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King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.93 | 1976 ratings

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5 stars Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas)

According to Eric Tamm's book Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft the majority of this album was recorded live and subsequently overdubbed to bring it to it's present form. If that is indeed the case, they have done a wonderful job of both removing the audience noise completely and disguising the origins of the performances. It seems that Fripp has an ongoing reservation about the studio being a valid medium as representative of a performance, and this half live/half studio hybrid possibly offered for him, an acceptable compromise between the two competing disciplines.

'The Great Deceiver' - After being accustomed to quiet mood building intros on previous albums, it's something of a shock to hit the ground running here with an explosive salvo of sixteenth note riffing from the violin and guitar over Bruford's manic kit groove. A truly spellbinding display of controlled power and dynamics from a band who sound leaner and hungrier than ever before. I particularly love John Wetton's voice as his faintly adenoidal tenor serves as the 'eye of the storm' at the center of the Crim tornado. The chorus here is so good that it would have served a more mainstream pop classic well. In lesser hands this type of unconventional structure can sound disjointed and unbalanced but King Crimson make the difficult sound monstrously easy (and vice versa - see Prelude: Song of the Gulls)

I think the lyrics are (unusually) Fripp's, and he casts a jaundiced eye over the commercialization of spirituality that pervades the modern age:

Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the virgin mary

'Lament' - Beautiful 'chiming bell' guitar sound enhances another fine vocal performance by Wetton in a song that betrays a jaded cynicism with the machinations of the rock world in general. A feature of Cross's violin playing throughout this record is how sparing it is and his contributions carry more weight as a result. Those duetted lead moments he shares with Fripp's fuzzy black liquorice tone are exquisite. Again, sublime use of dynamics in the separate parts and boasting a melody that even Lennon would have been proud.

'We'll Let You Know' - The dramatic style change that was initiated by Larks Tongues in Aspic is emphasized on the improvisatory tracks like this one. More than any other band whose origins are from a predominantly rock tradition, Crimson demonstrate an ability to improvise using the vocabulary of rock as fluently as that employed in the jazz of say, Miles Davis' various groups over the years. When Bruford and Wetton kick into the main groove after teasing us for several delightful minutes, the effect is that of an entirely credible white funk. Accept no imitations, these guys can make Parliament sound like pale Russian bank clerks. The title may be an overspill of the caustic from Lament i.e don't call us etc?

'The Night Watch' - The rapid trilling of the guitar on the intro appropriates a venetian mandolin, but there the comparison ends, as all conventional techniques tend to in Fripp's erudite hands. A very plaintive and haunting tune sung admirably as ever by Wetton. Even on something as harmonically conventional as this (by Crimson standards) is refreshingly free of the sort of 'ear candy' coating employed by so many of their contemporaries. Unadorned, humble and beautiful.

'Trio' - So named presumably because Bruford does not play on it? This has a capricious celtic/middle eastern tinge and features some fantastic dynamic interplay between Fripp, Wetton and Cross. How unusual is this, a rock band where the individual members actually listen to what each other are playing? Those of you familiar with Scottish pranksters 'Chou Pahrot' may detect a whiff of the Wee Thing hereabouts.

'The Mincer' - After a very atmospheric build up we get a multi tracked psychedelia hued vocal from Wetton that portrays some harrowing and disturbing imagery.

Fingers reaching, Fingers reeking. Jump for the scream, Good night, honey

Your very expensively assembled 'Hi-Fi system falling through a black hole' effect at the conclusion is where the first reel of tape ran out half way through the original live recording.

'Starless and Bible Black' - Takes over from where We'll Let You Know left off. Like most inspired phenomena, this is resistant to causal analysis and appears to inhabit the realm of 'happy accidents' that Fripp and co guessed could not be arrived at in any other fashion. Perhaps Robert was justified, and that the recording studio was not conducive to the realization of beautifully crafted moments like this? These types of tracks need LOTS of listens before they can seep into your affections, but on arrival, they remain there steadfast and true.

'Fracture' - For an album that contains no weak troughs at all, this is the certifiable highpoint of the set.

(If EVERYTHING is just peaks, why does the resulting landscape NOT look like a high altitude Holland? - .....Dunno)

In its 11 minute duration we hear a culmination of everything that Robert Fripp had learned up to that point in his driven quest for perfection throughout an inconsistent but adventurous career. The building blocks for this piece are almost without exception, very short phrases and motifs that are treated with a bewildering array of transpositions and modulations as the track progresses. All the elements that made this scarlet red animal so special and thus an endangered species vulnerable to predators, are well in evidence throughout: Wetton's guttural bass provides the rock hook and generous heart, Cross supplies an ethereal mystic spirit, Bruford contributes a playful polyrythmic funk and Fripp mans the controls at Brain Central. A cerebral creature yes, but one that has learned to kick and scratch for both love and sustenance.

This is not a particularly accessible album, but one that will provide enduring rewards on repeated listens, so don't be discouraged by the paucity of conventionally 'pretty' music as what is here is damningly beautiful forever.

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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