KING CRIMSON – Larks’ Tongues In Aspic: 50th Anniversary Edition

Island 1973 / Panegyric 2023

Entering the era of intrepid forays into the great unknown, British art institution embrace brute force of the alleyway infantry to banish the cavalry of despair into oblivion.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic:
50th Anniversary Edition

For all this band’s grand stature, as perceived from a half-century distance, back in 1972 KING CRIMSON still had an underground aura about them. The group’s progress impeded by Robert Fripp’s gradually reducing the other players’ individual creativity ever since Ian McDonald had left the fold and dimming the brilliance of their performances in favor of streamlining his own singular perspective, furious riffs of the troupe’s debut had almost become a thing of the past. Hardly a burden, the need to construct aural enigmas may have weighed heavy on the ensemble’s leader who wanted to share the load as a composer and to restore and upgrade erstwhile fierceness which seemed possible yet necessitated the dissolution of the “Islands” line-up and bringing in a couple of well-established virtuosi and a couple of lesser-known artists – with a fresh agenda able to take the collective’s overall musicianship to a different level. And to stabilize the team’s robust nucleus, too.

Striving for adventure, drummer Bill Bruford and bassist John Wetton were ready to quit, respectively, YES and FAMILY to move to the fore in terms of sonic presence – the former expanding his rhythmic palette; the latter finally flowering into a fully fledged singer and finally accepting his old pal Bob’s invitation to join – and were happy to be part of Fripp’s enterprise. The upgrading of the ensemble’s modus operandi meant the jettisoning of founding father, poet Pete Sinfield, as well, the passing of the laurel wreath to Wetton’s schoolfriend and original SUPERTRAMP member Richard Palmer-James opening the floodgates to a few misty, though not exactly mystical, avenues. However, that didn’t sound good enough for Robert. The arrival of David Cross, whose classical and avant-garde leanings perfectly fit Fripp’s vision and whose bow and strings filled the frequencies’ space previously occupied by woodwind, and of Jamie Muir, whose approach to percussion brought in an element of chaos, introduced an impeccable balance of exquisite experience and flawed innocence.

The quintet’s freshly forged unpredictability is manifested in many a locale on the album, including even its lush, sexually abrupt serenade “Book Of Saturdays” – a sympathetic, if slightly remorseful, paean to the life on tour – whose deferred refrain first arrives, deceptively detached from the song’s verses, in wordless form yet flowers with lyrics the second time around, and whose follow-up appears to be another ballad, “Exiles” – offering a breathtaking, if anxiety-ridden, flute-fielding, pastoral panorama of tentative futures. Only more than a half of the platter doesn’t exude this sense of serenity; on the contrary, there’s something primal, animalistic about the aural events on display, not entirely supplanting the cerebral wonder which defined the ensemble’s method from the beginning. To state that riffs reign here would mean to underestimate the record’s intense intent – neatly symbolized on its cover by the sun presiding over the moon – as the cutting-edge melodic structures drive to delirium not just two titular tour-de-forces but also the rest of its numbers, most notably “Easy Money” where the ear-splitting guitar figures come countered with a vocal one, with weight-supporting violin struts inserted into the piece’s sarcastic, and often rather risqué onstage, narrative further down the road.

The effects-sprinkled “Easy Money” is the salient example of Sinfield’s sinister esoterica being replaced with Palmer-James’ romantic cynicism that apexes when the regal glories of The Crimson King get discarded, his court color washed onto crimson suspenders, and the salient example of the band embracing the subtle and startling, albeit not frightening as it was on their early platters, dynamics. The listener of the 50th Anniversary release will not have to reach for the instrumental mix of “Book Of Saturday” baring the composition’s chamber beauty to feel the nuances of the collective’s delivery; the details are exposed from the start, once “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One” flows in on a crystalline chime of Muir’s kalimba and glockenspiel which wait for three minutes to welcome Cross’ licks, so the slowly building attack and in-your-face onslaught swirl to the extreme after a quarter of the epic has passed, the rhythm trio pretending to go off the leash but keeping their frenzy in check until Wetton and Fripp conspire to requisition the room and exert menace on the unsuspecting public – the threat David’s passaged pacify and infuse with folk motifs on the way to coda, the brief flourish of Jamie’s cymbals, and John’s smoky voice on the subsequent tracks.

Of course, the tellingly-titled “The Talking Drum” requires no voice at all, its initial abstract warble of faux-brass stepping aside for Bill and his mad assistant to dance around assorted surfaces asking to be hit and to let their mates with fingerboards delicately add ornaments to the groove and then to steal the scene completely – and prepare, via a banshee shriek, the air for the frantic “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two” that shows no precious mercy in the heavy metal clang which is simultaneously demented and sublime. This tune’s embryonic rage and wonder are hinted at in Cross’ charge on the “elemental” mix of “Part One” – one of the mixes revealing and emphasizing each musician’s hitherto submerged contributions to the transcendental whole and appealing to an aficionado arguably stronger than Steven Wilson‘s 2023 stereo upgrade of what he’d done for “LTIA” box set in 2012: there’s no need, then, to stress the futility of the task of enhancing the ensemble’s 1973 production housed on one of the Blu-rays here.

Nevertheless, it’s an engrossing process – to delve into this reissue which maps the album’s evolution for connoisseurs willing to get the gist of the gem without splurging on the multi-disc bonanza and wanting to stay within the record’s studio walls. The first record of the angelic-looking team to be possessed of such allure as to land them spots on “The Midnight Special” and allow all the world to marvel at their inventiveness, “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” is still as vital as five decades ago.


January 6, 2024

Category(s): Reissues
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