KING CRIMSON — Islands (review)

KING CRIMSON — Islands album cover Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
- And there was a beautiful view, but nobody could see, Cause everybody on the island was saying Look at me ! Look at me ! (Laurie Anderson) -

'Formentera Lady' - Is what happens when you stretch a good tune so far that the elastic snaps, leaving just a construction that conspires to be both stiff and flaccid simultaneously. It seems astonishing that the normally vigilant Fripp had fallen through the huge and creaky trapdoor of 'Moonchild' a second time. Not as aimless as the latter but one of the very few Crimson tracks that I am at pains to concede to the bands detractors, is nothing more than stoned hippy nonsense.

'Sailors Tale' - Shiver me timbers ! this is the proverbial bee's reinforced kneepads to be sure. The late Ian Wallace cooks up a molten percussion broth that is guaranteed to 'stick to yer ribs' while Bluebeard Bob sets sail on a fiery reign of fretboard terror plundering and laying waste to all that musical convention can put in his way. Breathtaking. The sound of conformity being forced to walk the plank.

Very few bands use the Mellotron as imaginatively as Crimson have done, and these 'icy shafts of sunlight' that uncloak the sulpherous interior of Sailor's Tale' contributes a glacial diffidence that is both unsentimental and beautiful.

The 'solo' guitar section is quite probably one of Robert Fripp's finest recorded moments, and I am still unsure if the effect he conjures here is achieved by some inspired 'detuning' of his guitar to facilitate these huge and gorgeous resonating chords. The source of the ominous subterranean bass drone at the end I cannot identify, but there is surely no finer equivalent even 37 years later ?

'The Letters' - Sinfield's habitually arcane and portentous lyrics may have been the midwife in the tortuous birth of rock's 'Gothic Ballad' as sung here by a clearly uncomfortable Burrell. If Lord Byron had penned a rock opera it may not have been even as overblown as this. Frustratingly, both the melody and accompaniment are very good but this verbiage should really give the Crimson King an even redder face.

'Ladies of the Road' - This is great fun and breathes some new life into that flagging old 'promiscuity' warhorse as perceived by denizens of the backstage debauch. The band seem only too keen to take the mickey out of themselves and even if the marvelous chorus is 'Chim Chim Cheree' lifted straight from 'Mary Poppins' it hardly really matters. Boz Burrell sounds suitably lecherous on the verses and the music mimics very well the dissolution it is attempting to illustrate.

'Prelude - Song of the Gulls' - Comes across as a rather short-handed attempt by the Lower School Fiddle Ensemble to premiere their first composition on Parents Night during a particularly virulent strain of flu. Pleasant enough but incongruously bland and 'safe' for a Crimson experience.

'Islands' - It seems to take a hell of a long time for this song to finally make its point and although sung beautifully and arranged well with careful use of dynamics, timbre and pace, it really should have been at least 5 minutes shorter. As betrayed later on his debut solo album 'Exposure', Fripp appears unable to resist the overriding temptation to remind us what an incredibly erudite chap he is by including some pointless banter he has with the orchestral players at the end.

I don't want to hear about the cutlery Robert, when you recommend a restaurant to eat.

Like many of the King Crimson albums up until the stylistic leap initiated by Larks Tongues', this record suffers from a maddening inconsistency. Boz Burrell escapes any blame however, as his bass and vocals certainly lend a bit of bluesy grunt to some of Fripp's otherwise dry and cerebral creations. Mel Collins also gets a clean bill of health and let's face it, the man has never emitted a spurious or tasteless note in his life.

Therefore I think the increasing frisson between Fripp and Sinfield may have been the source of some of the shortcomings that manifest themselves on 'Islands' and they were to part company forever soon after.

If only Robert had recruited Jerry Seinfeld instead...
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