Monday, July 23, 2012

King Crimson 7: Red

And then there were three? The latest incarnation of King Crimson had already lost a percussionist, and the violin player left. On Red, the constant unit was reduced to that of a power trio. As depicted by the needle in the VU meter on the back cover pinned to the right, plenty of volume and, yes, power comes from the guitar, bass and drums, so much that the vocal has to fight to be heard.
The title track plows out of the speakers with a Frippian scale, and a main section with a dominant flatted fifth and some suspended fourths to bring in light. Is that a backwards guitar at the start of “Fallen Angel”? That should be enough of a sign that the gentle verses don’t provide much hope for the city kids in the story, as demonstrated by the alarm-like bursts in the choruses. “One More Red Nightmare” is its most interesting in the non-vocal sections, which describe a man dreaming he’s in a plane about to crash. The middle part and coda tack another mirror onto the piece, with a sax solo and sheet metal-type percussion, ending abruptly like the air being sucked out of the room.
By now it was customary for side two of a Crimso album to begin with an instrumental improvisation—in this case, “Providence”, which was recorded in that Rhode Island city at their penultimate concert—and end with a lengthy yet grand (in every sense of the word) finale. While titled simply “Starless” to set it apart from the previous album, the lyrics are tied together by that album’s title. A lonesome Mellotron lays a bed of chords, helped along by gently ticking drums. Soon a melancholy melody emerges as a theme, balanced against an equally sad vocal. Then something truly obstinate happens—the piece slows down for a bass riff built to support Fripp’s single-note solo, likely played on two strings, generally only changing the note after every second bar of 13/8. The higher he gets, the more agitated the percussion becomes. Then everything stops to set up a “Schizoid Man”-style sax solo, which then revives the verse themes, played with more intensity. The single-note guitar finds its way back in, and the opening theme is repeated for an exhausting finish.
Red is an excellent culmination of the period begun by Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. What puts it above the other albums of the period is the beauty (and thus, dare we say, accessibility) of the music. However, Fripp had already decided the band had gone as far as it could go, and dismantled the outfit without so much as a tour. Thus, with some former members and contributors joining the festivities, the album is something of a culmination.
As with most everything in the catalog, Red has been revisited on various anniversaries. The initial 40th Anniversary Edition (celebrating the birth of the band, not this particular album) added early mixes of two tracks plus the complete “Providence” improvisation to the original 1974 mix. 2013 brought another expansion of the album, this time adding a second CD with a new stereo mix and a bootleg quality “Starless” from the show that begat the live USA album. Those miffed about no DVD content would be assuaged by another option. The Road To Red served up 16 mostly professionally recorded concerts—some of which had already appeared in whole or in part on USA, the Great Deceiver box set, and other digital releases—from the tour that immediately preceded the recording of Red. If that’s not enough, there are vintage and new mixes of the album itself, plus a DVD, two Blu-ray discs and the usual ephemera. In other words, flabbergasting. (The streaming version adds only the live “Starless”, the complete “Providence”, and another improv from the same show.)

King Crimson Red (1974)—4
2009 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1974, plus 3 extra tracks (plus DVD)
2013 reissue: same as 2009, plus 6 extra tracks (minus DVD)

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