Review Summary: A superb, dark effort that combines almost all of the strengths from King Crimson's first decade of work, and a worthy end to an era.Red
is a special record: it’s the last 70’s, all-Brits King Crimson album, released after Robert Fripp had already disbanded the group, and more importantly: it combines almost all of the strengths of the group so far, recalling back even to their early masterpiece In The Court in the Crimson King
. What made this possible is the reappearance of early members of the group, notably Ian McDonald and Mel Collins. This combined earlier-used instruments such as saxophones and woodwinds with the dark, even nightmarish atmosphere of more recent times, making Red
an album that stands firm as a final opus until Fripp would unexpectedly resurface with a once again refurnished company in the dawning 80’s.
After Larks’ Tongues in Aspic
and Starless and Bible Black
, King Crimson was reduced to a quartet and trio, respectively. Aside from Fripp, only Wetton and Bruford remain of the original Larks’
line-up, although Cross still aided the recording of this final album as a guest musician, his performance being logically much less notable than on the group’s two previous records. The three remaining produced at thick, dense sound that kept the dark atmosphere of this formation perfectly intact. The opening title track takes the manner in hand immediately, and opens up with a lot of drive and aggression. Although the instrumental (yes, this Crimson just loves those) keeps the same tone throughout, the multiple time changes keep it continually interesting. Also notice the strong cello section.
The shortest of the Palmer-James-penned trilogy, Red
counts only 5 tracks, although 12-minute closer Starless
is one of the longest ever by the group. The only other instrumental and also weakest track by far is the improvisational jam Providence
, which has been taken from a live recording and therefore wouldn’t have misfit next to the other, similar material on Starless and Bible Black
. It most prominently features Cross on this album, but is boring, doesn’t go anywhere, and Red
would have been much better off without it.
That said, the other four tracks here are quite brilliant. Following the opening title track is Fallen Angel
, one of the best ballads King Crimson have ever done. As soon as Wetton comes in with vocals for the first time on the album, you’ll be astounded how much better he sounds compared to his two previous performances. The track soon moves into the trademark strength of this formation with a disturbing rhythm section and a slow but alarming Fripp, but is made unique by the notable reappearance of the saxophone. Not soon after it has faded out comes in the underrated One Red Nightmare
. Bruford does some of his most remarkable percussion here, Fripp grinds away with his guitar, Wetton keeps up his dark bass sound, but the most appealing feature about the song might be his vocals, which are highly enjoyable because of the strong accent they’re performed in.
does tilt Red
to perhaps the best King Crimson album next to their masterpiece debut is its last swansong Starless
, which blows anything that is not on In the Court of the Crimson King
completely out of the water. The beauty of the track is that it recalls several earlier moments in Crimson’s career. It opens up a what seems to be another Epitaph
-esque song, in which must be mentioned that John Wetton performs vocals so well he almost makes up for his poor performance on Larks’ Exiles
. The mellotron arrangement can’t be missed, of course, and also the soft saxophone is great and Fripp’s guitar is very captivating. About 5 minutes in, however, the song cleverly shifts to the territory of dark instrumentals from this era, building up tension, getting louder and louder, and then explodes into a sudden fantastic saxophone solo, returns to the tension, and closes off amazingly with the same melody it starts with. Describing it does it no true right, as its pure brilliance cannot be put in words. Its last fading notes close off Red
in the best manner possible; a fantastic opus by an intricate group.
Red’s King Crimson was:
- Robert Fripp ~ Guitar, Mellotron
- John Kenneth Wetton ~ Bass Guitar, Vocals
- William Scott Bruford ~ Drums, Percussion
- David Cross ~ Violin, Keyboards
- Mel Collins ~ Soprano Saxophone
- Ian McDonald ~ Alto Saxophone, Keyboards
- Robin Miller ~ Oboe, various wind instruments
- Marc Charig ~ Cornet
Lyrics by Richard Palmer-James
TO BE CONTINUED...