Certain music tends to form my soundtrack during certain moods. I find myself listening to it over and over again and then I move on to something else completely.
Well, my mood is changing but I haven't quite let go of this past week's musical focus. …
The King Crimson album Red is an unusual member of that band's very extensive discography. Not in circumstance – the band was falling apart yet again as it seemed to do every six months in the early 1970s – but in sound and purpose. No other King Crimson album is so single-mindedly cohesive.
Part of this is undoubtedly caused by the reduction of the band to essentially a trio of Robert Fripp on guitar, John Wetton on bass & vocals and Bill Bruford on drums. These instruments dominate the whole proceedings even though there are in fact a lot of guests coming along for the ride – the very recently departed David Cross on violin, the almost rejoining Ian McDonald on saxophone and others such as cornettist Mark Charig who had been in and out of prior incarnations of the band.
But it is primarily Fripp and his rhythm section who dominate, and Fripp does not shy away from his aggressive side here. Indeed in tone and style, Fripp's guitar verges on heavy metal and punk with very little 'pretty' picking. The songs are saturated with deep, moody chords and a churning cauldron of rhythmic activity. You are not going to hear better or more responsive hard rock playing than you find here. The progressive elements are all in the mix, but subsumed to the overall impact – unlike some other Crimson tracks you do not find yourself admiring but essentially uninvolved in the music. The songs are a miracle of tautness for a band that regularly fell into the pit of abysmal lyrical posturing; nothing that really stands out but words that are attuned to the music and unembarassing upon repeated play.
Red was released in 1974, a fairly dismal year for mainstream rock. At that time there was definitely the sense that rock was running out of steam as the really remarkable period of creativity and energy since the Beatles' first records fizzled. I remember this as being very dismaying at the time – I, like most rock fans – was used to a hothouse of mainstream innovation and it was clear that this was not to be found anymore. So Red encapusalated both that innovative past, drew together the most fruitful and productive current strands, and showed via its violent energy a way forward that would explode with punk rock three years later.
I think that is why the music has held up so well.