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King Crimson - Larks' Tongues In Aspic CD (album) cover

LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.39 | 1883 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Some smart guy named Eric Hoffer once wrote that "It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities" and, in the case of this particular version of the inimitable King Crimson group, I think that quotation is dead on. The talented musicians that mastermind Robert Fripp assembled for 73's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" had one thing in common: They had each tasted a modicum of success in other bands/venues and found the fruits of the promise land to be unfulfilling. They all yearned to resurrect and revitalize their naive, unspoiled inner adolescent and set the boy free to run without confines on the playground that is the recording studio with other restless Peter Pans like themselves. The album they put together just may be the prime model of what is referred to, in theory at least, as progressive rock. It has no identifiable precedent. Comparisons to other forms of music, even within the prog arena, are futile. It stands forevermore as an enduring work of late 20th Century aural art.

I must alert the reader to the fact that, like a lot of fine albums that populate this eclectic and liberal genre, it ain't for everybody. You won't want to slap this on the stereo at even the most casual of dinner parties unless you want the guests to depart the premises in a stampede. It's not top-down, cruising-down-the-interstate-with-a-nasty-redhead-by-your- side, yodeling "I Love L.A." fare, either. In all likelihood, your significant other will probably despise it and you for subjecting them to its radical musical ideology. It's anti Top-40. Don't overreact to those warnings, however. It's not some kind of dissonant/boring/confusing everyone-play-whatever-they-want-and-we'll-call-it-jazz free-for- all. No way. There's a calculated method to this madness. It has a planned structural integrity and a designed purpose. At the same time it sounds like nothing else you've heard. Robert, Bill, David, John and Jamie left all preconceived notions of convention out in the busy street and proceeded to manufacture magic. A copy of "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" belongs in every progger's stash. Period. Otherwise, why are you here?

Okay, that was pretty uppity/prog-snobbish and I must admit with a red face that I was guilty of intentionally avoiding this album until this year when another prog reviewer whose taste in music I greatly respect gave it his highest rating. So I put it on my wish list and my son gave it to me as a gift. I expected it to be good, no doubt, but this is so astoundingly inspired and genuine that it'll strain my ability to literately describe it. Yet I'll give it the old college try. It's my calling in life. (Or so I tell myself.)

"Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Part One" draws back the curtain to the strains of a percolating Kalimba accompanied by an odd assortment of light percussion items. It's like entering a stranger's room through a doorway of hanging hippy beads (the abode of that mysterious, exotic siren you just met at the bar, perhaps?). The lighting is slightly surrealistic and there's a faint odor of some kind of spiced incense in the air. You're not scared; you just know for sure that you're not in your mom's house. Soon an intriguing electrical white noise arises as if you're being guided through a huge mass of neurons excitedly exchanging impulses. This is followed by some tense violin bowing from David Cross that graduates to a heavy metallic riff performed by the full ensemble. They segue to a dense rhythmic groove, then John Wetton cranks up a wah-wah bass solo surrounded by frenetic Fripp guitarisms, Bill Bruford's rumbling drums and Jamie Muir's wild percussion. Suddenly the number drifts into a sad, mournful violin piece that slowly becomes agitated and angry in its mood before leveling out into a strange oriental aura. Then, without notice, the whole thing detonates and disseminates like nuclear fallout. Exhilarating is the closest I can come to doing it justice.

At this juncture you might think you've been irrevocably altered, but along comes "Book of Saturday" to clear your head. Robert's delicate chording and phrasing on his fretboard is beautiful and John's adventurous bass lines never distract, only compliment. The song's memorable melody is delivered by Wetton without unnecessary affectation in his customary fool-on-the-hill style and David's violin injections (both backwards and forwards) are exquisite. Since long-time wordsmith Pete Sinfield had left the think tank in a snit after the previous KC album, former Supertramp Robert Palmer-Jones was enlisted to supply lyrical content and his splendid contribution to the project shouldn't be overlooked. "Reminiscences gone astray/coming back to enjoy the fray/in a tangle of night and daylight sounds," John intones with a melancholy slant. Profound? No, but poetic nonetheless.

