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King Crimson - Red CD (album) cover

RED

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.52 | 2209 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neo-Romantic
5 stars If anybody were to ask me to name one single album that epitomizes what I love about not just progressive music, but music in general, Red is that album. This is the album that made me want to pursue a career in music. This is the album that stirred my emotions in a way no other has yet. This is the album I have loved, respected, and regarded as my favorite album of all time for years, and no album I have heard since has yet to steal that title. An album supercharged with emotion, a dark atmosphere that pervades every track, and the absolute pinnacle of progressive compositional prowess in the form of the most monumental musical moment of all time. Which track could I be referring to? If you've heard the album, you know...

King Crimson as a band by this point had released a dizzying array of albums, each with a unique and innovative character all their own. Nobody with a respect for progressive music could deny that the band contained some of the most technically talented musicians in the game and had a strong influence within the genre. Every time a new album came out, listeners could notice a certain amount of change with the passage of time. Granted, every fan is guaranteed to have a different album or era they prefer. This album was released at a time when the group was imploding upon itself. The albums immediately preceding this one were solid, don't be mislead, but band leader Robert Fripp was no longer interested in continuing on, so this album became a swan song, released posthumously after the band had already disintegrated and the other musicians started dusting off their resumes. As a result, the album contains a dark, menacing, even angry sense of disillusionment and spite that really hits home. It seemed as though Fripp needed one last chance to condense his emotions into one final effort to validate everything he had worked for up to that point, and the end product was this heavy, chaotic, melancholy monolith of an album. It commands your respect and forces you to formulate a strong opinion about with each new, wildly original track. Here's the breakdown:

Red immediately grabs you in your most vulnerable place with that powerful opening 5/8 riff and forces you into submission. What a way to start an album! Fripp's biting, forceful, atmospheric (three adjectives I never thought I could use appropriately together before hearing this song) rhythm part pervades the track, with each new repetition and ornamental addition adding to the already peaking level of menace. The bass and drums provide a solid rhythmic foundation while introducing their own level of variety that makes this a truly memorable, interesting instrumental. An astonishing cello feature over a dissonant guitar background provides a nice contrast after the initial assault without losing any of the established energy. When the principal material returns, it seems revitalized, and a final recapitulation of the introductory material before a slight ritard and decrescendo gives the piece a nice sense of rounded completion. Not too long, not too short. Just right. Such an effective blend of repeated motives and variety made for a truly wonderful opening instrumental.

Fallen Angel by contrast contains a much broader emotional palette. After a brief segue from the first track, John Wetton's voice floats in over a subtle accompaniment of light drums and bass, oboe, and acoustic guitar. Once the verse ends though, Fripp interjects a powerful, focused arpeggio, and after a few accent hits by Bruford, the most stirring chorus in any King Crimson song in my opinion begins. If the primary emotion of the first track was menacing anger, this is cathartic lament, as expressed in the repeated howling of the words "fallen angel". The addition of the cornet catapults it over the top, emotionally speaking, and after a transition into a more focused passage, a contrapuntal saxophone and guitar introduce even more color into this already wonderfully evocative tune. This really is a standout track, one that proves the band can adhere to more traditional songwriting formats without sacrificing their unique brand of musical variety or raw power.

One More Red Nightmare is a much less traditional offering, featuring a dizzying array of bass and guitar riffs trading off the spotlight with Bruford. His drumming in this tune is arguably the best, most technically demanding part ever played in his entire tenure with King Crimson. The verse sections offer a sense of pseudo-stability between the the more virtuosic trading passages, but even this is heavily challenged by Wetton's punchy vocals and Fripp's cascade of raw aggression. The dark atmosphere of this tune is further perpetuated by a B section with wild saxophone trills, a tremendously prominent bass line, a syncopated amplified clap sound, and the notes Fripp rains down over the mix to provide a full mix of sound without oversaturating the listener's ears. After another lap each for the A and B section, the track quickly wraps up and we immediately are led into the next.

