KING CRIMSON — Islands (review)

KING CRIMSON — Islands album cover Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
Warthur
Another somewhat muddled album from the chaos that engulfed the band following In the Court of the Crimson King, Islands features yet another almost entirely new lineup coalescing about the core of Robert Fripp and soon-to-be-released lyricist Peter Sinfield. The album includes some fine tracks like the gentle and haunting title track or Formentera Lady, or the riotous and dark Sailor's Tale (which prefigures the musical direction which the band would soon embrace with Lark's Tongues, Starless and Red phase of their career).

The other three tracks all have issues. Song of the Gulls is a classical piece which is pleasant enough but really doesn't fit in context, even as the prelude to Islands it supposedly is; it just comes across as filler intended to push the idea that Crimson was competing with the likes of ELP and other bands infusing heavy doses of classical music into rock. The Letters is an unexceptional effort, proof positive that the songwriting approach that had sustained the band for the last three albums was beginning to run dry. And as for Ladies of the Road... well, you may or may not consider it sexist (I personally do), but it's hard to deny that it's incredibly cliched, the lyrical subject matter tackling the tired-out old subject of groupie sex (Zappa and the Mothers did it better on Fillmore East) and the musical backing being completely forgettable.

Ultimately, Islands is a set of decent three-to-four star songs dragged down by two-star material. I can't recommend it to anyone who isn't a fanatical supporter of the early, symphonic phase of the band's career. The next studio album would see Fripp abandon all efforts to recreate the success of In the Court of the Crimson King and abandon the symphonic prog field entirely, pioneering a new, angular, heavy direction in progressive music and finally regaining the status of creative visionary and spawner of genres that he briefly attained in 1969.
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