Sometimes being saddled with the ex-King Crimson tag can be a real millstone around the neck. It's well known that Boz Burrell found his musical past something of an embarrassment, and Gordon Haskell resented being stopped by wide-eyed KC fans constantly asking him what working with Robert Fripp was like, and if he would play "Cadence And Cascade" in a set that was more Tony Joe White than anything of a reddish hue. Whilst David Cross may be bored to tears with people asking him about being expelled from the court of the crimson King, on the evidence of his new album, Closer Than Skin, he holds no grudges whatsoever.
With ten songs co-written with bass guitarist Mick Paul and lyricist, Richard Palmer-James (another name from Crimson's past), it's a remarkably powerful and confident collection and a dramatic rebuke to those people who have undervalued his work in the past. Forceful and energetic throughout, Cross constructs an intense set that nods both towards a thrashy blast of mosh-pit metal and his previous pedigree. Deploying a rasping sample from the opening seconds of LTIA pt2 during the spicy sway of Awful Love (and reprised on the sizzling Give Me Your Name), might be a novel, slightly lark's tongue-in-cheek effect that also reminds us of the company Cross used to keep.
Though less obvious, the recurring keyboard motif that emerges between the monstrous riffing of the excellent, I Buy Silence, whispers the phrase "moto perpetuo" in the ear of this listener. Such tactics carry the risk of inviting unwelcome comparison. Yet Cross need have no worries; Closer Than Skin is more than capable of standing on its own two feet. This is emphatically not the sound of someone having to rely on old tricks to turn the heads of the crowd. The album works as well as it does because of the depth and strength of its material. With an average length of five minutes per song, there's an economy of movement that ensures ideas and energy are not dissipated or lost.
The crunching baritone snarl of Paul Clark's guitar carves out a dark space that generally leaves the upper registers for Cross to deliver sharp, aggressive lines with swaggering impunity. For all his lofty command of the aural air-space, some of the most exciting moments on the disc are found when Cross locks together with Clark. On the album's stand-out track, Only Fooling, this approach yields a sublime, rhapsodic blend of howling sustained notes that demands repeated listening.
With staunch and solid support from Lloyd on drums and Mick Paul's driving bass, vocalist Archie Stanton meets the material with a cool and assured poise. His smoky voice lends a gravitas that supports the melody imbuing it with Stanton's own rich flavour. Though slightly under-mixed in places, his vocals shine on Only Fooling, the rockist thump of States of Deception and the track that should more than satisfy all old-school prog-heads and neo-prog proponents alike, Valley of The Kings. Even the concession to AOR, Counting, maintains both its dignity and integrity whilst simultaneously suggesting some serious cross-over appeal.
With only the last track, Anybody, misfiring somewhat, nine out of ten tracks isn't bad going and certainly no reason not to give this album anything but praise. Long-term Cross converts will welcome this release with open arms. Wary Crimson fans, a notoriously picky bunch at the best of times, should approach this release without any worries of feeling short-changed or being disappointed. Closer Than Skin is without doubt the most coherent and artistically successful album of rock songs released by the ex-Crim alumni.
Review by Sid Smith
Available from Noisy Records.
All Music Guide