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fromheadtoheart flag 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.

King Crimson
Larks' Tongues In Aspic
Polydor Records


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 e-mail address

You may also want to check out our King Crimson articles/reviews: ConstruKction of Light, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Power To Believe Tour Book, Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind, Red.

© 2013 Luna Kafé