KING CRIMSON — Larks' Tongues In Aspic

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4.56 | 39 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1973

Tracklist

A1 Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part One 13:36
A2 Book Of Saturday 2:49
A3 Exiles 7:37
B1 Easy Money 7:57
B2 The Talking Drum 7:28
B3 Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two 7:10

Line-up/Musicians

Bass, Vocals – John Wetton
Drums – Bill Bruford
Guitar, Mellotron, Electronics [Devices] – Robert Fripp
Percussion [& Allsorts] – Jamie Muir
Violin, Viola, Mellotron – David Cross

About this release

Island Records – ILPS 9230 (UK)

Recorded in January/February 1973 in Command Studios, London, UK

Thanks to snobb for the addition

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KING CRIMSON LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

EntertheLemming
Red Jelly Babies escape from the box and finally reach maturity

The quantum leap represented by this album in the Crim catalogue cannot be overstated. Everything that followed should have cast an unflattering light on the unfocused and misguided promise of Crimson's prior juvenilia. But no, for reasons of perhaps lazy journalism or plain ignorant stereotyping, the red critter will be forever depicted as a bloated 'dainty' wheezing in the slipstream of a crushed velvet underground it had long outpaced and left miles behind. (The guys behind you sometimes turn out to be a lap ahead of you)

So much of the music presented here flies in the face of the prevailing prog zeitgeist of 1973 that were it not so facile a contention, we could be forgiven for stating that King Crimson were the first punk band. Gone are the stupefied noodlings of Islands - the twee gothic romance of 'In the Court' - the self conscious cleverness of 'Lizard' and the wet stoned nonsense of 'Poseidon' (Yep, this is a U-turn incorporating six wheelies and the smell of burning rubber)

Instead, we are confronted with an unflinching and unforgiving discipline that somehow manages to harness jazz, classical, blues, pop, musique concrète, gamelan, african, raga, rock, metal and all points inbetween (and unknown) during this record's duration. The 30th anniversary edition, which I'm reviewing here, has been lovingly remastered to salvage many hitherto sunken treasures from the original vinyl mix. Bruford's polyrhythmic kit work and the percussion salvo delivered by Jamie Muir are noticeably enhanced here to mesmerising effect.

It's a long time since I listened to Bartok's string quartets, but there are discernible quotations from these via the violin of Cross and the guitar of Fripp throughout 'Larks Tongues'. I know that Bob has expressed a fondness for Bartok's chamber music in the past and of all the albums in Crimson's discography, the influence is at its most palpable here.

Our old buddy the tritone (augmented fourth) makes its presence felt in thrilling fashion on the corruscating 'Talking Drum' which builds in ominous brooding fashion until the screaming and visceral climax is reached leaving the listener drained but delirious (like sex for the ears but without the mopping up and the cigarettes) PS Why then is it that every live version I have heard since butchers the original by playing it just way too darn fast? (Someone should tell the lads about foreplay methinks)

The spoken dialogue that uncloaks itself from the background on 'Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 1' just prior to the eastern tinged conclusion I think must belong to that of Jamie Muir (being the owner of a suitably thick Scottish brogue) but as to its significance re:

'and hung by the neck until you are dead'

still remains completely unfathomable?. It takes a lot of listens for the underlying structure of this track to reveal itself, but you will be rewarded for your patience, with music that lives long in the memory afterwards, so stick with it.

From the plaintive balladry of 'Exiles' through the unadorned and exquisite brevity of 'Book of Saturday' to the guttural funky rock of 'Easy Money' there is not a single damp patch on the red mattress anywhere. The strident rock riffing, 'whisper to a scream' dynamics and instrumental interplay as evidenced on 'Larks Tongues Part 2' are worth the admission price alone, so just buy the damn thing and congratulate yourself on the gift of impeccable taste.

