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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.83 | 1968 ratings

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4 stars Islands marks a huge transition in mindset and texture from the preceding masterpiece (Lizard) produced by the band. Stylistic differences and difference in musical directions from Mr. Fripp aside, the fact that Burrell, Wallace and Collins all quit together after the supporting tour and the fact that Sinfield's contributions would no longer be felt after this record (as he was reportedly fired) point most strikingly to and tend to lead to a sneaking suspicion and hypothesis that the key player might be suffering from some form of a personality disorder or from irrepressible egomania. It really is hard to fathom how such a such a huge number of very highly accomplished and talented musicians over the strikingly short time period from 1969 through 1972 found Fripp so hard to work with or impossible to work with. Fripp's musicianship and creative genius are certainly not in dispute here, but one does get the sense that even as a schoolboy, the man may have received a failing grade in terms of "playing nicely with others". If my perceptions here are errant, then I suppose I owe Mr. Fripp an apology. On an artistic level, I have nothing but the deepest respect for the man's dedication to art over his long and varied career. Not ever having had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fripp personally, and not having been physically present as "a fly on the wall" during the turmoil of those years, I really cannot comment any further on the personal/social dynamic without speculation. So, I'll lay it to rest and let others with more direct knowledge of these matters tell their tales. Having gotten that off my chest, let's have a go at this recording with which, from the perspective of listener, I can comment from a level of understanding beyond that of speculation. With his band in positive shambles with departure of singer and longtime friend Gordon Haskell, Fripp found a relatively unknown singer named Boz Burrell. Pleasant enough voice, though nasal and at times a bit thin. No bass player...... hmmm.... no problem, Fripp teaches Boz Burrell the rudiments of how to play bass guitar. He certainly didn't make him a virtuoso, but he actually taught the man how to play the instrument at a level that was passable for the recording of a release on a major label.... incredible. Mel Collins stays on for flute and saxophone work, Ian Wallace on drums, Sinfield has his swansong on this album as lyricist and light show operator and the Keith Tippett Group is back for more jazzy touches, but with considerably more restraint or constriction as compared with the previous effort. Formentera Lady is a pretty poetic song handled aptly by Boz's fragile voice. There is a pretty flute line by Collins but this is not his most dynamic or best work. The song moves in a lazy and slow fashion once would expect if lying somewhere in the tropics. The name of the piece tends to evoke an image of Brazil, though the music isn't remotely Brazilian melodically or rhythmically. Next comes a Sailor's Tale, an instrumental epic with some nifty guitar work by Fripp, some very unique saxophone play by Collins and rhythm work, particularly by Wallace on drums. The mellotron adds to the drama. The Letters is a sad little tune sung with tremendous effect by Boz, with a tremendous instrumental break in the middle featuring Collin's wild saxophone. Boz returns to ends the sung vocally with a dramatic flare that are surprisingly striking. Ladies of the Road is a colorful little song about groupies, replete with a funky/jazzy feel and some raucous vocals by Burrell. Collin's sax shines and Fripps guitar contributions are magical. Song of the Gulls is a pretty little instrumental, classically inspired piece that demonstrates a lot of capable but not particularly inspired play by the parties involved. Not exactly the material to write home about. Islands completes our voyage with a beautiful opening melody, flute, piano, sax and horn work. It is extremely tasteful music without the harsh, aggressive edge found in a lot of other Crimson material, and this statement is not a value judgement.... it is different from virtually everything else they did, and for that alone, in appraising the musical capabilities and atmospheres that this band could create, it is well worth the listen. Masterpiece? No. Certainly, however, not a lemon. This record has been underrespected for years, but a realistic assessment puts it somewhere in the realm of hovering around 4 stars.


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