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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.78 | 1228 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Every time I listen to "Islands", I wonder what it would have been like to hear it without already knowing it to be a KING CRIMSON album. I have the sad sense that I would have appreciated it a little more if it was someone else, as it is quite good- but in a very different vein than most of the KC discography. Any fans of OPETH will understand completely when I compare this album with "Damnation", as both albums focus on the softer side of a typically louder, noisier band.

There are indeed many elements missing; the opening is a slow burn of dark strings and faint vocals rather than the usual mind-blowing KC overture, the bass and drums are rarely allowed to stretch their legs, and Fripp's masterful guitar is almost completely absent. Perhaps he was concentrating on the arrangements; "Song of the Gulls", although simply sublime and on par with any modern orchestral work, is almost completely devoid of any distinguishing KING CRIMSON sonic characteristics, as is much of the title track. "Ladies of the Road" is the single rocking exception, where one can hear plenty of proto-"Easy Money" style, and even some interestingly Beatle-esque harmonies.

I'll be the first to let Boz off easily; his voice is capable, if almost pointedly unremarkable; I'm occasionally reminded of Collins' quieter "Trick of the Tail" moments, and of Hammill during the brief periods of assertion (such as the "impaled on nails of ice" bit near the end of "The Letters"). His bass playing is at least never allowed to ruin the overall sound. I wonder if Sinfield had any objections to the mainly inaudible delivery of his lyrics...or perhaps it was intentional; aside from the baroque yet minimal excellence of "The Letter", his lyrics on the album mainly range from a now-tired retread of the classical references ("Here Odysseus charmed for dark Circe fell") to a limp stilted attempt on "Ladies of the Road" (just what rock needed, another 'road sex' song...but this time with failed humor and sneering pretentiousness to rob it of any of the usual visceral qualities). Don't fret, Palmer-James is coming to save the day soon...

From the flute intro to the final sax improvisations, this is the most Mel Collins-heavy KC album. One might say that it's his consistent and diverse talents that hold it together; I'm surprised to say that compared to the other instruments, there are twice as many impressive flute and sax moments. The secondary players also tend to steal the show; the rising, repeated string section topped by Tippet's piano and Charig's cornet soloing on "Islands" is the tender climax of the album.

Taken on its own merits, I enjoy "Islands" immensely; as a KING CRIMSON fan, I have difficulty placing it among either my favorite albums or the ones which more obviously show the relentless cacophonic experimental genius of the band. Whereas many people are often intimidated by other KC albums' noisier passages, the improvisation on "Islands" is actually more accessible with the use of acoustic and classical instrumentation; fans of post- rock or chamber music will absolutely adore this sound (compare the final minutes of "Islands" with GODSPEED! YOU BLACK EMPEROR's "Lift your Skinny Fists"). Those who prefer a more tightly focused virtuosity, on the other hand, will most likely dismiss this album as a low-key wash of half-realized ideas.

James Lee | 3/5 |

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