King Crimson, Red (1974)

King Crimson, 'Red' (1974)By the time King Crimson’s seventh studio LP, Red, hit the racks in late 1974, the influential prog-rock outfit had already been through numerous line-up changes, having been trimmed to what was essentially an ultra-muscular power trio consisting of leader Robert Fripp (guitars, keys, mellotron), John Wetton (bass, vocals), and Bill Bruford (drums, percussion).

The album features important contributions by a fourth member, David Cross (violin, keys), who left the group during its recording, plus a well-utilized horn section adding significant oomph throughout. The album would mark the last studio work by this, already the third different version of the band, after which the Crimson would close up shop for half a decade until Fripp reformed the band in the early 1980s.

A concept-heavy group often found pursuing Fripp’s obscure aesthetic theories, King Crimson can be challenging at times, even for ardent fans. When it comes to the album format, there are a number of Crimson discs I enjoy from start to finish, although frequently there will arrive tracks (or passages within tracks) that almost seem designed to sabotage the listening experience in some fashion. The more-accessible-than-average Red is something of an exception in this regard. Indeed, of all the band’s titles Red is the one I probably spin the most, and always stick with from beginning to end.

Three tracks of roughly equal length -- each hard-rockin’ in an almost commercial way -- easily carry the listener through Side One. The title track, a blistering instrumental, aurally approximates all of the connotations of the color: urgent warnings, dreadful sin, blood simple anger. Prototypical power-prog, the track could readily augment documentary footage of building implosions and/or land speed record attempts.

“Fallen Angel” follows, interchanging soft, mournfully-sung verses describing some NYC street deal gone wrong with an aggressive chorus in which the title is cried out repeatedly. A song about a person riding a bus while dreaming he is in a plane about to crash, “One More Red Nightmare,” then closes the side. “Nightmare” reprises the potent “Red” with more head-bobbin’ heaviness, despite the song’s multiple time signatures. Former Crimson member Ian McDonald’s alto sax adds further punch during the track’s final minutes, just before the song suddenly stops -- like “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” (or, perhaps, a crash landing).

Side Two begins with the eight-and-a-half minute live improv “Providence,” easily the LP’s most avant-garde track. Starting with a lone violin meandering quietly amid a large, vacant-seeming space, other noises (overamped bass, cymbals, various percussion, guitar) gradually populate the area, building to a fusion-y fuss before resolving inconsequentially.

“Starless” closes the record, a 12-minute ballad that begins ethereally with a melancholic mellotron, Fripp’s fuzz pedal, and another earnest vocal performance by Wetton, moves through a lengthy, pulsating middle section building in intensity like a series of sirens approaching, then concludes with a loud restatement of the theme by the ensemble.

Presenting what might be called a darker shade of Crimson, Red is both consistently heavy and consistently satisfying.

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