Classic Album: King Crimson-Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.

In October 1969, King Crimson announced their arrival when they released their critically acclaimed debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. This future progressive rock classic reached number five in the UK, and was certified gold in America, when it reached number twenty-eight. Following the success of In The Court Of The Crimson King in America, King Crimson headed out on what was their first ever American tour. 

On their return home from their American tour, disaster struck when Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left King Crimson. This was the first of numerous lineup changes in the history of King Crimson.

The next member of the band to exit stage left was Greg Lake. He was approached by Keith Emerson to join what became Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Having lost three members of the band, Robert Fripp was left as the only remaining original member of King Crimson. This presented a problem, King Crimson had an album to record. 

Fortunately,  former members of the band Peter and Michael Giles returned to play bass and drums, while Keith Tippett played piano. Robert Fripp played keyboards and guitars, while session musicians augmented the band’s lineup. Without a lead singer, an unknown singer Elton John was in the running to become King Crimson’s lead singer. However, instead, Robert Fripp sang the lead vocals and this proved to be a winning formula. 

On its release in May 1970, In The Wake Of Poseidon reached number four in the UK and number thirty-one in America. It proved to be King Crimson’s most successful album during a five year period where they were well on their way to becoming one of the most successful progressive rock bands in the world. 

From In The Court Of Crimson right through to Panegyric, King Crimson were one of the most successful progressive rock bands and it seemed could do no wrong. This five year period was a golden period in King Crimson’s long and illustrious career. During this period, King Crimson were also  prolific band.

Following the success of In The Wake Of Poseidon, King Crimson returned just seven moths later with their third album, Lizard. It was released  on the ‘3rd’ of December 1971, and again, King Crimson’s lineup seemed to be constantly evolving. 

Jazz pianist Keith Trippett and flautist and saxophonist Mel Collins had returned for the recording of Lizard. They were joined by drummer Andy McCulloch; Yes’ frontman Jon Anderson; plus  Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield who took charge of production at Command Studios, London.

Lizard was a much more jazz oriented album. and despite its undoubtable quality, it stalled at  twenty-six in the UK and number 113 in the US Billboard 200. Equally disappointing was that this lineup of King Crimson never got the opportunity to tour. Having released two albums in seven months, it was another year before King Crimson released their fourth album, Islands.

Islands marked the end of era for several reason. The first was that Islands was the last album to feature Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. It was also the last album to feature what was King Crimson’s trademark fusion of progressive and  symphonic rock. There were changes in the band’s lineup with drummer and percussionist Ian Wallace and bassist and lead vocalist Boz Burrell making their debut. However, when Islands was released it was an album divided opinion.

Some critics felt that Islands didn’t match the quality of King Crimson’s three previous albums. Despite this, Islands, which was released in December 1971, reached number thirty in the UK and number seventy-six in the US Billboard 200. Then there was the controversy surrounding Ladies Of The Road. King Crimson found themselves in the midst of a controversy where they were accused of misogyny. For King Crimson this wasn’t the best way to end an era.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

For their fifth album, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, the album marked the debut of the third lineup of King Crimson. Joining Robert Fripp were bassist John Wetton, ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford, percussionist Jamie Muir and David Cross, who played violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano and flute. This new lineup saw the band head in a new direction. 

King Crimson decided to incorporate different instruments into their music on their new album. This included percussion and African mbira as  they moved away from their jazz sound to a fusion of progressive rock and experimental music on what eventually became Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. It was the start of a new chapter in the King Crimson story.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic featured just six tracks. King Crimson’s founder member Robert Frip, wrote Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two and cowrote the other five tracks. This included Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One and Talking Drum which he wrote with the best of the band. Robert Fripp, John Wetton and Richard Palmer James wrote Book Of Saturday and Easy Money. The trio also collaborated with David Cross on  Exiles. These six tracks became Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, which was recorded at Command Studio, London.

At  Command Studio, the five members of King Crimson began recording and producing Larks’ Tongues In Aspic in January 1973. King Crimson spent January and February 1973 recording the six tracks that became Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Once Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was completed, it was released it was scheduled for release in the spring of 1973.

On the release of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, on 23rd March 1973, King Crimson’s progressive rock opus received the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Critics called Larks’ Tongues In Aspic innovative, inventive and full of contrasts. The music was experimental and jazz tinged. Comparisons were made to Yes’ Close To The Edge. However, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic stole the show with some critics referring to Larks’ Tongues In Aspic as the most important progressive rock album of 1973. Given the opposition, this was quite an accolade. 

Despite the critical acclaim and accolades that surrounded the release of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, it only reached number twenty in Britain. While this was an improvement on 1970s Lizards and 1971s Island, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic failed to scale the heights of 1969s In the Court of the Crimson King or 1970s In the Wake of Poseidon. This was also the case in America. In America, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic reached just number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200. However, since its release in 1973, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic has been regarded as a progressive rock classic. 

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic opens with the centre-piece of the album, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One. It’s a fourteen minute instrumental epic. Jamie Muir contributes a lengthy, understated percussive introduction. Everything from chimes, bells, a thumb piano, mbiras, a musical saw, shakers and rattles feature. Gradually, though, the arrangement changes. Soon, urgent, sweeping, strings take centre-stage. Then the percussion is soon joined by a taste of a blistering, guitar driven driven section. It then explodes into life and Robert Fripp’s searing, scorching guitar is at the heart of everything that’s good about the arrangement. Not to be outdone, Bill Bruford powers around his drum kit and John Wetton unleashes a funky bass. By then, King Crimson are in full flight and it’s a joy to behold. Later, the arrangement does a volte face, becoming wistful and minimalist. Just a lone violin plays, its melancholy sound taking centre-stage, until later, it’s joined by a distant, cinematic backdrop. That’s the signal for King Crimson to unite, as this epic track reaches a captivating crescendo.

