Robert Fripp - Guitar and Mellotron
John Wetton - Bass and Vocals
Bill Bruford - Percussion
The KING CRIMSON of '74 was a Progressive power trio composed of John Wetton on bass and vocals, Bill Bruford on drums, and the ever-present Robert Fripp on guitar and mellotron. What is fascinating is that even with this minimalist line-up, the album sounds both heavier and denser than any CRIMSON album to come before it. Not even the most angular and jagged moments of "Starless And Bible Black" and "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" come close to presenting the constant state of atmospheric darkness that the listener will discover on "Red". The album is littered with guest musicians including former CRIMSON alumni David Cross and Ian McDonald, and Canterbury veteran Mel Collins.
The title track opens the album with a menacing instrumental assault. Bruford's drumming steals the show here; his chaotic playing serves to mask the calm logic of his percussive storm. Shifting time signatures and odd meters are standard fare on "Red", but the trio manages to maintain a tightness throughout that is purely divine. As the piece continues, the main theme is repeated several times, only to have Fripp's guitar soar higher and higher upon each repetition as he searches in vain for the proper note to end on. "Fallen Angel" opens with a torturous mellotron effect that is quickly juxtaposed with Fripp's gentle guitar work. Wind instruments mesh with mellotron, providing a gentle backdrop for Fripp's tasteful playing before the song slips into an entropic state. "One More Red Nightmare" is dominated by Wetton, his strong bass offering the foundation for this funky Jazz Rock monster. The improvisational "Providence" is an instrumental piece that begins with atmospheric washes of violin courtesy of Cross, but quickly morphs into a foreboding jam session. As always on "Red", these dark clouds have silver linings; in this instance mostly provided by Cross whose violin is the hunted prey of Fripp and Wetton's tandem instrumentation. Every song on this album builds to an apex, and the final track "Starless" is no exception. Wetton's vocals are pristine here, intermingled with orchestrated mellotron strings and saxophone. This opening prelude evolves into a structured jam session that somehow manages to be both symphonic and jazzy at the same time. The twelve-minute piece ends with a cathartic bang as the themes of the prelude are repeated at an increased tempo before exploding into chaos.
"Red" has a special place in the hearts of Progressive Rock fans. KING CRIMSON was broken apart by leader Fripp shortly after its release. It is the high-water reference point for the early to mid 1970s Progressive Rock movement, standing tall alongside other classic and oft-referenced works of the time. The release of "Red" and subsequent break-up of CRIMSON seemed to symbolize the state of Progressive music at the time, as the most well-known bands moved to cash in their artistic chips for a shot at greater public appeal and many fans longed for something new. This is the first Progressive Rock album I ever ventured to own, and although I am perhaps inclined to look at it through rose-coloured glasses, I have to say that it is flawless in all respects. "Red" is my desert island disc, and a perfect starting point for anyone who is interested in the long and varied life of KING CRIMSON. (Online September 27, 2003)
Guest Reviewer Dan Pritchard