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King Crimson - Red CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.55 | 3231 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars (Starless and 4.5)

Okay, serious time. There are some bands that have an album that really define art in rock at the time. Tull did it in 1972; Pink Floyd in 1979. King Crimson revolutionized the concept of art in rock in 1969, and again in 1973, and then fully cemented that revolution in 1975. To strike with lightning once is hard enough, and most bands can't even try. To strike with lightning more than once is...almost impossible.

Simply put, Red is an amazing album. It's not perfect; it's probably not as good as Larks Tongues, lacking the earlier album's consistency. However, it holds just as well written material, and perhaps hits even harder (made all the more impressive considering that Fripp and the gang had just ridden off the heels of the scattered, confusing, and thoroughly unsatisfying Starless and Bible Black, which I've largely erased from my memory).

We open with the title track, something which you might not even associate with Crimso. "Red" is a fully instrumental riff-fest, almost Sabbath-esque in its slow, crushing heaviness. However, Sabbath was never this complex, deep, or COLD. In fact, "Red" stands as one of the coldest tunes I've ever heard, especially when the cellos pick up towards the center.

Even better is "Fallen Angel," a gorgeous, gorgeous ballad with a wonderful, hard-hitting melody that hits all the harder when it picks up in heaviness. Wait a second...gorgeous ballad...heavy? Fear not! "Angel" is one of those rare, rare occasions when something is both beautiful AND rocks. And it really does, when the complex-as-get- out/layered-to-death instrumental section takes over in all its blazing glory, and not a SHRED of emotion is sacrificed. Pretty much perfect.

"One More Red Nightmare" closes the first side with another brutally evil riff, wonderful percussion and fantastic lyrics about a plane trip gone wrong. But then, it all speeds up, and turns into a great excuse for some good old fashioned saxophone jamming. Ha! When's the last time you heard a sax on a Crimso record, eh? Too long, right?

However, just in case you forgot that this was King Crimson, we have to have at least ONE lousy improv ala Starless and Bible Black. "Providence" is the tune that keeps the album from ever getting higher than a solid 4.5. Now, I dig improv as much as the next guy, but only when it's attached to an actual melody. You can get largely the same effect by watching somebody scratching a bird cage with a coat hanger for eight minutes, only "Providence" is slightly less interesting; the only part that sounds halfway decent is the end when Bruford kicks in, but by then, it's all over.

Luckily, we close with "Starless," which has nothing to do with Bible Black. Well, except the lyrics. It opens as a beautiful mellotron drenched sax ballad, with one of Wetton's finest vocal performances. Then, it quietly shifts to a fascinating build, where you have the choice to focus on Fripp's ever angering guitar riff, Wetton's ever changing bass melody, or Bruford's ever weirdening drum effects. In the end, all the tension is released in a heart pounding sax solo, where the original tune is replayed with EVERYONE busting their guts out, and never once losing sight of the tune's beauty. Basically, a prog rock orgasm. Hmm...rocking but beautiful? Isn't that the second time I've said that this album? The last time that happened was Thick as a Brick...

Like I said, Red's not perfect, but a landmark nonetheless. And I DO have trouble choosing a favorite song; I'm pretty sure the best is "Fallen Angel," but "Starless" is just so damn strong! Oh well. Emotions will certainly run high spinning this record. It IS possible to overrated it, but only a fool would deny the overall importance of the album.

Half the reason it's so good, and I think this is vital, is the fact that it was the last King Crimson album. It's sort of like The Doors' L.A. Woman, another amazing swan song. The core trio is in top form here: Fripp is as impressive as ever, Wetton sings like his life depends on every line, and this might be THE Bruford album; and, realizing that no one, let alone themselves, cares, the band pulls out all stops: art metal rockers and jazz ballads, whistling up session players and old friends for guest spots. I mean, even "Providence," as dull as it is, is part of the formula, and Red wouldn't be Red without it.

Love it or hate it, Red is an important part of prog rock history (and music history in general; it invented grunge, didn't it? And I HATE grunge, but I LOVE this. Go figure). The fact that it's also a really, really good album chock full of amazing like a wonderful side effect.

The Whistler | 4/5 |


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