Friday, July 6, 2012

King Crimson 5: Larks’ Tongues In Aspic

The band had changed yet again, more radically than ever. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was another departure, being the first Crimson album without any input from lyricist Peter Sinfield. They boasted a new bass-playing vocalist in John Wetton, who only had pitch problems at the upper end of his range. (He’s still going to remind newcomers of Asia, sorry to say.) Drummer Bill Bruford makes all the difference, as the rest of the band plays to him. He can handle the difficulties the music presents, just as Wetton has the capabilities on the bass to keep up. A violin replaces the saxophone as the main melodic counterpart to Robert Fripp’s guitar (and the occasional Mellotron), while a percussionist adds whole spectra of color throughout. But they arrived at the sound that would define their future.
“Part One” of the title track begins with three minutes of mysterious percussion, before a fuzzy guitar and frantic violin introduce the first of several demonic riffs. The violin plays alone for several minutes in the middle, accompanied only by what sounds like a pencil bouncing on the strings of either a guitar or a piano. The ever-ascending theme (like the lark, get it?) returns to obscure whispered voices for the finale. “Book Of Saturday” and “Exiles” (despite beginning with two minutes of dolphin impressions) are pretty, without being assaultive. The Mellotron is just heard in the mix, and we wait for a chorus that never arrives, instead recalling the chords from the flute solo section in “Court Of The Crimson King”.
“Easy Money” is much heavier, sporting a wordless but harmonized scat over a dirge rhythm. The song itself doesn’t really take off until the vocals stop, with Bruford and Fripp playing off each other masterfully. “The Talking Drum” likely gets its title from the hand-played percussion beneath the jam overhead, which itself takes two minutes to emerge. (Somebody else describes this as “the music you'd hear on the elevator down to hell,” and we’ll agree.) The jam intensifies into an abrupt shriek of violin, whereupon “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two” takes over with another infectious riff, a sly variation over something hinted at in Part One, atop multiple time signatures. There’s a long sustained end major chord, played furiously over all harmonics, left for the ensemble to fade naturally.
Much of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic seesaws between the nearly silent to loud grooves, to the point where it can be hard to hear the music at all. Therefore it takes several listens, with close attention paid, for it to emerge as a musical whole, rather than what seem like random sounds. It’s not for everyone, but what is?
Those who were for it had two options when the 40th Anniversary Edition came around. The basic expansion added three alternate takes plus a DVD loaded with even more variations. The Complete Recordings box aimed to track the evolution of this incarnation of the band, adding seven live shows (some of which had already been made available, including their Beat Club appearance for German television), a disc full of early takes crammed into a single track, plus a DVD and a Blu-ray. (The streaming version merely adds two ten-minute tracks labeled “Recording Session Extract”, parts one and two.)

King Crimson Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973)—
2012 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1973, plus 3 extra tracks (plus DVD)

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