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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.81 | 1720 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review Nš 29

After "In The Court Of The Crimson King" and "Red", this is my third review of a King Crimson's musical work. "Islands" is their fourth studio album and was released in 1971. All the music was written by Robert Fripp and all the lyrics were written by Peter Sinfield, as usual, while he was in the group.

The line up on the album is Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron, and harmonium), Boz Burrell (lead vocals and bass guitar), Mel Collins (backing vocals, saxophones, flute and bass flute), Ian Wallace (backing vocals, drums and percussion) and Peter Sinfield (words). The album has also the participation of the following additional musicians: Paulina Lucas (soprano vocals), Keith Tippett (piano), Robin Miller (oboe), Mark Charing (cornet) and Harry Miller (double bass).

When it was released, "Islands" wasn't particularly very well received by the critics, and neither had been much success among King Crimson's fans. However, "Islands" got to number 30 in England, and number 76 in America. Once more, in April of 1972, King Crimson's line up broke up after Burrell, Collins and Wallace, had left the band. It was also the last time that Sinfield featured his lyrics, on a King Crimson's album. Fripp phoned and told him, that he wouldn't work with him anymore, because their creative relationship was exhausted and had come to an end.

"Islands" has six tracks. Four tracks have lyrics, whose lyrics are about three women, and two are instrumental tracks. The first track "Formentera Lady" is one of the two lengthiest tracks on the album. It's a beautiful track that starts slowly with Burrell singing the Sinfield lyrics, well accompanied by several instruments like bass, flute, saxophone, piano, mellotron and guitar. Some say, this is a too big and a too boring track. Sincerely, I don't agree with that. Despite not being the best song on the album, it isn't really bad at all. The second track "Sailor's Tale" is a kind of the second part of a lengthiest epic theme, which includes the two songs. For me, it's a notable piece of music in the King Crimson's style. It's one of my favourite songs on the album and it's also one of the most progressive musics too. The third track "The Letters" is a song dominated by the saxophone of Collins. It's a melancholic ballad and a pretty dark song, which reflects the sadness and anger, transmitted by Burrell's voice. Previously, it was known as "Drop In", and it was written during the Giles, Giles & Fripp days, in 1968. The fourth track "Ladies On The Road" is a theme with a lyrical tone and is a song playfully sexist. It seems to be the favourite theme of Fripp on the album. The vocal choir reminds me The Beatles. This is probably the nearest thing on the album capable to be a proverbial hit single. The fifth track "Prelude: Song Of The Gulls" is the smallest song on the album but, for me, is their best song. This is a notable piece of symphonic and classical music, one of the best I've ever heard before. It seems to have an unknown string ensemble quartet, accompanied with a wonderful flute. It's a track without any kind of free improvisation, very beautiful, extremely very well composed and arranged which contrasts with the usual King Crimson's music. The track reminds me the classical period of the Baroque Music, particularly the oeuvre of J. S. Bach. The sixth track "Islands" is the title track. It's the lengthiest track on the album. It's a very calm and beautiful song, with great instrumental arrangements, and full of continuous solos of various musical instruments. It's also one of my favourite tracks on the album. "Islands" ends the album nicely as it bookends, with "Formentera Lady", both in content and style.

The King Crimson releases are renowned for their artwork, and "Islands" isn't an exception. The original UK and European cover of the album depicts the Trifid Nebula in the Sagittarius constellation and displays neither the name of the band or its title. The original US or Canadian album cover is a Sinfield's painting, of off-white with coloured islands.

Conclusion: As all we know, King Crimson is a very experimental band, which incorporates diverse musical influences and instrumentation, during their long musical career. It always was very impressive to me, the radical changes in the band's music, from album to album. Just only mention the three albums reviewed by me until now: "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is an album that received more influences from symphonic rock, "Red" received more influences from hard and heavy rock and "Islands" received more influences from jazz. Many have seen "Islands" as the weakest of all King Crimson's studio albums released in the 70's, the less innovative, somewhat restrained and uneven sounding, and awkwardly a pretentious work. That is an argument that I can't accept. "Islands" is in reality an album with many facets. It's a laid back album that reveals its charm gradually and only occasionally decides that the listener needs to be beaten over the head, with the full power of the group. "Islands" is one of my first vinyl purchases, in the distant 70's, and I always loved it. It remains, for me, as one of the lost classic albums of the 70's.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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