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King Crimson - Red CD (album) cover

RED

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.55 | 3247 ratings

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Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars Edit: As with a lot of King Crimson stuff, this one has grown considerably since my initial review (the very first review I wrote for the site, in fact!) over a year ago. Here goes.

If you've read this far down the album's page, you should already know the history behind "Red". After David Cross left, King Crimson was left as a trio and Fripp had come to terms with the fact that by the end of 1974, King Crimson would be disbanded. This wasn't permanent, of course, but I always consider it to be the end of the "true" King Crimson. That probably sounds a little pretentious, but I really feel that with "Red", King Crimson had left their true swan song, and none of the albums under the KC name that have followed have been able to produce as much of a cohesive, immersive musical experience of we hear on this one.

After the patchy half-studio, half-live "Starless and Bible Black", the hard-hitting title track opens up this one with the amps cranked to 11 and we know right away that Fripp & co. have a vision in mind with this album. The dark, brooding atmosphere, coupled with the stark album cover, tells us that this is going to be a different kind of King Crimson album. This is a more human, more moving collection of songs. Gone are the days of the idealist, escapist exercises in imagination of "In The Wake of Poseidon" or "Islands". Indeed, you won't find yourself daydreaming to "Red" the same way you might to "Cadence and Cascade" or "Formentera Lady", but the choice by King Crimson to make their send-off very down-to-Earth was an effective choice, and this is perhaps one of the first times that we can really empathise with a band who, to many, sounds very cold and impersonal.

The highlight of the album, aside from the sombre "Fallen Angel", with its beautiful acoustic guitar and wind arrangements intertwined into Robert Fripp's domineering distorted riffs, is, of course, "Starless". There was really no better way to end the album than this one. I can't help but notice, when I listen to this one, that there are many callbacks and quotes of earlier King Crimson works. Indeed, Mel Collins' main saxophone melody is actually taken directly from the Bolero section of "Lizard", albeit rearranged for a 4/4 time signature. The tense middle section reminds me of a similar build-up in "Pictures of A City", only this time expanded out to a more complete potential. And the jazzy uptempo saxophone jam wouldn't seem out of place in "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Pt. 1". The sum of the parts, of course, is more than just a collection of past ideas; it truly stands on its own as an independent unit. There's really no question why it's become as popular as it has among fans.

My only complaint with this album is, as many others have stated, "Providence". Not because it's dissonant, though; King Crimson pulled that off with great success many other times on their earlier studio albums. Many are quick to compare it to "Moonchild", but I don't feel that analogy is apt. Where the jam in "Moonchild" was meant to lull you enough that the vast opening chords of "The Court of The Crimson King" would hit you like a freight train of sound, "Providence" does little to set up "Starless", except maybe for the fact that it makes you desperate to want to hear "Starless" start. The 8 minutes of this live improvisation are tense, but the tension is never released, the idea never develops into anything. Compared to many of the brilliant improvised works the band had been doing around this time, this was probably one of the poorest they could have chosen from.

With the inclusion of "Providence", I can't bring myself to give this album a 5-star rating, as it isn't a masterpiece. Having said that, I really can't recommend it enough. "Red" is not just a treat for King Crimson fans, but it's also a fantastic introduction to the band. The fact that it sounds very modern (along with Van der Graaf Generator, this album is probably directly responsible for the "dark, edgy prog" aesthetic that's so prevalent today) might even make it more approachable to new listeners than "In The Court of The Crimson King". And if you're a metalhead, this is THE starting point to getting into prog. In all, a 4 star rating. An excellent, excellent, excellent addition to any music collection.

Magnum Vaeltaja | 4/5 |

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