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


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.95 | 2109 ratings

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4 stars King Crimson's 6th album 'Starless and Bible Black' is the sometimes ignored album in the classic KC albums. It came between the two innovative and acclaimed albums 'Larks' Tongues in Apsic' and 'Red', and during a time when the band was in one of its most consistent stages, but also during a time when the band was touring more than every before. Because the band was mostly unprepared for this album in the way of having new music, the band decided to use improvised highlights from their concerts and to make them into tracks that sounded like they had been done in studio.

So, first let's look at the consistency of their line up at the time. This is the first time the entire core band remained for a second album in a row. The only person missing from the LTiA line-up is Jamie Muir, who played percussion, drums, and 'assorted found items', but other than that, Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford and David Cross all remained, which is the most stable the band had ever been in a line-up. Bruford had to take up the slack left behind by Muir, which he easily was able to do.

The main factor that probably lends itself to the fact that this album is the weakest of the three albums is the fact that it was made up more of improvised music garnered from live performances. Out of the 8 tracks, only four have lyrics. The crowd noises from the live performances have been edited out of the tracks, at least for the most part, in order to make the album sound like a studio album. Live albums just didn't seem to attract the music buying public back then, because live albums were usually comprised of music that had been heard before, and the public demanded new music, or at least preferred it according to their buying habits.

As was the case with LTiA, the four tracks on SaBB have lyrics written by Richard Palmer-James, who was the original Supertramp guitarist on their self-titled debut album. 'The Great Deceiver' is the first track, and has the attitude of many of the KC album openers of the time, of a somewhat complex and slightly chaotic manner as in '20th Century Schizoid Man', and this was always an effective way to start an album. This track, and the following track 'Lament' both have lyrics and were both entirely recorded in the studio, in fact, the only two tracks completely recorded in studio. The 3rd track 'We'll Let You Know', an instrumental is from an improvised performance in Glasgow, even though it sounds quite structured. 'The Night Watch' also uses some instances of live performances, but to a lesser extent than the previous track. This track is about Rembrandt's painting of the same name, described as an observer would see it and try to understand it.

'Trio' is another instrumental, improvised in concert in Amsterdam, this time it is a more pensive and sensitive improvisation. It is known as a quartet piece for three active player. Bruford was supposed to come in on drums when he felt it was appropriate, so he waited next to the drums with his sticks crossed on his chest, and then decided there was no good place to come in, so he was given credit on the track for 'admirable restraint'. The last track on the first side of the album is 'The Mincer' and is also the last track on the album to have lyrics. Even at that, the vocals don't come in until the very last part of the track. This was another improvised performance from Zurich (that is, part of a longer improvisation), and Wetton's eventual vocals were added later in studio.

The second side of the album consists of two instrumental tracks, both of which are from improvised concert performances done in Amsterdam. 'Starless and Bible Black' has a more experimental feel to it, while the longer 'Fracture' is more interesting and exciting, with a sudden burst of energy in the last four minutes that close the album off quite splendidly. Robert Fripp has said that 'Fracture' is the most difficult piece he has ever played. It is definitely one of the best recorded improvisations by the band. Fripp said that he wanted 'Fracture' to be indicative of where the band was at the time, and that is what it was. Most of the live performances were recorded in that live show in Amsterdam, and because of the impact that show had on this album, the band later released that complete show in 1997 entitled 'The Night Watch'.

So, in the end, this album is much more important than it might seem on the surface. It also takes a little more getting used to than the other two albums with this basic lineup, at least it did for me. I always considered it a weaker entry in the discography, but I have since changed my mind over that. One of the great things about this album, and the other two in this trilogy, is that it takes both sides of KC, the more symphonic sounding band of pre-LTiA, and the heavier, improvised style that the band was moving into. Both sides of the band are equally amazing to me, and the fact that they could easily do both so well is one of the main reasons I love this band as much as I do. They are my favorite band when it comes to their entire output. I do tend to rate this one just below masterpiece status, but I still enjoy it immensely.

TCat | 4/5 |


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