(All Album Reviews by Octavio Trimmingham)
Robert Fripp – Guitar, Mellotron
William Bruford – Percussion
John Wetton – Bass & Voice
- with thanks to:
David Cross – Violin
Mel Collins – Soprano Sax
Ian McDonald – Alto Sax
Robin Miller – Oboe
Marc Charig - Cornet
..."I insert the bright pink CD into the player, throw my headphones on and adjust them to fit my noggin. I proceed over to the couch, sprawl out across its length and relish in its size and comfort. Picking up the remote control, I adjust the volume to a generous level then hit the play button and wait for that first chord to kick in…SPLOOORCH!!, my head spontaneously explodes in a bloody mess before the first 2 measures of “Red” are even completed! The wife is definitely NOT going to like the mess I’ve made in here"...
Ok, I was exaggerating just a bit back there, but not much. I can't help it. Whenever I hear those familiar escalating opening chords that kick off this blistering title track, I tend to get a bit overzealous. Unfortunately, King Crimson’s Red was to be the last we would see of this amazing and perfected incarnation of the band.
By this point, KC had actually managed to release a series of albums without suffering any devastating changes in personnel. By only dropping one member per album over the span of the two albums that preceded Red, they had slowly dwindled from a quintet in 1972 to a trio by 1974. But their direction was still steadfast and true despite those departures. This was still quite an accomplishment given KC’s revolving door of personnel and directional fluctuations that were associated with the group much earlier on. Now that the fans were just getting used this new killer power trio version of the band, Fripp ups and pulls the plug on it all and walks away. One can only speculate what other amazing things might have become if they had continued for another album. After Red, King Crimson would not be heard from again until 7 years later in 1981 (see Discipline).
King Crimson’s Red is 40+ minutes of sonic beauty & melodic terror that would make most modern hard-edged groups go hide their heads in shame. The back cover image says a lot about the music you would find within too. It is a dark picture of a well-worn gauge of some type (a V.U. meter maybe?) with the needle on the gauge pegged into the red zone.
The album starts off with the diabolical title track, “Red”. An instrumental, guitar, bass & drum powered piece that can almost be classified as heavy metal, but it is obviously sprinkled with jazz and classical flavorings as well. Built around a clustered pattern of ominous tritones, it is perfect for use as a soundtrack to your nightmares.
"Fallen Angel" is a haunting and eerie ballad which is complimented by Robin Miller’s lilting oboe sections which meander in between Fripp’s blistering Les Paul powered arpeggios. In the finale of the song, the disturbing melody is backed up even further by Marc Charig’s random, yet precise trumpet blasts.
On “One More Red Nightmare”, the opening bass sound from Wetton has such a flanged quality to it that it almost sounds like his bass is slurring the word “wow” with each swooping blast. This, along with Bruford’s liberal abuse of a innocent piece of hanging sheet metal gives this ripping track a one of a kind sound. The song thunders along into a soprano sax solo played by KC alumnus, Mel Collins. The song’s lyrics are based on somebody’s (Wetton?) dream about their fear of flying.
My only complaint with Red (and it's a small one) is track four, “Providence”. I believe that the first three minutes of this track could easily have been lopped off and it wouldn’t have been missed. It just seems to break up the continuity of the album a bit because of it’s slowly building volume during the first four minutes. The track was culled from a live group improv (most likely recorded in Providence, R.I.) and when it does finally begin to cohere, it really rips. It ends haphazardly with the sound of David Cross’s strangled and reverberating violin.
The last track is one of most epic proportions, in many respects. Coming in at a lofty 12:18, “Starless” is the longest track on the album. It would be the last King Crimson song to feature the aging mellotron, yet it is also one of the most beautiful songs to feature the mellotron. This beast of an instrument is actually the song’s very backbone if you will. The song starts off with a melancholy exchange between guitar, mellotron and eventually oboe. This transports you along into Wetton’s moody and desperation tinged vocal section. This intro & lyrical section runs a little over 4 minutes. Then the song begins its metamorphosis from the slow, melodic and melancholy to the sinister, thrashing and bloody explosive right through to the song’s end. The amazing thing is how it builds from the simplicity of a couple simple chord patterns played by Fripp. This song’s finale also features another KC alumnus, Ian Mcdonald. who proceeds to wail liberally on his sax during the song’s megaton explosion closing section.
With all due respect, it is really almost an insult to try and describe “Starless” with simple words. A literal novel could be written about this song. You really must hear it for yourself to know what I mean. I warn you, it will leave your mind spinning, your heart rattled and a slight chill travelling down your spine.