THE PREVIOUS two albums by this final King Crimson lineup
have never been as hysterically self-conscious in their obvious
adventurousness as the first four studio records that came out under the
In fact, listening to certain parts of each of those
early albums can frequently provoke nothing as crassly simple as severe
brain damage but a rather more civilised basic aural pain.
In general, it's a pretty tidy set of neuroses, instability and
insecurity — both musical and personal — that cuts a jagged edged swathe
across the eight sides. The psychic melodramas do, though, have the
saving grace of being carried out with an appropriate sense of artistic
Indeed when juxtaposed against the histrionics of those records Larks Tongues In Aspic, Starless And Bible Black and, now, Red
would seem to have been recorded in a state of almost Calvinistic
general togetherness — or, if you prefer, what used to be known at
school as "maturity" — and even if Larks Tongues does marginally fail to cut it due to a rather too noticeable excess of zeal then Starless,
which is minus both Jamie Muir and His Percussive Pistacchio Nuts and
the perfectionist production of the former — though not credited on the
sleeve as such the whole of side two was cut live — comes up with a more
consistent and relaxed amount of highs than any of its predecessors.
There's one other little plus that Starless has going for it...uh...it...well, it nearly swings.
And so to Red. No two ways about it, and putting aside for
the moment any little thoughts we may have about its being The Final
Work this outfit — now reduced to the basic three-piece of Robert Fripp,
John Wetton on bass and vocals, and Bill Bruford on drums (sorry,
percussives) — were really starting to whizz those thought patterns
around amongst themselves.
Side One is actually rather a funky, even heavy, piece with 'Fallen
Angel' and 'One More Red Nightmare' restating the weighty note
progression emphasised almost to the point of a calculated ennui on 'Red', the first track.
'Fallen Angel' moves things on with some of your old mellifluous
free-flowing melody ending up as a variant on a basic pop track with a
surreal middle eight that has some most impressive reed honking from Mel
Collins. Robert Palmer-James' lyrics are virtually indistinguishable,
which on past evidence is most certainly in the record's favour, whilst
Wetton's voice, doable or triple tracked on the chorus fines has the
chore of both sounding like Greg Lake and being able to highlight the
inadequacies of any similar ELP technological ballad.
'One More Red Nightmare' puts the rather curious counterbalancing of
the first two tracks into a comprehensible perspective as it grips
together the main themes of each title with some hot ice howling lead
percussion from Bruford that does just now and then veer dangerously
towards intellectual doodling.
'Providence', which opens the second side, features "guest" violinist
David Cross on a schizoid quasi Prokofiev piece of impressionism which,
when joined by the bass and Bruford, displays at first the sense of
spacing and notation which was particularly evident on Larks Tongues but which ultimately dissolves as it's hurled into a rather early model King Crimson piece of mellotron madness.
The truly enigmatic side of Crimson gets really well held up to the light on the twelve-minute final track, Starless,
with the baroque intensity — and extremity — of Fripp's Mancini-like
mellotron strings that carry a hint of the mood of side two of Lizard
until the scorching guitar, bass and jangling percussion work up and
along several note and chord structures with each instrument underlining
the other until a pattern is shaped like a continuous loop of sound
restating the album's themes.
It's really quite curious and should, I suppose, be put down to some psychic state evolving from the demise of the band but Red is truly the first Crimson album that I can find myself listening to over and over again.
Would it be that same psychic state that makes me believe it's the best album ever made under the name of King Crimson?