See, back in the day bands didn't need a solid line up. If a band were recording an album and the bassist/vocalist decides to leave for whatever reasons, he thinks he's too cute for progressive rock and the Bay City Rollers need a new band mate, or the drummer insists on being a control freak, no problem! They'll just go grab that guy they saw at the pub last night, the one who chucked beer bottles at other people all night long and resulted in a bar brawl. If he can play bass as good as he can fight, and sing as good as he can drink, they're set. And there's no need for really
Well that might not have been exactly what happened to King Crimson, but it's understandable if it did. For their fourth album King Crimson once again had a rather big line up change, after Lizard
's roster proved to be unstable, but managed to make a great album, albeit very much a change from their first two. Only woodwinds man Mel Collins, the indispensable Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield, the guy who wrote the 'words' for the band, remained of the original line up by this point. The line up would only get wackier from Islands
, but it never got much worse.
Known for their booming, menacing Mellotron, manic guitar playing and drumming, and an overall darker sound than their progressive cohorts of the time for In the Court of the Crimson King
, King Crimson took a turn at 1970's Lizard that drastically changed their sound, but maintained their trademarks. On this album, however, the Crimsons took another turn, one that lost their dark sound, and twisted instrumentation. This of course, is due to the line up change, most noticeably Boz Burrell, the new vocalist/bassist (the band never maintained one for more than two albums in the seventies.) Boz's voice is laid back and weak, lacking the intensity and personality of previous vocalists, and his bass playing nothing more than average. Ian Wallace proves to be a good drummer, but rarely gets a chance to flex his chops.
keeps a slow pace with its classical influence, Fripp making 'that old people music' with his Mellotron, rarely leaving the lumbering keyboard to contribute guitar to the album. From the beginning track Formentera Lady
, the influence is strong as the song begins slowly with the flute, piano and string bass playing aimlessly but subtly forming a melody to mix classical with jazz. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
shows the most classically influenced, and is also the most coherent song. Its tightly-knit arrangement dominated by the Mellotron, it sounds like the only song that was composed fully beforehand and doesn't lead off into rather poorly planned improvisations.
In songs like The Letters
, and not necessarily restricted to the more jazz driven songs, the instrumentals are drawn out, as if meant for filling up space. They go nowhere, improvisation really isn't a problem, but it sounds like a bunch of jazz musicians just gathered up and started playing pointlessly for a long time. After a while of jamming they all scramble to get the song back on track, to get back to a rambling and slow one. Even more unfortunate is for fans of Robert Fripp's guitar improv, as mentioned before, doesn't make much of a dent into the album, letting the Mellotron, horns, and strings attempt to create spontaneous mania.
is the only song that creates a coherent instrumental through a series of quirky rhythms and has Fripp's guitar jamming out. Sounding much like 21st Century Schizoid Man
, it's a fast paced jam with swift, jazz infused drumming, and horns that almost take over the song until the guitar bursts in with a unique tone. Going into a bluesy guitar breakout then an epic sounding Mellotron ending like the closing track on In the Court of the Crimson King
, Sailor's Tale is the only song to incorporate a idiosyncratic, tough edge, like Crimson's earlier work.
The result of it all is an awkward, uneven sounding album. Half of the album is split between well-crafted, innovative, yet somewhat restrained, and the other tracks (the bigger half unfortunately) are sprawled, half-baked and awkwardly pretentious works. Because of the original three remaining members, it's considered as one of the albums in the Kings' first era. It's certainly the worst too, and one of the worst in the whole discography. Its sound like an attempt to make a dark, edgy band soft, and the natural feel of the band bursting out at strange moments. Because of its bi-polar-like inequalities, the album isn't really a good jazz album, neo-classical album, or progressive, and can't blend the three well. Like the last few minutes of Islands
, the music building up and up and abruptly stopping, it sounds like a wasted effort. Islands
is hard to enjoy at first or in its entirety, and it's certainly an acquired taste, if other King Crimson isn't.