The contents of this disc are perhaps best summed up by the so-small-it's-borderline-illegible text on the rear gatefold CD packaging. It begs the musical question(s): "Is This a Single? Is This an Album? Is This Listenable?" One apt response might be: are these the listener/consumer's sole options? The short answer is no. The 21st Century Schizoid Man (1996) EP was initially made available while the mid-'90s double-trio resurrection of King Crimson was actively touring in support of THRAK (1995). Although the six-man reformation did very infrequently play "21st Century Schizoid Man" on-stage, it was never part of their regular repertoire. With that in mind, the two-pronged benefit is that it would it satiate enthusiasts clamoring to hear the song, while whetting the appetites of those who were eager to discover vintage performances from Robert Fripp's barely tapped-into archives. Included are the original six-minute LP track, an edit of same -- with more than two minutes lopped off -- followed by three different early-'70s King Crimson lineups, playing equally unique updates. A high fidelity recording represents the efforts of the incipient incarnation with Fripp (guitar/Mellotron), Ian McDonald (sax), Greg Lake (bass/vocals), Michael Giles (drums), and Peter Sinfield (words/illuminations) from this combo's penultimate gig -- which just so happened to take place at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on December 15, 1969. Fast-forward two years and two months to find Fripp joined by a completely new ensemble with Mel Collins (sax), Boz Burrell (bass/vocals), and Ian Wallace (drums). They thrash and slash their collective way through a blistering 11-plus minute firestorm that was captured from the combo's February 11, 1972 stop in Wilmington, DE. The same version would grace Earthbound (1972) -- which had been out of print for well over a decade by the mid-'90s. Finally, in 2002 it would be given a 24-bit remastering and rightfully restored to the King Crimson catalog once again. Lastly, the personnel of Fripp, Bill Bruford (drums/percussion), David Cross (violin/viola/Mellotron/electric piano), and John Wetton (bass guitar, lead vocal) grind their way through the number. Particularly inspired and worth noting is the considerably more melodic, yet no less intense attack with which Fripp unleashes his leads during the instrumental break preceding the final verse. Wetton's skull-crushing propulsive bass cannot be tamed as it goes string to string with Cross' eerie runs up and down the violin. Even as future configurations of the good ship Crimson would continue the tradition, there is plenty of progress set forth in these essential, seminal, and formative renderings of "21st Century Schizoid Man."
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer