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8/10 Matt D Customer review, 12th July 2013
One thing that always sticks in my mind about King Crimson is an early interview with Bill Brufford. When asked by the interviewer what the difference between playing drums in King Crimson and Yes was, he replied that "with King Crimson, you were simply expected to know what to play".
Of course I'm paraphrasing from memory here, but the implication is clear. Robert Fripp demanded a lot from his band mates. Watch any footage of 70s Crimson and it quickly becomes clear that there's a near telepathic bond between the players. In a live environment there was just as much focus on improvisation as there was on painstakingly recreating their studio works on stage. Crimson were quite simply operating on a level above and beyond your average rock band. If you're a musician, the results will be as delightful as they sickening. Crimson were simply THAT good, and on 'Red' they were at the very peak of their powers.
At this point in their career, following many a rotating line up, Crimson were essentially a power trio made up of Robert Fripp, John Wetton and Bill Brufford. They’d shed a few members leading up to the recording of the album and it’s hard not to get the impression that being in the band was bloody hard work. What they were left with was a solid core, scraped back to the absolute basics of a band: guitar, drums and bass. In many way this album hearkens back to their debut ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. The song writing is razor sharp and focused. The A side of the record bears that out perfectly, all taught and complex progressive rock, with Fripp’s cascading diminished guitar lines running circles around Wetton and Brufford’s tightly interlocking rhythm section. I mean this stuff still sounds ‘heavy’ by today standards, and by that I don’t simply mean density of sound. There’s not a detuned guitar or Sunn stack in sight, but it’s just as powerful.
The B side, consists of longer, mostly improvised pieces that were recorded live. They’re more sprawling affairs and altogether less claustrophobic that the material the precedes it. Thankfully ‘improvised’ here doesn’t translate to formless solo ridden excursion into the unknown. There’s still a tight sense of structure and the band are clearly drawing on previous live performances, where much of the groundwork has already been done. These tracks offer a surprisingly mellow and contemplative close to an album that’s largely ominously apocalyptic in tone. It’s perhaps noteworthy, that when the band finished recording ‘Red’, Fripp announced that he felt the "world was coming to an end" and quietly retired to the British countryside. Shortly thereafter he announced that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever". Whilst this didn’t turn out to be entirely true, with Crimson picking up the ball again many years later, ‘Red’ to me still feels like the defining statement in their catalogue.
I could go on and on about the importance of this record and how it laid the groundwork for countless bands that followed, but you’d be far better off discovering that for yourself. Take the trip, reap the rewards! Even if you don’t consider yourself a prog fan, this may be the album that wins you over. This rather sumptuous 200g vinyl pressing is utterly gorgeous and ‘Red’ has never sounded this good!
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- Red by King Crimson
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