On this date 43 years ago, Red, the final King Crimson studio album of the 1970s was released. Although the band famously 'ceased to exist' by the time the album hit the shops, it has become one of the most widely acclaimed and iconic releases in King Crimson's extensive back catalogue.
Although the anthemic album-closer, Starless had been trailed on tour earlier in the year all of the other studio cuts were brand new compositions worked out during what proved to be a sometimes difficult recording session at London's Olympic Studios. The title track didn't receive its live premier until 1981 when it was included in the set list of the new incarnation of the band.
In more recent more times, all of the tracks, save the live improvisation, Providence, have been reimagined by the current version of King Crimson with One More Red Nightmare and Fallen Angel joining Starless and the title track on the setlist.
Red was recently placed at 15 in Rolling Stone magazine's 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums Of All Time feature (read it here) and it has been the subject of numerous retrospective assessments from a variety of quarters including The Quietus, Pitchfork and Sputnik, as well as various features on the making of the album.
Here's what Chris Salewicz had to say about the album upon its release in 1974
THE PREVIOUS two albums by this final King Crimson lineup have never been as hysterically self-conscious in their obvious adventurousness as the first four studio records that came out under the band's name.
In fact, listening to certain parts of each of those early albums can frequently provoke nothing as crassly simple as severe brain damage but a rather more civilised basic aural pain.
In general, it's a pretty tidy set of neuroses, instability and insecurity — both musical and personal — that cuts a jagged edged swathe across the eight sides. The psychic melodramas do, though, have the saving grace of being carried out with an appropriate sense of artistic folly.
Indeed when juxtaposed against the histrionics of those records Larks Tongues In Aspic, Starless And Bible Black and, now, Red would seem to have been recorded in a state of almost Calvinistic general togetherness — or, if you prefer, what used to be known at school as "maturity" — and even if Larks Tongues does marginally fail to cut it due to a rather too noticeable excess of zeal then Starless, which is minus both Jamie Muir and His Percussive Pistacchio Nuts and the perfectionist production of the former — though not credited on the sleeve as such the whole of side two was cut live — comes up with a more consistent and relaxed amount of highs than any of its predecessors.
There's one other little plus that Starless has going for it...uh...it...well, it nearly swings.
And so to Red. No two ways about it, and putting aside for the moment any little thoughts we may have about its being The Final Work this outfit — now reduced to the basic three-piece of Robert Fripp, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and Bill Bruford on drums (sorry, percussives) — were really starting to whizz those thought patterns around amongst themselves.
Side One is actually rather a funky, even heavy, piece with 'Fallen Angel' and 'One More Red Nightmare' restating the weighty note progression emphasised almost to the point of a calculated ennui on 'Red', the first track.
'Fallen Angel' moves things on with some of your old mellifluous free-flowing melody ending up as a variant on a basic pop track with a surreal middle eight that has some most impressive reed honking from Mel Collins. Robert Palmer-James' lyrics are virtually indistinguishable, which on past evidence is most certainly in the record's favour, whilst Wetton's voice, doable or triple tracked on the chorus fines has the chore of both sounding like Greg Lake and being able to highlight the inadequacies of any similar ELP technological ballad.
'One More Red Nightmare' puts the rather curious counterbalancing of the first two tracks into a comprehensible perspective as it grips together the main themes of each title with some hot ice howling lead percussion from Bruford that does just now and then veer dangerously towards intellectual doodling.
'Providence', which opens the second side, features "guest" violinist David Cross on a schizoid quasi Prokofiev piece of impressionism which, when joined by the bass and Bruford, displays at first the sense of spacing and notation which was particularly evident on Larks Tongues but which ultimately dissolves as it's hurled into a rather early model King Crimson piece of mellotron madness.
The truly enigmatic side of Crimson gets really well held up to the light on the twelve-minute final track, Starless, with the baroque intensity — and extremity — of Fripp's Mancini-like mellotron strings that carry a hint of the mood of side two of Lizard until the scorching guitar, bass and jangling percussion work up and along several note and chord structures with each instrument underlining the other until a pattern is shaped like a continuous loop of sound restating the album's themes.
It's really quite curious and should, I suppose, be put down to some psychic state evolving from the demise of the band but Red is truly the first Crimson album that I can find myself listening to over and over again.
Would it be that same psychic state that makes me believe it's the best album ever made under the name of King Crimson?