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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.78 | 1263 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars King Crimson's slide towards irrelevancy continues with this album (not that they ever reached that point, of course, but they were sure on that path in 1971), but strangely this a good deal better than Lizard. The lineup changed once more, as future Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell took over Haskell's bass and vocal duties (and believe me, he may not be any sort of brilliant singer, but he's miles above Haskell), and one Ian Wallace (who also later played on live tours with Bob Dylan - is there any band more useful for six degrees of separation games?) took over the drum duties. Fripp remained the primary songwriter, and while some of the material on here is worse than anything on Lizard, a good deal of it also shows that Robert was really getting the hang of this whole songwriting thing.

The bad news of the album comes in the form of the first seventeen minutes, a combination of two tracks, "Formentera Lady" and "Sailor's Tale." The actual song isn't that bad - after pointless instrumental wanking for about two minutes, we're greeted with a pleasant late-60's-style easterny psychedelic ballad (with prog lyrics, of course), and while it's nothing genial, it's still a nice escape from stuff like "Happy Family" off the last album. Unfortunately, Fripp just couldn't let a good thing go undisturbed - over the next seven minutes or so, he goes for discord overload, throwing in choirs purposefully singing off key and various instruments just playing whatever. Then the band breaks into "The Sailor's Tale," and while Fripp gets a lengthy guitar solo that might seem alright in its bizarreness, it pales to any number of his efforts before and after. And the rest of the music, well, it's basically just more of the same - instrumental noise taking the place of good ideas and cohesion. I will admit that some bits and pieces of the jamming are interesting on a purely technical level, but once again, I've heard much much better in my life.

Amazingly, though, the rest of the album is totally unlike that seventeen minute waste. The next two tracks are, like, actual songs! With real melodies, real dynamics, real riffs, you name it. Just as well, Sinfield all of a sudden develops a decent talent for lyric-writing - "The Letter" is clear, concise and non-cliched in its tale of one man and two women, "Ladies of the Road" is filled with puns about screwing groupies, and the closing title track provides nice imagery of floating on your own private island. Nothing pretentious, nothing meaningless, just some nice texts allowing for actual resonance with the listener. So hats off to our favorite lyrical dork.

But back to the music. The opening melody of "The Letter" is quietly eerie, with Boz setting the scene of the first two verses, and then out of nowhere comes this GREAT mellotron/brass riff with Fripp doing some of his stuff over it. Then there's some slight sax noodling to build up the tension further, with Fripp adding some guitar coloring once more, and following that Boz starts screaming the "IMPALED ON NAILS OF ICE" part in a way that really conveys the hurt and frustration of the wife, before going back to the quiet eerie melody that goes with the wife killing herself. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't the greatest rock song of all time or anything like that, but it's just such a nice pleasant surprise to discover that Fripp could, in fact, pen a solid rock song, albeit with some necessary Crimson twisting.

Then of course there's "Ladies of the Road," with naughty music to go with the naughty lyrics. The verse melody drips with subtle sleaze, the instrumental breaks are bass heavy with great sleazy sax parts, there's bits and pieces of typical Fripp guitar, and there's even an ultra-charming Beatlesesque chorus to match! WHERE WERE YOU ON LIZARD??!!!

Now the next two tracks are a bit more "pretentious," but in a good way. "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" is a 100% classical composition by Fripp, who takes full advantage of the presence of all the instrumentalists available to him in the studio. It doesn't break any ground in classical music, of course, but I don't really mind that - the era of classical music he's trying to model this after was characterized by rigid rules and standards, after all, and this is just another quality composition following those rules. Besides, Fripp is one person I'd much prefer to stick to "regular" classical than modern classical - if ever there was a creative person who could afford some (not total, but some) "rigidity," it's Fripp.

Then there's the title track, a pleasant nine-minute ballad driven by keyboards and Mark Charig's (one of the album's featured players) cornet. Whatever be, the music creates a really beautiful atmosphere - I really feel like I'm on a sea floating towards an island, except that for me, the sea I'm on is in outer space, and the island is somewhere in the middle of the gorgeous album cover. Major kudos go to Fripp for the restraint shown in this composition - the Fripp of the previous year would have tried to make the last six minutes of this into "The Battle of Glass Tears," after all. Here, though, Fripp managed to create one of the ideal songs for listening to just before it's time to go to bed, and that's a compliment. Of course, for whatever reason, after the track ends, there's silence, and then a tape of Fripp giving some direction in the studio, followed by strings tuning up. Fripp's voice is neat, that's all I can say about that.

Overall, I can see how many KC fans could end up disliking this - the second half of the album isn't really "progressive" at all, and the first half, in my opinion, gives a bad name to experimentation in rock music. However, as one who judges music by its quality and not by how many points on the "progressive checklist" it matches, I can tell you that the second half of this album is very very enjoyable. Don't overspend on the album, but don't avoid it either.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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