This is perhaps one of the most significant rock records of all time and one that completely dwarfs 'In the Court of the Crimson King' in terms of innovation, daring and influence. If ever a band were deserving of the epithet 'eclectic' it is surely King Crimson, who have perhaps unwittingly, given many sympathetic musicians entire genres within which to extract their lucrative careers. The irony of the Crims parlous financial plight at around the time of this album will not be lost on you I am sure gentle readers.

It might be best to let Jamie Muir have the final say. After all who's going to argue with a man who played a musical saw on stage, left one of the greatest prog rock bands ever to join a remote Monastry in Scotland then finally became a painter ?

'The way to discover the undiscovered in performing terms is to immediately reject all situations as you identify them (the cloud of unknowing) - which is to give music a future' - (Jamie Muir)
Chicapah
Some smart guy named Eric Hoffer once wrote that "It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities" and, in the case of this particular version of the inimitable King Crimson group, I think that quotation is dead on. The talented musicians that mastermind Robert Fripp assembled for 73's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" had one thing in common: They had each tasted a modicum of success in other bands/venues and found the fruits of the promise land to be unfulfilling. They all yearned to resurrect and revitalize their naive, unspoiled inner adolescent and set the boy free to run without confines on the playground that is the recording studio with other restless Peter Pans like themselves. The album they put together just may be the prime model of what is referred to, in theory at least, as progressive jazz-related rock. It has no identifiable precedent. Comparisons to other forms of music, even within the prog arena, are futile. It stands forevermore as an enduring work of late 20th Century aural art.

I must alert the reader to the fact that, like a lot of fine albums that populate this eclectic and liberal branch of the jazz building, it ain't for everybody. You won't want to slap this on the stereo at even the most casual of dinner parties unless you want the guests to depart the premises in a stampede. It's not top-down, cruising-down-the-interstate-with-a-nasty-redhead-by-your-side, yodeling "I Love L.A." fare, either. In all likelihood, your significant other will probably despise it and you for subjecting them to its radical musical ideology. It's anti Top-40. Don't overreact to those warnings, however. It's not some kind of dissonant/boring/confusing everyone-play-whatever-they-want-and-we'll-call-it-jazz free-for-all. No way. There's a calculated method to this madness. It has a planned structural integrity and a designed purpose. At the same time it sounds like nothing else you've heard. Robert, Bill, David, John and Jamie left all preconceived notions of convention out in the busy street and proceeded to manufacture magic. A copy of "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" belongs in every progressive jazzer’s stash. Period.

Okay, that was pretty uppity/snobbish and I must admit with a red face that I was guilty of intentionally avoiding this album until 2009 when a reviewer whose taste in music I greatly respect gave it his highest rating. So I put it on my wish list and my son gave it to me as a gift. I expected it to be good, no doubt, but this is so astoundingly inspired and genuine that it'll strain my ability to literately describe it. Yet I'll give it the old college try. It's my calling in life. (Or so I tell myself.)

"Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Part One" draws back the curtain to the strains of a percolating Kalimba accompanied by an odd assortment of light percussion items. It's like entering a stranger's room through a doorway of hanging hippy beads (the abode of that mysterious, exotic siren you just met at the bar, perhaps?). The lighting is slightly surrealistic and there's a faint odor of some kind of spiced incense in the air. You're not scared; you just know for sure that you're not in your mom's house. Soon an intriguing electrical white noise arises as if you're being guided through a huge mass of neurons excitedly exchanging impulses. This is followed by some tense violin bowing from David Cross that graduates to a heavy metallic riff performed by the full ensemble. They segue to a dense rhythmic groove, then John Wetton cranks up a wah-wah bass solo surrounded by frenetic Fripp guitarisms, Bill Bruford's rumbling drums and Jamie Muir's wild percussion. Suddenly the number drifts into a sad, mournful violin piece that slowly becomes agitated and angry in its mood before leveling out into a strange oriental aura. Then, without notice, the whole thing detonates and disseminates like nuclear fallout. Exhilarating is the closest I can come to doing it justice.

