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King Crimson - Red CD (album) cover

RED

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.53 | 2330 ratings

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thehallway
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Red is a near-perfect album from a band who rightly decided to stop their career while they were at a peak. It attempts to blend everything unquestionably King Crimson from the previous six albums to create a big, special finale. Due to the line-up, it sounds more like Larks' Tongues in Aspic than anything else, but that is by no means a bad thing. If nothing else, it is easily Robert Fripp's best album, for he has let go of some of his nervous 'subdued' playing and is happy to unleash layers and layers of metallic guitar lines. This, combined with John Wetton's typically punchy bass warbles and Bill Bruford's eclectic drum patterns, makes for a very heavy, "proto-metal" album that nevertheless contains some beautiful and tranquil moments.

The title track is an instrumental workout built around a sequence of tri-tone riffs (what a surprise, Fripp) played through four times with a dark cello solo in the middle. Of the songs of this type in the Crimson catalogue, it isn't the best, but it certainly opens the album with a bang. 'Fallen Angel' is a very decent number that juxtaposes heavy guitar chords and sweet oboe melodies, with John's singing at its very best. The closer to side one, aptly titled 'One More Red Nightmare', is a more upbeat offering with a focus on Bill's percussion (big sheets of metal and flangey hand-claps) and what I think is a Mel Collins sax solo. It is one of KC's most rocking songs, but of course, the lyrics remain dark and devilish.

Side two offers an improv in 'Providence', which is not my favourite improvised piece but it makes good use of the timbres in the bass, guitar and David Cross's violin. When the drums properly enter, it just sounds messy. 'Starless and Bible Black' is a for menacing improv to me, which people seem to overlook, not that many people are fond of 'Providence'. The comparison's to the vibraphone noodling on 'Moonchild' are way off though. Then there is 'Starless'.

Woah.

By far King Crimson's best song, and my personal favourite progressive rock song that isn't 20 minutes long, 'Starless' offers on a plate every single musical trick that this band is capable of. It starts as a beautiful Mellotron ballad, which there has been one of on every previous KC album, but none quite so moving. Fripp turns off the distortion and delivers a chilling melody that reminds us of the 'Court of the Crimson King' days. Wetton shines again in the verses, which he wrote, and is helped along by subtle sax and cello. When we modulate to C after the final epic chorus, things quieten down and we are treated to some 'Lark's Tongues' style tension-building. Once again, there have been long, drawn-out crecendos on previous KC albums, but this one is the best. The thick bassline is in 13/8, and Fripp's minimalistic guitar notes are the most tense thing ever, especially when you know what it is building up towards. Bruford showcases his percussion arsenal here, but just as things reach a 'Talking Drum' level of chaos, everything stops, leaving a few clean guitars stereo- panning on the dominant note, ready to......

.......unleash the most monstrously explosive saxophone solo you will ever hear, over the same riff but about 5x faster. This thrill ride tops the battle-section of 'Lizard', and is even more climactic than 'Fracture'. After the speedy jazz rock section, more distorted guitars come in, and soon we are hearing that same Mellotron from earlier in the piece. Talk about a recapitulation! Woodwinds give us that beautiful melody, but the volume remains high, and it all winds down to a halt soon enough, leaving us totally exhausted.

I could talk about 'Starless' all day long. It is a masterpiece. The other songs on this album are very close too, making for a rather easy five stars. Fripp wanted to move on, but it's clear that he also wanted to go out on a high, and just make the best album he can. Red is not particularly progressive; all of the styles and song structures are things that have already been developed on previous albums. But this one executes everything perfectly, and is rightfully considered to be this band's peak.

thehallway | 5/5 |

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