I'll admit right up front that King Crimson has yet to really sink in for me. I have four albums now, and none of them move me to the point that I feel that I love them and that I can listen to them any time from front to back. Strangely enough though, each year that I have bought a King Crimson album there has been one song that has made it into my top ten most listened to songs purchased in that year. Since 2012, I have been making a playlist for all my purchases of each year and at the end of the year I can check to see which songs got the most play. In 2012 one song was "One More Red Nightmare" from this album here. In 2013 it was "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One" and in 2014 it was "Thela Hun Ginjeet" from "Discipline". So even though I still don't get King Crimson like some people do, I can find something to love from each album I've bought so far.
"Red" was my second acquisition after the classic debut. "In the Court of the Crimson King" still leaves me wondering. I like "21st Century Schizoid Man" and the title track, but the rest of the album hasn't yet sunk in. So, what was it that prompted me to get "Red"? One was the reviews that I read that said "Red" had lots of good proto-metal on it. I'm a big fan of late sixties and early seventies heavy metal, or what they call these days "proto-metal", so that was a strong selling point for me. But more than that is the appearance of Bill Bruford on this album. I had recently been listening carefully to his drumming with Yes, especially on the first album and "The Yes Album" and I wanted more.
Now I said that I haven't really been able to get into King Crimson and until the other night, "Red" was no exception. I loved "One More Red Nightmare" for almost everything about it. I don't like that sound that resembles an electronic handclap but the heavy guitar rocks and Bill Bruford gives such a fantastic performance here. Even John Wetton's vocal performance is actually quite suitable. I say this because one thing I do not like about "Red" and "Larks' Tongues" is Wetton's singing. He doesn't strike me as having mastered control of his voice with King Crimson. And that might be the main reason why the two KC albums of the seventies that I own have not left me in spasms of joy.
But wait! I did say until the other night I could not get into King Crimson albums. The other night I gave this album my full attention and working around the vocal performances that sometimes made me wince ("Fallen Angel" and "Starless and Bible Black") I found that there was some excellent music and very cool sounds to enjoy. Of course the title track, an instrumental, is easy for me to like because of the heavy guitar and Bruford's drumming. A great start! "Fallen Angel" might not be so bad except for the vocals. A weak track for me though I'll admit the music is pretty good.
I've already sung praises for "One More Red Nightmare" but I'll say again, Bruford's drumming is his best post Yes performance that I have heard. "Providence" actually was a third choice for me because of where the music gets to after 4:50. Up to then there is a slow building of scritchy scratchy violin, random percussion bits, some bass rumbles and hiccoughs, and a general feeling that the musicians are all playing extremely remotely from each other and just sending out signals to locate each other in deep space, working slowly towards getting together to finally actually make music. When this happens after 4:50, the effect is a great highlight of the album. John Wetton's bass and Bill Bruford's drumming really make this track. Robert Fripp adds some feedback and distortion and there's more violin and a bit of flute in parts, but I love the music mostly for Wetton and Bruford.
"Starless and Bible Black" I had written off as another semi-ballad with Wetton's unimpressive vocals; however, I found that as the song gets moving along the music becomes really captivating. There's some great stuff happening there. As a result of my discoveries, I have come to think of this album not only as a remarkable piece of work for its reputation as one, but I have come to actually feel it's a remarkable piece of work, though more so as a prog album than a proto-metal album.
Why not a full four stars? Well, there's Wetton's vocals which for me at least have not come into full bloom yet. And in "Providence" the 4:50 of waiting for the musicians to coalesce their individual squawks, peeps, patters and rumbles is actually a bit long unless one is in the mood to have the patience to let it develop. I understand what they were doing. But it can sometimes seem like what I call "being weird for the sake of weirdness". But that's King Crimson, isn't it?