Monkey Business: 1972-1997 is yet another late-'90s Blueprint release overflowing with less than interesting recordings by John Wetton. This time around, longtime collaborator Richard Palmer-James joins Wetton, an interesting marketing ploy to entice the voracious appetites of King Crimson's fan base. Unfortunately, the set doesn't satisfy such appetites, nor was it really intended to. Wetton and Palmer-James first met in school in 1962, but their collaborative efforts officially materialized ten years later when they joined what was to be the most stunning and funkified incarnation of King Crimson (1972-1974). With Wetton's aggressive, throbbing bass and Lake-like voice and Palmer-James' trenchant lyrics (often cold and dark but certainly free from the shackles of Sinfield's medieval sentiment), KC carved a new niche in progressive, improvisational rock. Monkey Business sheds a broken light on the 25-year musical partnership between Wetton and Palmer-James. A collection of previously unreleased recordings, including live performances and spare King Crimson demos (recorded as a basis for Palmer-James' lyric writing), Monkey Business is insubstantial at best. While nearly 50 percent of the material here is drawn from KC compositions and demos, very little of this is memorable. The 1972-1974 instrumental demos ("Easy Money," "Book of Saturday," "Starless 2," "Magazines"), each featuring Wetton on guitar or piano, are brief and minimal. They were recorded for Palmer-James' benefit and certainly were not intended for public consumption. The low-key "Magazines," originally written for KC's aborted follow-up to Red, surfaced in a fleshed-out form on Wetton's 1998 release, Arkangel. Monkey Business does contain one gem, which may make it essential for Bruford and UK fans. The infectious "Confessions" (1976) is a snappy, tightly coiled little Bruford/Wetton duet that foretells the coming of UK. Recorded at the same session, the lengthier, less interesting "Good Ship Enterprise" harks back to "Starless" in its foreboding, solemn presentation.
The rest of the set is a hodgepodge of acoustic live performances ("The Night Watch," "Book of Saturday"), contemporary studio renditions ("Doctor Diamond," "Starless"), more Wetton/Palmer-James originals ("Rich Men Lie," "Cologne," "The Laughing Lake"), and questionable filler, including a poorly recorded cover of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business." Also featured is "The Glory of Winning," a sappy Wetton/Downes piece, which validates the accusations that Wetton has, at times, cruised the unchallenging low road of "adult contemporary" music. The set closes with 1997 renditions of KC's "Doctor Diamond" and "Starless." Palmer-James provides the programmed sounds on each tune, which from the outset presents a problem for anyone already familiar with the original songs as performed by KC. At the same time, within the context of this set, these are arguably the strongest recordings. They are fully developed (unlike most of the songs here) and offer entirely new perspectives on the material, with "Starless 1997" taking on a somber, new age sound. Not as wimpy or as maudlin as other songs in Wetton's discography, the Monkey Business set may actually be a unique cut above his myriad Blueprint live releases, which sound all too similar. For Palmer-James, the album is a credit to his skills and evolution as a lyricist, especially when one considers that he began his career penning tunes for Donna Summer (around the same time he committed to Crimson!). But Monkey Business is generally bad business, for it will appeal to neither KC fans nor fans of Wetton's post-1980 material, mainly because it contains small, watered-down portions of each sound.