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King Crimson aren’t so much a band as a series of bands, all featuring and led by idiosyncratic guitarist Robert Fripp. With a demeanour that resembles a University professor more than a rock star, Fripp’s plotted an erratic course for his band. The group formed in London in 1968, but their ninth album, 1982’s Beat, was the first time the band’s lineup remained the same for two consecutive albums.

While the term “progressive rock” has come to mean a specific style of music that’s symphonic and complex, King Crimson’s shifting lineups, fondness for improvisation, and changes of musical direction mark them as truly progressive. This daring approach can make for some difficult listens, but makes them constantly interesting – their discography is a wild ride, especially in the early 1970s as Fripp struggled to replace the mighty lineup that created their stellar 1969 debut, In The Court of The Crimson King.

A look through King Crimson’s studio discography is absolutely huge but here are five favourite albums, but you should bear in mind that a lot of their live material is also universally acclaimed albums like Epitaph from the initial lineup or Absent Lovers from 1984 are considered key parts of their discography.

Starless and Bible Black (1974)
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I actually bought this album at the time because I loved the sleeve artwork, And of all King Crimson’s line-ups, my favourites and because of John Wetton’s vocal,  the mid-1970s iterations of the band, featuring John Wetton on bass and vocals and Bill Bruford on drums. Starless and Bible Black is less coherent than the two albums that bookend it, as it’s largely formed around live improvisations, but it’s still full of highlights like the complex, heavy instrumental ‘Fracture’ and the beautiful ‘The Night Watch’.

Released in March 1974, the bulk of Starless And Bible Black is a live album with all traces of the audience skilfully removed. Coming between the startling inventions of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, and the far-reaching repercussions of Red, Starless And Bible Black is a powerful and experimental album mingling live recordings with stand-alone studio tracks. Brimming with a confidence borne out of the band’s increasing mastery of the concert platform as a basis for inspired improvisations, the sparse, pastoral beauty of Trio, the impressionistic, sombre moods of the title track, and the complex, cross-picking rhythmic brilliance of Fracture all stand testimony to the musical ESP that existed between Cross, Fripp, Wetton and Bruford. A classic and compelling blast of King Crimson as you’re likely to hear.

Discipline (1981)
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After breaking King Crimson up in 1974, Robert Fripp rebooted the band in 1981, retaining Bill Bruford from the previous lineup, and adding guitarist and vocalist Adrian Belew and Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and bass. The new lineup’s extreme virtuosity is impressive, a unique blend of new wave, progressive rock, and world rhythms.

After seven years away from the public King Crimson returned in 1981 with a brand-new incarnation. Joining Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford are ex-Zappa/Bowie guitarist, Adrian Belew and ace session and Peter Gabriel bassist, Tony Levin. Incorporating sounds reminiscent of the resonant chimes of ancient gamelan music and the sleek, clear lines of modern minimalism,this Anglo-American combination forged a startlingly different musical vocabulary. Frame By Frame, Thela Hun Ginjeet and the album’s title track in particular, showcase Belew and Fripp’s dovetailing guitar parts and Levin and Bruford’s cyclical grooves, forming a mesmeric sound unlike anything heard before on any previous King Crimson albums. The shimmering, hypnotic textures of The Sheltering Sky and savagely raucous Indiscipline provide aleatoric counterweights to the album’s tightly-controlled complexity.

Larks Tongues in Aspic (1973)king-crimson-larks-tongues-in-aspic

After a few unconvincing albums in the early 1970s, Fripp replaced his entire band, bringing in Wetton and Bruford along with percussionist Jamie Muir and electric violinist David Cross. The record is split between complex instrumentals, like the two parts of the title track, and strong songs like ‘Exiles’ and ‘Easy Money’, featuring Wetton’s gritty vocals. King Crimson’s 1973 album marked a radical departure from everything they’d previously done. With guitarist Robert Fripp as the only survivor from the original line-up, the new line-up featuring the heat-seeking work of ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford and the virtuoso bass work of ex-Family bassist John Wetton, who also took on vocals here, presented a breath-taking tour of killer riffs, jaw-dropping dynamics, and poignant ballads. Featuring pastoral Vaughan Williams-style interludes from violinist David Cross, this line-up also embraced a spikier sound that was both willing to rock out, as on the unhinged complexities of LTIA Pt2, as well as explore and experiment with unorthodox textures and atmospherics thanks to eccentric percussionist Jamie Muir.

In The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
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King Crimson immediately made an impact with their debut, with Fripp sharing the limelight with Greg Lake on vocals and bass, Michael Giles on drums, and Ian McDonald on woodwinds; McDonald contributed a lot of the song-writing to the album. It’s not perfect, as ‘Moonchild’ drags, but it’s a landmark of progressive rock, effectively defining the symphonic prog genre with highlights like ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ and ‘Epitaph’. This remains King Crimson’s only gold record – they never capitalised on its success, as the initial lineup disintegrated – Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Described by The Who’s Pete Townshend as ‘an uncanny masterpiece’, King Crimson’s debut was released in October 1969 becoming an instant chart hit on both sides of the Atlantic – not bad for a band who only got together less than ten months earlier. 21st Century Schizoid Man showcases the band’s ability to blend music that had the brutal attack of a claw hammer yet wielded with the skilled precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. Consisting of a visionary blend of gothic ruminations, anthemic Mellotron-laden grandeur, ornate arrangements and introspective folkish abstractions, the album was a huge influence on bands such as Yes and Genesis and countless other acts on the ‘70s rock scene. The albums distinctive sound is as fresh, bold and as startling as when it first appeared.

Red (1974)
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Gradually whittled down to a trio over the previous couple of records, the dominant sound on Red is the hard, complex rock of the title track and ‘One More Red Nightmare’ from Wetton, Fripp, and Bruford. But it’s the majestic closing ‘Starless’ that’s the gem of King Crimson’s oeuvre, a twelve minute epic that builds to a triumphant, unforgettable climax. Starless is one of King Crimson’s most popular songs came when the view counter for the video of the song performed by the Radical Action team tipped over the 3 million mark.

The song which originally closed off the ’70s incarnation of the band was reinstated to the KC setlist in 2014, 40 years after it had last been performed, and has stayed there ever since. The version posted on the King Crimson Youtube Channel is taken from 2016’s Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind. In case you’re not one of the three million people-plus to have watched it,

Recorded at the end of two lengthy tours of the USA in 1974, the final album of the 1970s finds King Crimson in an raw and uncompromising mood. Consisting of Crimson founder guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist and vocalist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford, the trio serve up a sound that’s metal-edged, gritty and powerful. Opening with the classic bulldozer instrumental title track, the album contains a typically eclectic mix that includes the jazzy rock of Fallen Angel, the punchy attack of One More Red Nightmare, the unsettling but dazzling near-telepathic improvisation of Providence and the stirring anthem, Starless whose opening ballad section gives way to a moving and emotional climax that is frequently cited as the ultimate King Crimson listening experience.

and here is the album version of “Starless”

 

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Comments
  1. Thank you for a nice piece

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