At this juncture you might think you've been irrevocably altered, but along comes "Book of Saturday" to clear your head. Robert's delicate chording and phrasing on his fretboard is beautiful and John's adventurous bass lines never distract, only compliment. The song's memorable melody is delivered by Wetton without unnecessary affectation in his customary fool-on-the-hill style and David's violin injections (both backwards and forwards) are exquisite. Since long-time wordsmith Pete Sinfield had left the think tank in a snit after the previous KC album, former Supertramp Robert Palmer-Jones was enlisted to supply lyrical content and his splendid contribution to the project shouldn't be overlooked. "Reminiscences gone astray/coming back to enjoy the fray/in a tangle of night and daylight sounds," John intones with a melancholy slant. Profound? No, but poetic nonetheless.

The ironic "Exiles" creeps in like an ominous fog from which the cries of unidentified, tortured creatures can be heard in their vain attempts to escape, then the landscape clears briefly for Wetton's moonlit vocal to reassure before said dark mist returns. I love the way Cross' violin twines around the melody without choking it. The inventive bridge with its graceful piano is a revelation. Here the insightful words capture the very essence of what this incarnation of King Crimson was all about. "But Lord, I had to go/my trail was laid too slow behind me/to face the call of fame/or make a drunkard's name for me/though now this other life/has brought a different understanding," John sings without a trace of bitterness. The tune ends with a fantastic mixture of guitar, violin and the Mellotron dancing atop Bruford and Wetton's intricate rhythm track.

The sarcastic "Easy Money" begins with what sounds like a chain-gang of inmates chanting cheerily-but-not-really as they slog down a muddy road on their way to a day of hard labor. That may not seem like something that would interest even the most dedicated of broad-minded jazzers but somehow it entertains. It's that cool. The song features one of the more unusual verse/chorus compositions you'll ever encounter, adorned as it is with Muir's eccentric "allsorts." (I didn't make that term up; it's what he's credited as playing in the liner notes.) The group collectively snubs their nose at the trappings of rock star fame and fortune and its obligatory indenture to the record company moguls. "And I thought my heart would break/when you doubled up the stake/with your fingers all a-shake/you could never tell a winner from a snake/but you always make money/easy money," John sneers. The number's extended musical interlude ebbs, flows and breathes like some sort of primordial life form in which Fripp displays the unconventional approach to lead guitar playing that justifies his genius labeling. The song comes full circle to reprise the convicts' hymn as well as another verse/chorus go 'round (this time with full-throttled gusto) before it all collapses into a fit of canned, taunting, demonic, impish laughter that'll send a chill up your spine. He's laughing because there's always a price to be paid for stardom. And it's steep. Easy money, indeed.

A ghostly wind blows across a desolate plain infested with carrion-eating flies as barely- perceptible fingertip rhythms initiate a steady pulse for "The Talking Drum." David's stark violin steps in and Robert's eerie guitar springs up alongside him like a new species of wildflower. Suddenly a growling, menacing bass guitar effect bursts in boisterously as all the combined elements finally rise up and reach a fevered crescendo after which destitute lemmings scream in crazed delight as they race toward the ragged precipice of the beckoning cliffs. This instrumental track is a perfect example of cultivating tension through patient manipulation of dynamics.

The album's finale, "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" is not just some weak regurgitation of the opener. Surely you jest. The tune's extremely heavy, dense metallic theme dominates without mercy, and then the band descends into a hypnotic 9/16 rock pattern before repeating that sequence. Jamie's incidental sound effects rival those cleverly instigated without caution by the Beatles at their most imaginative and free. Cross' mean-spirited violin solo sounds like it was transcribed by Ol' Scratch himself and I could swear that Muir and Bruford are tossing their drums down a staircase to achieve the sublime cacophony they were striving for. It all ends in a fat, gloriously noisy finale that distills slowly into one single solitary note.

