Sharks’ Lungs In Lemsip is, in fact, a record (in every sense) of King Crimson’s current cosmic stage-act, leaving out only the long improvisation called ’Vista Under Arc-Lights’ which comes in the middle.
The fact that the group have taken enormous trouble over the mixing of this album is not, in itself, remarkable in this age of quad, flash, and total theatre; what is remarkable, however, is their choice of mixes for.
At almost every point they have avoided the easy drama or conventional felicities most bands would be content with in favour of a sound-balance faithful to what’s actually been played – including the odd bomb here and there. And it’s in no way a literal proposition either.
This album embodies a creative reinterpretation of what a conventional rock-group should sound like in the studios, a tour-de-force of timbre and rhythm that, in the days of synthesizers and electronics, single-handedly reinstates credibility to the natural sound.
Bands lacking the technical know-how or simple inclination to set off in the direction Faust have indicated should bend an attentive ear to King Crimson. There’s a lot to be learned.
Whether you see the album as the group do – a sequence of vivid contrasts of design and sound-quality – or, like me, hear a still slightly uneasy meeting of two extremes, there’s no denying the force of the transition from the harsh intensity of Fripp City (’Easy Money’) to the windy African grassland on the outskirts of Muirsville (’The Talking Drum’).
In terms of personality, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is throughout a respectful tension between Fripp The Composer and Muir The Performer, though to limit either to one function would be to miss the point.
Particularly outstanding from Fripp in his role as group architect are the two parts of the title track which open and close the album, the latter with its elaborately-engineered crescendoes and decrescendoes, the former with its complex and almost classical concept of organisation – echoing, dare I say it, the feel of a symphonic opening movement.
Fripp’s guitar is in the foreground to fine effect on ’Easy Money’ and runs ingeniously backwards during a brief passage on ’Book Of Saturdays’, but impresses most in the textural role, either snarling atmospherically around in the distance or chipping in as a third percussion voice.
Muir features brilliantly in his own right on a couple of tracks, but his introductions to ’Larks’ Tongues Part One’, ’The Talking Drum’, and ’Exiles’ are superb extempore compositions in themselves – particularly the last of these, performed on glass tubing.
David Cross’s violin is far more effective on record than it is, at present, onstage; both sections of ’Larks’ Tongues’ contain excellent solos from him, the quiet ’Interlude’ from the first part really standing out.
As for Bruford and Wetton, the unity and solidarity of these six performances is entirely in their hands and they don’t put a foot wrong, even throwing in some tricksy Yes-type unison work on the already complex verse of ’Easy Money’.
If there are drawbacks to this record they lie (at least for me) in the two ballads which close side one. The group obviously see them as valid contrast, apart from liking them as songs; my view is that they come over as anomalous throw-backs to an earlier, and entirely different, band.
I’m prepared to admit that this criticism merely reveals a personal blind-spot, and certainly fans of the previous versions of King Crimson will find ’Exiles’ and ’Book Of Saturdays’ the most immediately accessible of the new numbers – but the mix on the former is a little weedy anyway, and the violin sounds slightly out of tune. Nor am I overfond of the lyrics, but there aren’t that many of them so I won’t complain.
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is a challenging record, but it’s rewards are very substantial, even if you’d have to be an odd mixture of a person to like it all without reservation. Final verdict: a classic of its kind and worth every penny of the asking price.
You know, I think old Crimso’s onto a winner here.
Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, Gary Lucas writing for Zoo World wasn’t impressed one little bit by the new record.
ONE THING YOU gotta say about Robert Fripp, the auteur behind King Crimson, is that he’s ambitious. After perfecting his mellotron-dominated "Death of the Universe" visions on the band’s first three albums, three under-rated albums, his compositional hand has increasingly been attached to more serious, "complex" forms, a la modern day avant-garde jazz and orchestral music.
Islands, the last Crimson album to be released in the States, contained one long piece for orchestra that filled an entire side. The thing was, the music was terrible, a stylistic smorgasboard that coagulated in the listener’s head into one greasy meal. Apparently Fripp, like Zappa, was as queasy as most listeners about the validity of certain of his pieces, and like that other musician, included something to undermine its ponderous effect, in this case, a long gimmicky tape of the orchestra tuning up at rehearsal that only succeeded in adding to the pretentiousness of the music, rather than deflating it.
As far as Fripp’s flirtation with jazz goes, the man, to be sure, has strong roots in a certain kind of jazz-cocktail lounge jazz, which is easily discernable by listening to the guitar work on Fripp’s first record, the English The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. The schmaltzy Django-based diminshed chords and suspensions run throughout Fripp’s compositions, orchestral and otherwise, though it should be added that Fripp is the absolute master of vicious, cold as steel pseudo-jazz guitar which draws heavily on studio gimcrackery – check out the well known break on "Schizoid Man" for example.
Last year Fripp broke up Crimson Mark III after a mediocre American tour that resulted in one pitiful live album that Atlantic had the good sense not to release here. Over the summer, Fripp began to make weighty pronouncements to the British musical press on the new band he was assembling which was to include Bill Bruford, from Yes, on drums, John Wetton from Family on bass and vocals, Jamie Muir on assorted percussion from an obscure English freak-out band named Boris, and young unknown entity David Cross on violin, and the band was supposed to play "white magic". Disc ran an unintentionally hilarious article about the spiritual basis for the band’s music before a note had been played by any of them, word of their hermaphroditic collaboration with Roxy Music’s Eno was spread, and the band went into the studios to record their first album. It’s here, and what’s the story Bobby?
They ain’t Sun Ra and they ain’t Pierre Boulez and they ain’t even any of the cats that come in between those two incredible towers of strength. And there’s nothing magical about this music. There is only one Magic Band, and this one isn’t it. Instead of just telling you potential suckers out there not to waste your money, which I’d dearly like to do and leave it at that, I’m supposed to offer some sort of analysis of the music. Si tu dois partir...
1) There isn’t one new original idea here that wasn’t developed by Fripp or somebody else years ago. Forget anything you may ever have heard about them being avant-garde.
2) The music falls into two distinct categories - extended FAROUT instrumentals and syrupy, straighter pop tunes. The instrumentals have absolutely nothing to recommend them except for Muir’s thumb piano which opens side one. They all feature distinct "movements", a concept that was outdated at the turn of the century, and the customary obligatory electronics, some of them, like indistinct voices, so trite an effect that it’s not even worth fiddling with the volume controls to make out what they’re saying. There are also many TIME CHANGES, oh yes, real ones like 5/4 and 7/8, but they always let you know when they’re gonna change the time signature by breaking off the "movement". If you like pop tunes, buy Kevin Ayer’s Joy of a Toy if you can find it.
3) Jamie Muir isn’t Airto, but his percussion effects are intermittently interesting, although at times it seems their purpose is to distract the listener’s attention away from the weak compositions and the rest of the band’s instrumental deficiencies, Wetton’s Jon Anderson-ish voice, so effective on Family’s "Larf and Sing", is constantly double-tracked and filtered so he winds up singing like Boz, the former Mr. Machine vocalist for Crimson and one more example of Fripp’s diabolical pervasive influence. David Cross suffers from a severe handicap – he can’t play the violin, which is maybe why he is given only the most rudimentary instrumental lines. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, if a contest was held between David Cross and the violinist of String Driven Thing to determine who was the worst violinist, the violinist for String Driven Thing would lose.
4) Consolation - at least Peter Sinfield doesn’t write lyrics for them anymore.Well, one out of four ain’t bad.
What are your impressions of the album -then and now? You can read my take on the album over on the blog.