Review Summary: Ersatz shit?
Progressive rock is one of the most loathed genres by critics. It isn't difficult to see why; the cornerstones of the archetypal progressive rock song include longwinded, self indulgent instrumental passages, traditionally using a flute, perhaps a mellotron, and fluttering guitar work, occasionally supported by pompously enigmatic lyrics. Simply seeing the length of a track can make music critics cringe. King Crimson is a band that is definitely guilty of committing these typical prog crimes. Perhaps this is best proven by their debut album, with songs like "Moonchild," featuring an eight and a half minute free-form improvisational freak out from all members, and the grandiose opener "21st Century Schizoid Man," complete with a stuttering, disjointed midsection. While these elements led to people like Robert Christgau to call the album "ersatz shi
t," the album remains an innovative classic of the progressive rock genre.
Four albums later on Larks' Tongues In Aspic
, King Crimson was a different entity, and not only because of additional members, but also in style. They had somewhat stepped away from the traditional progressive rock qualities of their debut that made critics' roll their eyes and instead took on experimental music as a main ingredient to the signature King Crimson sound. This is apparent from the first minute of the instrumental opener, Larks' Tongues In Aspic Pt. 1. The title track, much in the vein of Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," is a multi-part song in which the first two bookend the album, yet unlike Floyd's epic, "Lark's Tongue In Aspic" spans multiple albums. The track begins with a gorgeously eerie and exotic percussive intro which showcases King Crimson's newfound experimental qualities, before slowly fading away into alternating sections of urgent violins and upbeat hard rock passages much in the vein of "21st Century Schizoid Man."Expertly technical percussion and wavering guitar leads are the basis of the midsection until minimalist violins again take over. The whole track flows surprisingly well despite its thirteen-plus minute length and the stark contrast of the different sections. None of it is boring, even if the violin passages are slow moving at times. It's a gargantuan song not only because of its length, but because of its alluring and unfamiliar qualities. There couldn't have been a better choice for the opener.
The three vocal tracks that follow are of similar high quality to the massive opener. The short piece that immediately follows, "Book Of Saturday," is much more subdued and laid-back, mirroring "I Talk To The Wind" on their debut. It's a pretty song without ever being truly beautiful, but it doesn't need to be shocking after following "Larks' Tongues Pt. 1." It's not at all underwhelming, just quieter and less prominent. "Exiles" is just as relaxed sounding as the previous track, yet lengthier and violin-tinged. Its intro does overstay its welcome a bit, but this can be forgiven because of the wonderful tranquility of the rest of the song. John Wetton's vocal performance can be a little off-putting; its scratchy qualities sometimes oppose the gentleness of its melody. "Easy Money" brings things up to tempo again with an intro with a colossal groove. The track is accentuated by goofy sound effects like a boinging sound, dings, and rumbling, which can be slightly distracting. The stellar instrumental midsection is the highlight; Robert Fripp's fuzz-filled guitar work is brilliant.
"The next track, Talking Drum," serves as somewhat of a return to "Lark's Tongue In Aspic Pt. 1." It's a bizarre instrumental track that slowly builds to driving drums, wailing violin and funky bass. While it's the weakest song on the album because of its oddness and its length, it shows once more that King Crimson can be highly original. Its's always nice to hear a band toy with their sound, even if the outcome isn't fantastic The closer, "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Pt. 2" is much more immediate than its first part, and about half the length. Still retaining the same experimental qualities such as exotic drums and violin, it works on a completely different level than the opener. It drives along at a consistent pace unlike the disjointedness of Pt. 1. It's completely satisfying as a closer and doesn't at all feel like just a midsection of a multipart epic.
Larks' Tongues In Aspic
is highly successful for a number of reasons. King Crimson boldly incorporate experimental sounds and exotic instruments into their sound. The long instrumental pieces don't sound nearly as self-indulgent as they do on paper, instead sounding surprisingly economical for the mammoth size they truly are. Even though innovation does not at all make an album great, Larks' Tongues In Aspic
is great as well as wildly innovative. While their debut was stronger overall, Larks' Tongues
cemented King Crimson's status as one of the most inventive and consistently stellar progressive rock groups of all time.
Overall Rating: 4.4