounds. "The Price We Pay" sounds almost as close to a traditionally-structured pop/rock song as Fripp has ever gotten, and his solo on that tune is particularly tasty. "Secrets" starts with a bit over three minutes of ambient sounds and atmospheric vocals. The band spends much of the rest of the time grooving in 7/8 time, trading solos between sax and guitars. "This House" continues in pretty much the same vein, adding some truly gorgeous vocal harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place on any of Steven Wilson's works, and a really excellent tom drum line. "The Other Man" sounds like more traditional King Crimson material of the past with some interesting excursions into whole tone scales and dissonance mixed with some angular, "Discipline"-esque guitar lines by Fripp and Jakszyk. Kind of like if "Frame by Frame" happened to be released on "In the Wake of Poseidon." Closing track "The Light of Day" lacks percussion entirely and seems like a very improvised track, with some interesting vocal harmonies added to it.
The production is crisp, clear and breathtakingly dynamic, very similar to a lot of Steven Wilson's work (interestingly, he has been hard at work remastering King Crimson's early material).
This album may not have the name on the cover (or rather, prominently, since the cover does mention they are a "King Crimson ProjeKct"), but if you're looking for a record to fill the void that a lack of new KC material has left in the world, this is your current best bet.
Lyrics — 8
Like a lot of King Crimson lyrics, "A Scarcity of Miracles" has very cryptic lyrics that do more to set a mood than to tell a story. Images of battles of antiquity are evoked in verses like "Pizzaro and conquistadors/The debris and the metaphors/And the scarcity of miracles he'd found/Valverde and the battle lines and everything it undermines/And the scarcity of miracles we'd found," and melancholic verses like this from "The Price We Pay": "The words that still remain/Always stay the same/Is grief the price we pay."
It's difficult to pull anything concrete from many of the songs, but melancholy seems to be a theme to these lyrics, many mentions of ghosts and grief are made throughout the record. And the way Jakko's voice sounds on this record is very ghostly and soft, fitting these lyrics perfectly. While he definitely doesn't have the pop flair of Adrian Belew or the raw rock power of John Wetton or Greg Lake, he's certainly the perfect vocalist for this project (sorry, "ProjeKct") and the current Crimson lineup (buy their "Live at the Orpheum" record, and you'll hear him on some of their older tunes!).
Overall Impression — 9
This is pretty much a new King Crimson studio record in all but name, and it will certainly appease fans of their '70s material who may not have been enamoured with their '80s material or their more recent outings like "The Power to Believe," but it still sounds modern in many rights, especially production-wise. The lineup on this record is pretty much perfect for the current era of Crimson, and while this record may not be as powerful as a lot of past Crimson records, the ambiance of the tunes here makes this a perfect album to let just wash over you like a waterfall of sound. Robert Fripp's playing still sounds as great as ever, and combined with Mel Collin's sax playing, it's guaranteed to bring you back to the early '70s and the era of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" and "Lizard," but maybe without the heaviness of "Starless and Bible Black" or "Red." And considering that the recently-reformed King Crimson lineup is now playing old material, it just makes this record sound even more convincing. The only warning I'll give about this record is that it might be a bit difficult to listen to during a bout of extreme sadness, the chillingly melancholic sound really tugs at your heart strings. But this album is definitely something you won't want to overlook if you're a fan of King Crimson. Even though many of their "ProjeKcts" are very disconnected ideas, normally based entirely around improvisations and fractured (sorry, "FraKctured") versions of their lineups, this one deserves its own little spot in the Crimson canon. It's not quite a Crimson album, not quite an entirely different band's album, but somewhere in between. If nothing, it serves as a good preview of what may be to come on future Crimson studio albums...
Definitely highly recommended.