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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.83 | 1916 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The general consensus on the four albums of the first era of King Crimson seem to adhere to the following rules: overrated, non-rated, underrated, and aptly rated. While some individuals may disagree about a couple of these, there are apparently very few who would feel the need to dispute the response to 'Islands', the fourth album from the Fripp/Sinfield line-ups.

And aptly rated it is indeed; no lover of prog would readily criticise this record, yet its minor weak points are equally obvious and agreed upon. Finally there is peace among the Crimso-critics, and this is very fitting with the mood of 'Islands'. It is a modest and tranquil album, but not with its chaotic moments.

'Formentera Lady' opens, with some simple but melodic themes and a nice whimsical B-section (I won't say chorus, 'cos... what's a chorus?). It soon turns into a trippy improv-jam, utilising a soprano and a variety of orchestral instruments, who spiral around on those kind of eastern scales you hear on early Floyd records. It's nice mood-music but 6 or 7 minutes would suffice. 'Sailor's Tale' is a really grooving ABA instrumental with the principle section reminiscent of the speedy 6/8 interludes from 'Schizoid Man'. It features some truly explosive guitar work from Fripp, and Mel's sax sounds like a horse! The repeating bass riff holds things down though, and it's only the unnecessary mellotron coda that slightly ruins things. The first side ends on a bit of a low-point with the confusing, dark tale that is 'The Letters'. I guess the lyrics prevail here, but the totally random (and far too loud) middle section just sounds like an introduction to a much better song.

'Ladies of the Road' fulfils the role of the obligatory 'light-hearted song' on this Crimso album. But just like the others in the 'Cat Food' series, it's a really great tune. It's already been pointed out that the harmony-fuelled choruses are Beatle- esque, and I believe the bluesy verses too, are reminiscent of something like 'Come Together'. With the majority of this piece in 7/8, it will never lose its originality, which is lucky because it loses most of its groove under such a time signature. In contrast, the misplaced 'Prelude: Song of the Gulls' has no groove to begin with, because it is entirely of a classical style and instrumentation. Although not strictly unpleasant, I feel that Fripp was perhaps out of his depth attempting to write classically and, in any case, was wrong to include this piece of music on a rock album. It kind of reminds me of a primary school performance, where the parents politely clap afterwards so as not to offend... 'Islands' ends this album on a peaceful high. I think this song is one of Crimson's most emotional outputs, certainly THE most from the first set of albums. The muted trumpet solo is particularly moving. And like many King Crimson songs it builds into a crescendo, but unlike most, it doesn't become cacophonous; as it should, 'Islands' finishes with the same beauty with which it begins.

Yes, this record is great. It has some less memorable moments, and one truly naff piece, but overall it is a great way to end an era. The general feel is softer (hell, even Keith Tippet has calmed down) and this compliments the artwork greatly. In some ways, 'Islands' brings together all the best parts of the previous three efforts, but just like those it could never be perfect. That would come later...

thehallway | 4/5 |


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