Book of Saturday is very different from the previous track. The arrangement is much more understated and spacious. Just a crystalline guitar and probing bass joins John’s pensive vocal, as memories come flooding back. Soon, wistful strings sweep in, adding to the sense of melancholy as John scats. Later, heartfelt harmonies add to the ethereal beauty of Book Of Saturday. 

Disturbing, droning, eerie, futuristic, sci-fi sounds assail you as Exiles unfolds. Soon, the arrangement bubbles and drama builds. it’s not unlike a journey to a lost planet. Just like Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One, there’s a nod to Pink Floyd. That becomes more apparent as the arrangement becomes melodic, and the myriad of disparate sounds dissipate. A wistful violin and a probing bass joining John’s pensive vocal. Before long, melodic becomes dramatic. From there, the two unite. Melancholy strings, chiming guitars and the rhythm section join with John’s  heartfelt, pensive vocal. He delivers the lyrics with emotion, bringing meaning to the lyrics, on what would become a a staple of many a King Crimson concert. 

Slow, dramatic and moody, describes the arrangement to Easy Money as it marches along to the beat of Bill’s drums. It’s augmented by soaring harmonies, gongs and then, when the arrangement is stripped bare, a chiming guitar. However, it’s John’s vocal that sits amidst the dramatic, broody arrangement. It pulsates and creeps along. Stabs of keyboards, cinematic strings, sound effects unite with Robert’s  scorching, rocky guitar masterclass. It’s one of Robert’s finest solos. Add to that, John’s vocal and cerebral lyrics, and it’s one of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’s highlights.

The Talking Drum is another instrumental with an understated, atmospheric and somewhat eerie sounding arrangement. Its minimalist sound toys with you. Then slowly, it builds. Drums play in the distance, then a bass is plucked adding to the atmospheric backdrop. Soon, a fuzzy guitar and violins join. Still, the arrangement is understated. Gradually, it grows in power and eventually, King Crimson kick loose. By then, elements of jazz, rock and world music are uniting and King Crimson combine disparate instruments and influences as they create an innovative, genre-straddling track.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two closes Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. Straight away, the track has a heavier sound. It’s as if King Crimson’s driving rhythm section and searing guitars are heading in the direction of heavy metal. That’s until the track takes on a classical sound. Later, the two combine. Whistles sound, drums pound and Robert Fripp’s scorching, riffing guitar plays a leading role. King Crimson it seems, are determined to close Larks’ Tongues In Aspic on a high, and succeed in doing so, with another instrumental epic.

When King Crimson released Larks’ Tongues In Aspic in 1973, they were in the midst of a five year period where King Crimson could do no wrong. Between In The Court Of Crimson right through to Panegyric, King Crimson were one of the most successful progressive rock bands. They released seven albums and during that period, commercial success and critical acclaim were constant companions of King Crimson. As a result, King Crimson became part of progressive rock royalty. 

For five years, King Crimson could do no wrong. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was the fifth album King Crimson had released since 1969. That was quite an achievement considering King Crimson’s ever changing lineup.  This didn’t affect the quality of music. 

There’s a reason for this. Robert Fripp had the uncanny knack of bringing in the right musicians at the right time and they always seemed to compliment the other members of King Crimson. This was the case on Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, King Crimson’s fifth album.

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic marked the debut of the third lineup of King Crimson. Joining Robert Fripp were bassist John Wetton, ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford, percussionist Jamie Muir and David Cross, who played violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano and flute. This new lineup took King Crimson in a new direction. 

On Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, King Crimson incorporated different instruments, including percussion and African mbira. They moved away from their jazz sound, to a fusion of progressive  rock and experimental music. There was even a nod to heavy metal on a couple of tracks. This made Larks’ Tongues In Aspic another captivating and critically acclaimed album, from one of prog-rock’s leading lights. 

Indeed, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is a genre classic. It’s one of the finest progressive rock albums released during the seventies. Seamlessly, the new lineup of picked up where the previous lineup of King Crimson left off on Islands. In doing so, the new lineup of King Crimson were responsible for one of the group’s finest hours.

Of the seven albums King Crimson release during their golden period, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was a stonewall classic. Starting with the fourteen minute, instrumental epic Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One and continuing through favourites like Book of Saturday, Exiles and Easy Money, King Crimson bring their A-Game to Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. Not once do they disappoint. The two other instrumentals, The Talking Drum and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two allow King Crimson to showcase their considerable talents. It’s a joy to behold as what’s akin to a supergroup stretch their legs, taking the listener in unexpected directions. However, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is a compelling and breathtaking journey, with King Crimson at the top of their game during their golden period.

Following Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, King Crimson released just two more albums during this golden period. The first was  1973s Starless and Bible Black and then 1974s Red. Sadly, neither of these albums replicated the critical acclaim and commercial success of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. It was the end of an era for King Crimson.

Their fifth album Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was a landmark album, and and one of the finest albums the musical pioneers released during their five year golden period. It was one of their finest hours during what’s been a long and  illustrious career.

Nowadays, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is a regarded as a progressive rock classic, and a Magnus Opus from one of the genre’s finest exponents who were at their creative zenith when they released an album that few groups could or would better.

Classic Album: King Crimson-Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.

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