The ironic "Exiles" creeps in like an ominous fog from which the cries of unidentified, tortured creatures can be heard in their vain attempts to escape, then the landscape clears briefly for Wetton's moonlit vocal to reassure before said dark mist returns. I love the way Cross' violin twines around the melody without choking it. The inventive bridge with its graceful piano is a revelation. Here the insightful words capture the very essence of what this incarnation of King Crimson was all about. "But Lord, I had to go/my trail was laid too slow behind me/to face the call of fame/or make a drunkard's name for me/though now this other life/has brought a different understanding," John sings without a trace of bitterness. The tune ends with a fantastic mixture of guitar, violin and the Mellotron dancing atop Bruford and Wetton's intricate rhythm track.

The sarcastic "Easy Money" begins with what sounds like a chain-gang of inmates chanting cheerily-but-not-really as they slog down a muddy road on their way to a day of hard labor. That may not seem like something that would interest even the most dedicated of proggers but somehow it entertains. It's that cool. The song features one of the more unusual verse/chorus compositions you'll ever encounter, adorned as it is with Muir's eccentric "allsorts." (I didn't make that term up; it's what he's credited as playing in the liner notes.) The group collectively snubs their nose at the trappings of rock star fame and fortune and its obligatory indenture to the record company moguls. "And I thought my heart would break/when you doubled up the stake/with your fingers all a-shake/you could never tell a winner from a snake/but you always make money/easy money," John sneers. The number's extended musical interlude ebbs, flows and breathes like some sort of primordial life form in which Fripp displays the unconventional approach to lead guitar playing that justifies his genius labeling. The song comes full circle to reprise the convicts' hymn as well as another verse/chorus go 'round (this time with full-throttled gusto) before it all collapses into a fit of canned, taunting, demonic, impish laughter that'll send a chill up your spine. He's laughing because there's always a price to be paid for stardom. And it's steep. Easy money, indeed.

A ghostly wind blows across a desolate plain infested with carrion-eating flies as barely- perceptible fingertip rhythms initiate a steady pulse for "The Talking Drum." David's stark violin steps in and Robert's eerie guitar springs up alongside him like a new species of wildflower. Suddenly a growling, menacing bass guitar effect bursts in boisterously as all the combined elements finally rise up and reach a fevered crescendo after which destitute lemmings scream in crazed delight as they race toward the ragged precipice of the beckoning cliffs. This instrumental track is a perfect example of cultivating tension through patient manipulation of dynamics.

The album's finale, "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" is not just some weak regurgitation of the opener. Surely you jest. The tune's extremely heavy, dense metallic theme dominates without mercy, and then the band descends into a hypnotic 9/16 rock pattern before repeating that sequence. Jamie's incidental sound effects rival those cleverly instigated without caution by the Beatles at their most imaginative and free. Cross' mean-spirited violin solo sounds like it was transcribed by Ol' Scratch himself and I could swear that Muir and Bruford are tossing their drums down a staircase to achieve the sublime cacophony they were striving for. It all ends in a fat, gloriously noisy finale that distills slowly into one single solitary note.

The musicians that comprised this short-lived form of the entity known as King Crimson knew coming in that they were walking away from everything safe and secure in order to find liberation from the shackles of commerciality. Their aim was not to shock, denigrate or assault their fans. They simply wanted to create something totally original yet comprehensible and satisfying to thinking, open-minded human beings. If I'd bought this recording when it came out in '73 I doubt that I would've had the maturity or patience to recognize and appreciate its brilliance. It would've required that I tune out the world and still myself long enough to absorb its powerful subtlety and the superlative uniqueness of this cooperative conception. As my esteemed fellow reviewer told me, there's nothing to compare it to and he's right. Most music is a derivative of something but this album has no ancestor. It's a towering Sequoia without roots; an anomaly. It's a bonafide masterpiece, everything progressive rock is supposed to be, and an example of why this branch of music bores its way into our souls in ways no other can.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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