Review Summary: The Crimson trio goes out with a B'Boom..
After "Starless and Bible Black", there were some problems within the KC camp. Money was low and in order to cut costs, a member had to be cut. This member would be violinist/keyboardist David Cross. Despite his being voted out around the time of the recoding of "Red", he is present in parts of the recordings, mainly in the live improv, "Providence" and during the third verse of "Starless." "Red" was also a nostalgic exprience for those involved, especially Robert Fripp and former KC members Mel Collins and Ian McDonald (respectively from the "Islands" era and the "ITCOTCK" era) both on saxophone. The recordings, surprisingly, was contolled by bassist/vocalist John Wetton and drummer/percussionist Bill Bruford instead of guitarist/keyboardist Robert Fripp. But would that mean the end result would be as satisfying as "Starless and Bible Black" and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic?"
Well, that is up to the listener...
Starting off "Red", is the title track itself, and from the very start, it's obvious it'll be like the previous two albums with it being guitar-heavy with focus mainly on dynamics and exotic instruments. This is the track where the band just goes out on all cylinders, giving it everything they've got into a six minute instrumental, and one hell of a way to start off an album. "Fallen Angel" is about two brothers in the "Hell's Angels" in New York, and the subsequent death of the younger brother in a street fight. The lyrics have to be one of Richard W. Palmer-James' best, throughly describing the laments of the elder brother trying deal with the death of his younger brother in a knife fight.
Following "Red" and "Fallen Angel", we have possibly one of the most underrated songs from the Wetton-era, "One More Red Nightmare", the final track on side one, and in a way, a reprise of "Red." "Nightmare" is the story of a passenger on a Pan Am charter jet who all throughout the song, mentions his fear of heights and dying in a plane crash. Following the first two verses, this leads to a solo between Fripp, Collins, and McDonald. The effort put into the solo is great and has to be one of the best during this incarnation of King Crimson.
Side two opens with "Providence", a live improv with David Cross before he was voted out, and most obviously, considering how little of the album he was on, this is where he most definitely shines. Despite how well it works with the other songs on the album, it has to be the weakest of the five songs on "Red", as it seems to be a typical KC live jam that was not uncommon during the Wetton-era. At last, we have "Starless", the final song of the Wetton-era, and probably the high point of the era. "Starless" has had quite a history, first being written by Wetton around the "Starless and Bible Black" period. Fripp and Bruford didn't quite like it, so they decided not to record it, but took the original title, "Starless and Bible Black" for the new album. This would lead to several rewrites by Wetton and others in the group, mainly Bruford and Palmer-James. (Including revised lyrics, a longer instrumental section based off a bass riff written by Bruford) It would later on be played live between March to June of 1974, in which the song once again, was revised for the sessions of "Red."
The differences when observed are noticable, with the lyrics being revised several times live and in the studio, and the absence of Cross' violin, (except in the third verse) which was replaced by Fripp and the horn section. Last, but not least, the title was changed to "Starless." The introductory theme played by Fripp has to be one of the most solemn things I have ever heard, its progression mournful. The lyrics to "Starless" are similar in theme, and with the horn section, simply makes this quite the depressing song I have to admit. Around the the third and final verse, the "depression" takes peak before the song itself erupts into anger. The following instrumental, like Fracture, has to be one of the best of all of King Crimson's career. The band flat out pulls out all the stops, putting all their energy into the music, and using their emotions to influence the music, going from sorrow to anger. Considering this was the final track on possibly, their final album together due to Fripp's "temporary retirement" the following year, they decided to just go out the best way they can: by making incredible music.
All in all, "Red" has to be the peak of the band. From here-on out, almost anything couldn't beat this album, and understandably, would be difficult to do so. It is certainly an album for the ages.