Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

King Crimson Red (1974)


Even less tunes on this one – it boasts but five tracks. Less members, too – Cross quit in the middle of the sections with the band carrying on as a trio (they even have their portraits on the front cover, quite an unusual treat for a King Crimson album; in fact, quite an unusual treat for any prog band album).

But certainly better in quality than SABB and maybe even better than LTIA; at least, this is inarguably the most easily accessible and immediately likeable record of the band’s entire “prog-metal” period. I thought primarily that this was the result of a somewhat more careful and attentive approach to songwriting, but turns out that I was wrong: parts of it were recorded live just as well as parts of SABB. Well, guess some things just can’t be solved easily, can they? Anyway, live or not, this album is more listenable than its predecessor because it is mostly music, not just pointless and uninspired jamming. It’s also tremendously heavy, maybe the heaviest album the band ever did, and that provides a level of energy that was often missing earlier when you needed it so badly. Of course, heaviness is not a virtue by itself – you have to think of good riffs and clever production, and that’s on here, too.

The first side on here is pretty much spotless, aside from a couple overlong solos, but you just have to get used to these things when you’re dealing with King Crimson. The title track is a great rifffest: beginning with a captivating ascending guitar line, it is soon metamorphosed into a convincing heavy melody that is, while not fast enough to get the laurel wreath of ‘Great Deceiver’, nothing short of genius. Kurt Cobain would be proud of that fat guitar/bass interplay, that’s for sure. Then there’s ‘Fallen Angel’, yet another Moody Blues-ish ballad sung quite convincingly by Wetton.

In the hands of Justin Hayward this song might have been turned into a medieval-stylicised, romantic chef-d’aeuvre; here it just feels good and kinda awkward, but it works all the same. Also, Wetton’s vocals are suspiciously reminiscent of Lake’s (I guess he should have had no trouble with singing ‘Schizoid Man’ on stage even without the distorted vocals), and this gives the song a certain ELP feel, so maybe that’s why I like it (I mean, it gives it the Lake feel, not the Emerson feel). It does take some time to enjoy the overlong jam session in the middle, and the song could have been far more great and hard-hitting in a shorter, abbreviated version; but eventually, its grim, spooky noodling grows on you, creating stately gothic moods the likes of which you could previously only find in obscure Krautrock compositions.

Finally, ‘One More Red Nightmare’ is one more classic, based on another, though this time a bit more lackluster, heavy riff, but what gives me the shivers about the song is the way Wetton sings the lyrics: his usual ‘careless’, a trifle intentionally off-key vocals, quite often irritating otherwise, make the tune totally! It’s about fear of flying, as far as I can see, and the rushed, speeded, stuttering vocals, together with the refrain ‘one more red nightmaaaare!’, really give the impression of a paranoid fear of something. I get so excited that I don’t even notice the usual solo wanking all over the place.

Unfortunately, the second side starts on a really low note (the one that costs the album one rating point – sorry Red lovers), the usual trademark of ‘bad Crimson’: ‘Providence’ is the same kind of atonal, messy jam that ‘Fracture’ was on the last record and even worse. Recorded with Cross still at the violin, it mostly features bits and pieces of drums and bass recorded over this stupid “violing” that seems to drag and drag on forever – just more dated experimentation. A bad idea that reduces the album to much less than forty minutes of listenable music. Oh well, at least we have ‘Starless’. You might think it’s horrendous just by looking at the running time – 12:18.

Don’t worry, it isn’t. A rare case when a lengthy King Crimson jam is endurable in all of its lengthiness. Apparently an outtake from the previous album (although it really is hard to talk in terms of outtakes when we deal with constant mixtures of new studio tracks and live improvisations), it should have appeared there instead of the far inferior ‘Starless And Bible Black’. A dark, bitter tune, it’s probably the closest they ever got to replicating the bliss of ‘Epitaph’ (Fripp even uses the same guitar pedal he used on the intro to ‘Epitaph’).

There are tons of beautiful, emotional guitar lines, Wetton’s singing has never been better, and the lengthy solo passage is breathtaking. It seems that Fripp keeps repeating the same note on his guitar over and over, but he manages to build up the tension so well that I’m left almost stunned – just because of the very nature of this paradox: this is maybe the simplest musical idea that Bob has ever put to life and it works so much better than tons of far more complicated ones.

Actually, the whole album, except for that wretched ‘Providence’, is simpler and more ‘available’ than the previous two, and it shows that even if the Frippergang’s main purpose was to experiment with song structure, chord progressions and bizarre instrumentation in the wildest mode possible, they hadn’t still gone as far as to forget the basics of songwriting business entirely. Red, more so than any album since In The Court Of The Crimson King, demonstrates that they still knew how to make great simple tunes and that King Crimson was still a band making music, not just weird, psychic (psychic, not psychedelic) background noises for one-day consumption. Would they take notice of their ‘reincarnation’, you think?

Unfortunately not. Fripp disbanded the band shortly after, saying they’d turned into dinosaurs and their place was in the trash bin – more than two years before the punks reminded all the others of the same. Silly thing, really – if he’d disbanded the band after Starless, I’d certainly understand that. But disband them just as they were becoming used to writing and performing good music? Man, these proggers are one weird bunch of starpers!!!

January 27, 2014 - Posted by | King Crimson Red |

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