the last three weeks we reviewed some of the many musical highlights
of 1973. All in all, 1973 was a very special year in which many
bands achieved their definite breakthrough and others reached
their top. The year after, 1974, was a bit different. Although
some bands continued to deliver their best albums, some cracks
in the scenery of progressive rock became visible. Some bands
explored their musical boundaries even beyond imagination, others
lost one or more important band-members. 1974 saw Rick Wakeman
leaving Yes, Peter Gabriel leaving Genesis and King Crimson
coming to an end.
latter band, King Crimson, delivered one of their finest works,
Red, just before falling apart. After 5 years of experimental
music, from their stunning debut in 1969, onwards along several
line-up changes, King Crimson died a sudden death. The pivotal
father-figure of the band, guitarist Robert Fripp decided to
call it a day.
lot happened prior to this decision. At the end of 1972 Yes-drummer
Bill Bruford was asked to join a new version of King Crimson,
after the first line-up had lost its spirit. In two years time
the new Crimson quintet developed very rapidly, as a result
of which three albums were made, many concerts were played and
two members, percussionist Jamie Muir and violinist David Cross
left the group. Although Cross had a part in the creation of
Red, the album was officially released by the trio Fripp/Bruford/Wetton,
as the album-cover shows.
was King Crimson in 1973 and 1974 about? In the booklet of the
box-set The Great Deceiver, Robert Fripp describes the group
as follows: "Between 1973/4 KC had an increasingly loud bass-player
of staggering strength and imagination, arguably the finest
young English player in his field at the time. The drummer has
the temperament of a classical musician who wanted to be a jazzer
and worked in rock groups. I'm not sure Bruford/Wetton were
a good rhythm-section but they were amazing, busy, exiting,
mobile, agile, inventive and terrible to play over. The violinist
was placed in an increasingly impossible situation. A musical
and personal distance began to open between him and the rest
of the group. After the departure of Jamie Muir, (who left to
start a new life in a monastery, JJdH) the balance, constructed
in the original quintet was lost. David Cross added delicacy,
and wood. But the front line couldn't match the power of the
rhythm section, or their volume, and the guitar was stronger
than the violin.
King Crimson in 1973/4 was not a balanced group, or perhaps
it was balanced in disarray. It was sometimes frightening and
not a comfortable place to be. Increasingly it needed improvisation
to stay alive. But that didn't show much in studio-albums. In
concerts, it stepped sideways and jumped. This team looked into
the darker spaces of the psyche and reported back on what it
found. The 1969 Crimscapes were bleak and written, the 1973/4
Crimscapes were darker, and mainly improvised. After 16 month
as a quartet it became a trio for three months, whereupon King
Crimson ceased to exist. Inherently unstable, sharing different
aims and going in different directions, finally it went there...."
couldn't say it better. King Crimson wasn't a group, it was
a creative process. And in creating things, it lost itself.
Red has become a very interesting album. It's a bit heavier
than previous albums (especially the title track), but at the
same time it's a bit more structured. The title-track Red,
is a perfect example of this. It features heavy guitars and
an incredible bass. People who claim that Queensryche and Dream
Theater introduced a new aspect to progressive music with their
hard-rock influences, are dead-wrong. The middle of the song
has an atmospheric, heavy bass part with many effects. No keyboards
necessary! Wetton is a threat to your speakers and hence Red
is an apt name. Your amplifier indeed turns red! This instrumental
is still one of my KC-favourites and also one of the very few
old songs that is still played live by the '90-s incarnation
of the band.
Angel is a slower song, that starts off as a melodic ballad,
with lyrics by Crimson-poet Richard Palmer-James. Wetton's raspy
voice is accompanied by an ongoing melody-line, which builds
to a climax, including a brass section featuring Mel Collins
and Ian McDonald on saxophone. After a break, this strategy
this, One More Red Nightmare sort of continues where
Red ended. Drums are featured even more prominent. After
a few bars, there's a break that leads to a "chorus" (if there's
ever any in Crimson-music), in order to return to the guitar-riff
again. A great instrumental part follows. Bruford's jazz-influence
is very obvious here, especially since a saxophone is present
here again. The ongoing rhythm is great and leads to a sudden
break again, after which the heavier guitar-part, the chorus
and the sax-part follow again. In fact, it's a nightmare in
three parts, completely different, but each very interesting.
starts with a violin creating mystical sounds. Bass and
guitar join after a minute or two. A jam follows of the kind
that can also be found on Lark's Tongues in Aspic. It's just
improvisation of the kind that has made King Crimson both famous
and hated, depending on your personal preference. After 4-and-a-half
minute Bruford starts a beat and Providence builds from
mystical to hectic. Heavy bass, complex drums and sweeping guitars,
it's all there. I don't know if I like it, but it's very....
err ... Crimson.
fifth and last song on the album is another classic one. Starless
(not to be confused with Starless and Bible Black)
may be considered a Crimson epic, but I hesitate to use
this label for this 12 minute long track. It starts very melodic,
combining romantic mellotron with Wettons powerful vocals. The
chorus is just one sentence: "starless and bible black", to
make it even more confusing. After 4 minutes the ballad-part
comes to an end and a darker part with a threatening atmosphere
starts off with a inter-play between bass and guitar. This part
starts slow and low and becomes increasingly heavier and higher
during the next minutes. Bruford comes in and Fripp plays higher
and higher. A few minutes before the end, the saxophone joins
the three and takes over the melody of the first part of the
song. The rhythm changes once again and a fast-part follows,
before the track comes to a definite end including sax and mellotron.
A majestic song indeed and I am glad that it returned on John
Wetton's setlist last year in full version.
Red is not the best album of 1974 and maybe it isn't even the
best album made by King Crimson. But it certainly marks the
end of this influential band that showed that progressive music
can be mystical, strange, intense and improvised. This album
is worth buying for Red and Starless alone, although some of
the other songs are also very interesting if you have the patience
and nerves to give it a bit time to grow on you. After Red,
Crimson was dead. For a while, at least.
went his own way, playing with Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, UK and
Asia. Bruford started his own project called Bruford, joined
Wetton again in UK and rejoined Fripp in the early '80-s to
start a new version of King Crimson. Because music never dies.
The King is dead, long live the King...!
Written by Jan-Jaap de Haan