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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.81 | 1739 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars We should have known by this point that King Crimson would not play to our expectations.

Islands hit the band's fanbase a bit sideways, confusing many and turning a few off. For the most part, the aggression and wildness of the previous three albums are gone. If you want the hard hitting King Crimson sound, you probably should bypass this album for a while, as this is probably their most passive and gentle release ever. Someone else in their review described it as relaxed, and that's a perfect term for it. The songwriting quality is just as high. The music is just as well constructed as we have found on other King Crimson releases. It's almost like the band came off of Lizard and thought, Hey, maybe we should settle this next one down a bit. The end result is a splendid release, but not one that will grab your attention very quickly--it's an album made to be a grower, made to be one you can put on if you're in the mood for Crimson but you don't want to have to rock out.

The first track, Formentera Lady, is a slow grower with some creepy instrumental bits towards the end. The bass holds down a steady pulse, giving the saxophone room to play. It's a hard one to describe. However, flowing right out of the end of that song is the next tune, the instrumental Sailor's Tale. This is the only true aggression anywhere on the album, featuring a quick bass riff and some neat brass harmonies. In the vein of Van der Graaf Generator, the listeners are gifted with one of those sax solos where it sounds like the player is strangling the thing--very entertaining. The intensity suddenly cuts out about two and a half minutes in, giving the guitar room for Fripp's first wild solo ever, featuring his now-famous power drill technique. I personally find this guitar solo the highlight of this album, but then, I'm one of those fans that enjoy this release while still wishing it got more aggressive and energetic. The song then fills out with classic Crimson mellotron walls, a neat and powerful tool that vanishes once more, leaving the guitar to blast the end of the song out of existence. The Letters is mostly very quiet (simple vocals), but a little ways into the song the band kicks into aggressive gear with a neat saxophone riff and guitar solo behind it. The song then peters out of existence from there.

Side two begins with Ladies of the Road, a silly-lyricked tune about roadies. Again, we have more saxophone driving this tune, making you wonder who is really writing all these songs: the guitarist or the saxophonist? The vocal line is a bit obnoxious at times. The chorus, however, sounds wonderful and complicated while still being very gentle and quiet. Like The Letters, this song has some good points, but is mostly only an okay tune. Prelude: Song of the Gulls is a very orchestral bit with violins and no vocals, setting a soft stage for the title track. Islands is a slowly building song, but one with a strong melody and some really neat piano work. For the first half, the song stays consistently soft and slow, but it begins picking up speed halfway through (though there is a terrible high pitched noise on the remaster during the speeding up section that really bothers my ears). This song is a lesson in patience, as it climaxes in an absolutely lovely and unique way under beautiful walls of keyboards, piano, and that saxophone finally fitting the music just right.

In all, this is not a bad King Crimson release, just a very different one and a very much less energetic one. So if you've come to love the band through Red or anything more recent than that, be careful, as it's much different from all that. Fans of King Crimson should approach this with an open mind, however, as it is a much better album that it is often slated as.

LiquidEternity | 3/5 |


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