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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.78 | 1223 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review 22, Islands, King Crimson, 1971

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The word for this album is indeed mostly 'relaxed', as many other reviewers have noted with an air of negativity. However, relaxed is not a bad thing. All of the instruments flow in and out of the superb compositions very neatly, creating unusual, edgy and hazy atmospheres and textures, and being generally bizarre and genuinely progressive throughout without actually trying too hard. Another superb effort from Fripp and Crimson, and joint second in my Crimson list. It should be noted that this is as much Mel Collins' album as Fripp's, given how much and how consistently both of them shine throughout.

After another extreme line-up turnover, King Crimson has morphed again. The excellent Andy McCulloch is replaced on drums by the more exotic Ian Wallace (who seems to me a precursor to the inclusion of the bizarre Jamie Muir for Larks' Tongues In Aspic), Gordon Haskell (bass, vocals) is replaced by Boz, whose vocals are slightly more aesthetic and suit the more relaxed atmosphere of the album. While not a great bassist (understandably, given the circumstances), he does hold the fort. The various jazz-men again contribute, and Robert Fripp and Mel Collins (who has certainly improved) remain from the previous line-up. Pete Sinfield throws in strong lyrics throughout, linked together by a vague concept.

Biting strings give way to the opening chaotic flute solos, twisting inter-weaving instruments and swirling Tippet piano. Boz comes in with a haunting, yet undemanding, vocal. A thick bass part and tingling percussion lead into the uplifting 'chorus' section, which is later repeated with some gentle acoustic Fripp additions and an oriental feel, and then into a fairly chaotic section where just about everyone is contributing to the mix. Echoey vocals (including soprano from Paulina Lucas) and a mixture of flute, saxes, Ian Wallace tinglings and oboes sustain the song over a stable, gentle bass part. These various instruments create an ethereal, exotic atmosphere with a very interesting decadent edge, assisted by Pete Sinfield's excellent lyrics. The especial standouts on this track are Ian Wallace with his various percussion ideas and Keith Tippet's piano. A perfect introduction to the album: progressive, yet unimposing, and relaxed, yet both interesting and moving.

Tapping percussion and bass introduce The Sailor's Tale, while a strained sax and strings add an unusual, almost awkward, feel to the beat. You need to listen quite hard to hear the opening of the superb Fripp-Collins duet of doom, with sax and guitar exchanging ideas and textures. In the background, a mellotron slowly throbs while the rhythm section provides another riff and Fripp continues in a chaotic cascade of sounds which I've yet to hear from another guitar, with occasional creaking sounds on the 'tron leading to a powerful Mellotron burst and twisted ideas and the rhythm section getting a little more leeway (that Ian Wallace makes good use of). Fripp ascends into the picture again with another strong solo before the mellotron humming brings the song to its conclusion. Again, something that I initially didn't quite get, but I've grown to love it, and I'm certain that this is essential for any Crimson fan.

The Letters, a rather melodramatic lyrics-driven song, showcases Boz' vocals and developing Fripp gentle acoustics, before launching off dramatically into punchy sax-driven chaos with frantic guitar from Fripp, and a variety of vicious and heavily distorted percussion. After this has moved through chaos and a gentle aftermath, the biting second part with distorted vocals, interesting bass and percussion and weird background flute soloing begins. Superb song.

Ladies Of The Road begins with an individual acoustic and vocals, before thudding drums and bass slide in with a monstrous sax solo. Fripp's acoustics, along with the rest of the musicians, continues to develop throughout the song, emphasised a little by the moments of VCS-3. The harmonies are perfect, and Boz's vocals and lyrics are amusing, mild sexism aside. The concluding instrumental section includes a bit of high electric guitar, a superb sax duet, a walking, effective rhythm section. Nothing out of place, another great song.

The gentle, pastoral Song Of The Gulls is delightful and emotional, with oboe and strings fusing together into a cheerful classical composition with an astral and a rather separated feel. I don't know enough classical music of this kind to really comment with anything except 'I love it'.

Islands begins with Tippet's soft piano supporting a calming vocal and a gentle low flute part, and is very much carried by Tippet throughout, since he is responsible for most of the mood changes. Fripp (on both mellotron and guitar) occasionally turns up alongside Tippet. Mark Charig provides a wonderful cornet solo, while Robin Miller's oboe glides along with the vocals, sustaining the vaguely classical feel of the piece. Subtleties lurk everywhere within the gentle, uplifting piece until the gentle humming end (presumably 'Peter's Pedal Accordion'). I don't know why the end (waiting silently for a minute or two then cutting to the rehearsal room and random noise) doesn't annoy me, as it's the sort of thing that usually would, but I think it has the pleasant effect of bringing me back down to earth after that trip without grating too viciously or launching into another song.

If you love softer music, this album is essential. If you love music that has interesting genuine progressive features without trying too hard, this album is essential. If you love explosive moments, this album is essential. If you have a morbid fascination with unusual 'tron, guitar, percussion and sax parts, this album is essential. If you're a fan of King Crimson, this album is essential. If you want to see some of the proto-phase of Larks' Tongues In Aspic, this album is essential. I'm in all of those categories, and award Islands a fully-merited five-star rating. Not to be overlooked.

Rating: Five Stars

Favourite Track: Can't decide. I love every track on here. If pressed, Islands or Letters.

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |

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