The musicians that comprised this short-lived form of the entity known as King Crimson knew coming in that they were walking away from everything safe and secure in order to find liberation from the shackles of commercialism. Their aim was not to shock, denigrate or assault their fans. They simply wanted to create something totally original yet comprehensible and satisfying to thinking, open-minded human beings. If I'd bought this recording when it came out in '73 I doubt that I would've had the maturity or patience to recognize and appreciate its brilliance. It would've required that I tune out the world and still myself long enough to absorb its powerful subtlety and the superlative uniqueness of this cooperative conception. As my esteemed fellow reviewer told me, there's nothing to compare it to and he's right. Most music is a derivative of something but this album has no ancestor. It's a towering Sequoia without roots; an anomaly. It's a bonafide masterpiece, everything progressive jazz-related rock (a subjective label if there ever was one) is supposed to be, and an example of why this band’s brand of avant garde music can bore its way into your soul in ways no other can.

Members reviews

Warthur
After the end of the Islands tour, Robert Fripp was once again left with the task of reconstructing King Crimson's lineup from scratch. However, rather than continue down the path of trying to produce a symphonic followup worthy of In the Court of the Crimson King, Fripp took the more daring approach: he wouldn't just create a new lineup, he'd break down and rebuild what it meant to be King Crimson from the ground up.

In the Court of the Crimson King kickstarted a new genre of progressive rock and was immediately embraced by the prog community, who soon took its lessons to heart. Larks' Tongues In Aspic comes up with its own genre yet again, and decades later the rest of the music world still hasn't caught up to it, except for perhaps a few bands right on the cutting edge of prog or math rock/post-rock. With angular rhythms, avant-garde percussion, Bill Bruford unleashed to try out jazzy chops that had been suppressed in Yes, John Wetton providing the best vocals and basswork on a King Crimson album since Greg Lake left, David Cross adding a plaintive and enigmatic violin to the proceedings, and Fripp laying down some of the angriest and heaviest riffs seen on a rock album to date, the album introduces the mid-1970s Crimson lineup (around the rock-solid core of Wetton, Fripp and Bruford) with a true tour de force.

Easily the best King Crimson album since their debut, this is the album which reinvented the band, and in doing so reinvented rock music altogether, and it still yields secrets with repeated listens to this day. If you only like symphonic prog and have no love for the heavier, more avant-garde end of prog, maybe this isn't for you, but otherwise if you like King Crimson, you need this album. Like In the Court of the Crimson King and Discipline, it's one of the key puzzle pieces that's essential to putting the picture together; if you don't taste the Aspic, you don't know King Crimson.
Sean Trane
Aspic's Lark on the Tongue!

This album for a long time was my least favourite of 70's Crimson albums because of Wetton's voice and totally weird sense of dynamic sound-levels - only Exiles seemed of interest as well as Talking Drum but for the rest...... I was simply not into it!!

And then one day, a friend put this album as I was arguing (politics) with a girlfriend at 2AM, and the spark came, with the music blaring out of the speakers at a very unreasonable loud volume for the time of that time of night. As I said , prior to this I only enjoyed Exile and to a lesser extent TD, but those crazy percussions that had turned me off in Easy Money started making extreme sense and I actually stopped in mid sentence (I was about to nail the coffin closed on the argument I was winning hands down) and yelled: YYYYEEESSSS!!!!!!!!. She looked at me and said: no King Crimson!! But I was now instantly hooked, and asked for a repeat of the track. Needless to say that after this repeat, this first thing I did was to go home with the borrowed album and played it twice before falling asleep. To this day, that famous coffin is still lacking a few nails, and I will gladly leave it that way!! ;-)

The 2 parts of Aspic became clear to me also but it is the incredible percussion from Muir on Easy Money that convinced me that this was probably the creative high point of this band. I still have a bit of a problem with Wetton's singing on Book Of Saturday but it is a thankfully short number. Still nowadays, Exiles and Taking Drum are my fave on the album, but almost every track is now a pure classic on my mind. Definitely one of Crimson's best oeuvre, even if it is not the most accessible.

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