Providence is a live improvisation that showcases just how strong a contribution David Cross had on the band's overall sound. True, improvisations aren't everyone's thing, and other reviewers have docked this album a star rating based on this track alone, but it still has something special to offer the listener willing to immerse themselves in its atmosphere and appreciate the experience of being immersed in the unplanned chaos as it emerges and develops around them. The sheer power of each instrument's tone is enough to provoke a strong emotional response. The murky bass, the metallic percussive sounds, and the eerie violin seem right at home on this already oppressive album. The sheer aggression of the amplified violin's slices and Fripp's guitar work prove they weren't just trying to fill up time. They had something to say here. It might take a few listens to hear, understand, and appreciate that message, but each subtle detail can bring the listener something new. Something you might miss on the first couple listens. By the end, you feel refreshed and ready for whatever the next track has to offer.

But nobody could've seen this coming...

Starless is the best, most inspiring track I've ever heard. My absolute favorite song. Every time it starts, I'm instantly reduced to tears. How a single track can stir every emotion within me with so few words is a truly miraculous feat. My passion for music might have remained forever undiscovered if not for having the privilege of hearing this astounding work of art. But enough fanboy talk. Everything from the opening mellotron to the subdued, lamenting vocals makes you immediately don a sense of reflective melancholy. Fripp's delicate, sorrowful guitar line floats lightly above the mix, until the voice returns to deliver an emotionally driven reflection that evokes images of a definitive ending. After a final tear- jerking mellotron swell, the bass begins a repetitive bass line in an asymmetric 13/4 meter that foretells the coming of something sinister. Fripp lightly enters, playing a mere two notes for measure after measure. Bruford adds percussion little by little as the bass steadily builds in intensity and the guitar progressively becomes more biting and aggressive. Before you know it, you're consumed by these ever-building performing forces, and you know whatever you though might be approaching is almost there, with every passing progression drawing closer and closer. The final progression stops with a drum fill, and you're left in a sense of static limbo, but by no means has the intensity subsided. The guitar and bass interject a tense, dissonant transition that builds your sense of anticipation even further than you thought possible after the preceding passage. The guitar rises higher and higher, and just when you think you can't wait any longer, a literal explosion of activity. The most driving solo passage imaginable emerges, the saxophone belting out notes that cover a wide span of the instrument's range. The 13/8 meter here really sets it apart from your garden-variety solo passage, and the reemergence of the buildup passage's bass line appropriately reduced to fit the new meter proves this was more than just an elaborate, energetic improv. There was compositional intent and preparation behind this section. This was no mere coincidence. After the sax solo, the listener is treated to a brief reprise of the opening vocal theme played as a duet by alto and soprano sax over bass and rapid hi-hat accompaniment. Drum fill to exit, the three sickest chromatic descending bass notes you'll hear this side of the musical world, and it's Fripp's turn to bring about the end of the world. This is the absolute peak here. His solo...there's just so much power and aggression behind it...It's almost as though he's literally having to beat and rip the notes out of the instrument. I can't do anything close to doing it justice by attempting to describe it on purely analytical, technical terms. All I know is he must have known the end of the era was approaching, and this solo was his last chance to give voice to his artistic passion. If this was his closing argument, he has indefinitely shut up any who might debate his status as a master musician and brilliant composer. Once his solo concludes, the listener is lifted up with a powerful reprise of Fripp's opening guitar theme. The mellotron swells again, moving between tonic and dominant chords, until one final restatement of Fripp's theme, and the song ends, leaving the listener in a state of wonder as the final note from each instrument trails off. The song is over, but its impact will live on. No track I have heard thus far reaches the emotional peaks this one did. It is an absolute work of art and rightfully serves as one of the pieces by which the relative merits of other works are judged.

This is a truly magical album. It stands alone as one of the crowning achievements in the entire King Crimson canon. It soars to new heights of emotional depth that no other Crimson album has been able to match for me. It contains the absolute best the band had to offer, and considering this was clearly a highly accomplished band, that speaks volumes for the material packed into this collection of five unique tracks. This is a must-have for anyone, and if you're reading this review and haven't yet heard it for yourself, I can't insist enough that you act at once to remedy the situation. I couldn't be happier to give this album the highest possible rating. 5 stars for a truly monumental musical achievement.

Neo-Romantic | 5/5 |

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