England - Full Moon 203 - 03/27/13
From head to heart
King Crimson's Larks Tongues...
Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart.
Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar time-machine takes another trip back to 1973. This moonth we're revisiting another album by the prog Kings themselves. They're a band moving in all directions, at every thinkable level, while draped in a crimson cape. As they now've parted, their albums make history. The kings are gone, but will not be forgotten.
Larks' Tongues In Aspic
If there ever was one true prog-rock band of the last fourtysomething
years, it has to be King Crimson. The band has been continuously on the
move, for progression.
They haven't always succeed, but always tried. So we're talking about
the real meaning of the word progressive. This is definitely not the
kind of sympho progressive
rock thing with loads of keyboards, Tolkien-inspired fairy tale lyrics
and some time signature changes thrown in for good measure. King Crimson
has been on a quest to
break new ground wherever it brought them and whatever it implied. One
album has been very different from the previous (with one notable
exception). Frequent line-up
changes has been one reason for this. I don't think that necessarily has
been part of the strategy, but it seems obvious that at least some of
the musicians have found
it hard to follow undisputable leader Robert Fripp's ideas and urge
never to look back.
The line-up that recorded Larks' Tongues ... was the so called
third incarnation of the band. The second one fell to pieces after a
couple of tours and the
album Islands due to personal and musical differences. Fripp
gathered new musicians in the summer 1972 for a more improvised
direction 'to perform the sort of
music he'd been hearing in his head over recent months', according to
the Discipline Global Mobile
pages, the home of everything
concerning the music of King Crimson and Robert Fripp. Jamie Muir was
the first to join. He was a percussionist and veteran of the British
free jazz scene and brought
along a new dimension of unpredictability to the group. Drummer Bill
Bruford followed suit. He traded a steady job with secure incomes in Yes
for more artistically
challenges in Crimson. Fripp also persuaded bassist and vocalist John
Wetton to leave Family, whereas trained violinist from an early age
David Cross (also keyboards)
was relatively unknown at the time. Lyricist, lightning engineer,
artistic advisor and co-founder of King Crimson Peter Sinfield had also
fallen out with Fripp after
Islands. John Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James
(ex-Supertramp) was recruited as the new lyricist. Unlike Sinfield, he
was not incorporated as a band member.
He only sent his lyrics by mail to Wetton. The quintet started full band
rehearsals in September and then decided to keep the name King Crimson.
A small club tour of
Germany was followed by an extensive British tour in November and
December to great critical acclaim. The recording of the album started
early in 1973.
Larks' Tongues ... is a happy blend of hard rock (metal was
not an everyday expression back then), soft and quiet lyrical parts,
jazz, written classical music,
improvisation and experimentation. It sounded quite unique at the time,
and still do. The first part of the title track opens the ball. Jamie
Muir's devices sound a bit
like a quiet Indonesian gamelan orchestra at first before the elegant
violin of Cross and fuzz-drenched guitar of Fripp starts to interfere.
But we're already more than
three and a half minutes into the track before the entire band joins in
with mix of rough hard rock and some spooky horror movie soundtrack that
moves into improvised
jazzy terrain where Muir's percussions feel more integrated with the
rest of the band (as opposed to not drowned) before the noisy things
continues. The violin eventually
takes over in a classical sounding part that after a while turns more
folky and improvised, with rougher edges before it's integrated with the
rest of the band and the
piece eventually comes to an end. Phew! One thing is for sure, "Larks'
Tongues in Aspic (Part One)" sounds like no King Crimson track before,
and hardly any after either.
The same goes for "The Talking Drum" dominated by the violin,
percussion, and then eventually drums, a little bass and Fripp's
haunting guitar building up to the climax.
"Book of Saturday" on the other hand, brings memories back to the
most lyrical moments of Crimson's celebrated debut album In The
Court Of The Crimson King three and a half years earlier.
Wetton's singing sounds quite similar to the voice of Greg Lake from
early Crimson days and the ballad
itself wouldn't have been out of place on the debut. The new element
here is the backwards guitar. Usually that kind of device can be a funny
move. Here it really works
as a lyrical and integral part of the song. Exemplary! The relatively
quiet singing parts of and layer of Mellotron at the end of "Exiles"
also brings back memories of
the first incarnation of Crimson, but not in an embarrassing way. Short,
but sweet memories that sounds fresh due to the input of Cross' violin
and Muir's percussions.
The album is by no means perfect. There are several warts included.
Especially a few of the bangs on that small and thin/bendable sheet
metal percussion in "Easy
Money" sound rather amateurish to these ears (I tried it out myself a
decade later and it didn't work any better, on the contrary). Parts of
the improvised guitar solo
and Wetton's wordless singing of the same song don't belong to the most
inspired moments of the band either. All in all though, "Easy Money" is
one of the classic Crimson
tracks that includes all the above mentioned elements concerning the
album and a few more. Some of Muir's small percussive devices (he
brought along anything he could
lay his hand on that made a sound when he hit, squeezed or rattled it)
must have been a great challenge to record. And you have to turn the
volume really high to be
able to hear what's going on in some of the quiet parts with his
percussives. Which means you're in for a real chock when the entire band
kicks in. But the warts are
beyond the point. If you want the music to be free and partly
improvised, you have to accept some warts. King Crimson was on the move
for new quests and couldn't be
stopped by some less than perfect moments. And the memorable moments, of
course, more than outweigh the lesser memorable ones.
Most appealing to the teenager deep inside me is Fripp's fuzzed-out
razor-sharp guitar and Cross' energetic violin strokes on that riff of
"Larks' Tongues in Aspic
(Part Two)" and rough & ready guitar and violin soloing. They still make
me feel as exhilarated and joyful as first time I heard the album
thirtysomething years ago.
A grand finale!
To sum up, Larks' Tongues in Aspic might not be King Crimson's
best album, but maybe the most groundbreaking. Jamie Muir only played
one gig after the album
had been recorded and suddenly left before it was released, reducing the
band to a quartet for the next year. The album was relaunced in the
ongoing Crimson 40 years
anniversary series last autumn with new mixes by Fripp and Steven Wilson including bonus material
and a surround mix. For the fanatics,
there is a 15 disc box with virtually every known recording by the
quintet from gigs in Germany, Britain, video footage from German
television, early studio takes and
different stereo and surround mixes. I guess a new vinyl version will be
in the pipeline within a year or two, too. No matter what format or
version you prefer: file
under essential! And no, I still don't know what the album title
implies; an acquired taste, maybe.
Copyright © 2013 JP