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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.83 | 1797 ratings

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Wicket
Prog Reviewer
3 stars With the arrival of King Crimson on Spotify, my quest to provide detailed reviews on their catalog resume with "Islands", which featured Robert Fripp and producer Peter Sinfield with yet another all new band, this time singer (and learned bassist) Boz Burrell, along with Mel Collins and Ian Wallace to flesh out the lineup.

And as usual, another Crimson album, another sharp divide between detractors and admirers. This album is probably the most divisive considering the musical elements. This is clearly evidenced by the dividing opinions of the two biggest members at the time. Sinfield favored softer, subtler touches, string ensembles and more jazz fusion approach a la Miles Davis, a style that is immediately evident with the opening track "Formentera Lady". It's an atmospheric ten minute track complete with jazzy sax, operatic vocals and even a string section. Unheard of from a band that blazed a rocking bebop trail on "Court of the Crimson King" three years earlier!

Fripp meanwhile preferred the classic style, more rock, more distortion. On "Sailor's Tale", the Mellotron is in full force, and Fripp pulls out some inspire banjo-influenced guitar playing. The classic jazz-rock sound familiar from previous records is on display but in a more controlled fashion. The schizophrenic breakouts are more precise and purposeful, not random and jittery, and not breaking the flow of music as much as in previous records.

These two styles are polar opposites from each other that when they try to come together, they just didn't mesh. "The Letters" tries to combine a somber ballad like singing style with brief interludes of loud, brash sax playing and distorted sound. It felt like trying to watch a romance movie with your kid brother quoting a Die Hard movie at the top of his lungs as he passed from one room to the other. It interrupts the whole moment.

This album is a prime example of clashing heads, and Fripp's unrelenting vision of a project of his own vision, and no one else's. "Ladies of the Road" tries to be a rocking blusey tune, but is slightly tarnished from Fripp's bebop-oriented style. It could've easily be mistaken as a Pink Floyd track were it not for the blazing sax, but again, it's a merger of two styles that never quite gelled. "Prelude - Song of the Gulls" is a damn chamber string orchestral piece!

Not even the rest of the band cared for it. When one of your band members describes the delicate and softer portions of your music as "airy-fairy shit", you can tell there's gonna be an issue. Not even the title track could save it which, like the opener "Formentera Lady", is almost entirely soft, filled with strings with a hidden track at the end for no reason which is basically just a minute and a half of string tuning (booooring).

Now I actually don't mind the softer soft ("Formentera Lady" is actually one of my favorites off this album), but you could tell the result of this album was two butting heads at work. No wonder Fripp fired Sinfield. This album basically concludes what I consider the transitional phase in King Crimson's life. Gone was the rhythm and blues bands of previous records, for the next three to come would include more improvisation and improvisational artists, a group that would churn out some of the best records of the lot.

Wicket | 3/5 |

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