Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is King Crimson’s fifth studio album and the beginning of a new era for the band.
After the superb Islands (1971), it became clear to Robert Fripp that his ambitions differed from those of the band he had assembled around him. While Fripp was very serious about developing the band’s music in an increasingly challenging direction, the rest of the band was more interested in having fun and playing bluesy jams. Fripp’s solution to the problem was to kick the rest of the band out and start again with a new crew.
Fripp was able to put together a real dream team. From Yes, young virtuoso Bill Bruford stepped in on drums, and as his bassist/vocalist, Fripp’s childhood friend and former Family member John Wetton. The band was rounded out by drummer/percussionist Jamie Muir, who was picked up from the free jazz scene, and the still relatively inexperienced violinist David Cross. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is the first album of the so-called Wetton/Bruford trilogy. The trilogy was completed the following year with Starless And Bible Black and Red.
Along with the crew, the style of music also changed. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’s music is more angular, aggressive and rocking in a complex way. The music is influenced not only by free jazz and modern art music, but probably also to some extent by heavy rock bands of the era. The raw jazz-rock of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is also an important influence. Fripp’s sort of mission statement at the time was to make music that sounded like Jimi Hendrix playing Bela Bartók’s compositions. And Larks’ Tongues in Aspic succeeds in that goal admirably.
Opening with a thumb piano and bell chimes, the 13-minute-long ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One” is a magical piece and a rather unique case in the Crimson catalogue. The song is very avant-garde and makes great use of very broad dynamics. For all the percussiveness of the song, it is on ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part One” that Jamie Muir’s impact is at its greatest. When the drums and electric guitar finally kick in after a quiet beginning at around four minutes, the power is indescribable. Crimson’s music is not generally considered suitable for background music, but the furiously complex and dynamically rambunctious use of dynamics in ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One” really demands the listener’s attention.
After the breathtaking ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One” there are a couple of lighter songs that could almost be called ballads. Especially the three-minute ”Book Of Saturday”. The seven-minute ”Exiles” is a more experimental mood. Wetton makes his debut as a vocalist and especially ”Book Of Saturday”, elegantly accompanied by Cross on violin, is one of Crimson’s most beautiful songs. The song also features Fripp’s distinctive backwards strummed electric guitar solo. ”Highlights of ’Exiles’ include Cross’ heartbreakingly beautiful violin melody and Fripp’s stunning guitar solo. Fripp’s days as an acoustic guitarist were beginning to be numbered in Crimson, but on ’Exiles’ he still strums the acoustic with tasty results.
Read also: Porcupine Tree: Closure/Continuation (2022)
After two lighter tracks, Crimson turns up the heat again with one of the band’s finest ”rock” songs, ”Easy Money”. The 8-minute song, which is at times restrainedly oppressive and at times blusteringly propulsive, rocks with a great syncopated rhythm. Muir’s screeching and rattling percussion and Bruford’s tight drumming play a big role in the song’s success. The song became a particularly effective part of Crimson’s gigs and several live versions have since surpassed this perfectly good studio version.
The next song is something else entirely. ”The Talking Drum” is a slow build-up of pressure music that steadily raises the tension. The song grows and grows not only in instrumentation but also in volume until it eventually turns into a total cacophony that finally breaks into the sharply striking guitar riff of ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two”. ”The Talking Drum” is like a long intro to ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two”. Larks’ Part Two works without ’The Talking Drum’, but ’The Talking Drum’ doesn’t really work without the release of tension provided by ’Larks’ Part Two’. Indeed, Crimson often played both songs as a whole at gigs and never, as I recall, ”The Talking Drum” on its own.
As mentioned above ”Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two” starts with a sharp guitar riff that is soon supported by Bruford’s tight drum kit. Rhythmically, the music effectively balances between two different irregular time signatures. Wetton’s bass thunders through the song like a jumbo jet on the runway.’Larks’ Part Two’ is a shockingly heavy, yet full of nuances that created a rhythmic grammar that Fripp built much of King Crimson’s music on in the years and even decades to come. The song even had three direct sequels (four if you count ”Level Five” from The Power To Believe).
- Review: Mike Oldfield – Crises (1983)
- Review: Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (1973)
- Vuosi vuodelta : Parhaat levyt 1987
- Review: Annie Barbazza – Vive (2020)
- Levyarvostelu: Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)
- Levyarvio: Rush – Hold Your Fire (1987)
The album is crowned with great and dynamic sounds with a charming angularity. The soundscape is distinctive and precise, yet not overly sterile or clinical. The drums and percussion in particular sound great. Recording engineer Nick Ryan did a great job in the studio. I especially recommend listening to the 2012 remix by Steven Wilson and Fripp, which I consider the definitive version of the album.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic was another original new direction for King Crimson. However, unlike the previous couple of albums, the innovations of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic remained a permanent part of the Crimson legacy. The next two albums largely built on the foundation created by Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and the genes of that album are still part of King Crimson today. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is an album that perfectly combines shattering power and sharp wit.
Best songs: ’Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One’, ’Easy Money’, ’Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two’.
Author: JANNE YLIRUUSI
- ”Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One” David Cross, Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Jamie Muir 13:36
- ”Book of Saturday” Fripp, Wetton, Richard Palmer-James 2:53
- ”Exiles” Cross, Fripp, Palmer-James 7:40
- ”Easy Money” Fripp, Wetton, Palmer-James 7:54
- ”The Talking Drum (instrumental)” Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Muir 7:26
- ”Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two ” Fripp 7:07