Sound — 10
Just imagine me, sitting alone in a cold room, being a teenager slowly digging through the sounds of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and all kind of other bands, just lately being exposed to the psychedelia of King Crimson's 'Discipline' album. All kind of hopes moving inside me, I turn my speaker a little bit louder, and click play. And there 'Red' begins. Oh my, you can imagine my first impression, being overwhelmed with the magic of the screeching guitar of Robert Fripp, crazy drums of Bill Bruford, flat, strong voice of John Wetton and other sounds being provided by session musicians, one of them being Ian McDonald, former member of King Crimson coming back to the deal. Now that it was quite a long ago, I can have a colder look on what is 'Red'. It's hard to explain the sound of Red. Fripp himself likes to describe it as "crim-metal", and that's what it perfectly is. If you heard other CD's from King Crimson (especially the first ones), imagine all that musical poetry and delicacy now being coated with heavy Gibson crunch and this incredible jazzy feeling that is being provided by the drums. Bass play is very melodic, sometimes with a drone-like sound, sometimes pushing hard and providing a groovy background. Title song, 'Red', first hits you with all of these, leaving nothing to wish, providing both melody and elaborate rhythmical changes, instrumental song being whole. Nothing to add, nothing to subtract, a shot straight in the face. Then, a little step back and a slow down, but just seemingly. 'Fallen Angel' is a ballad interlaced with noisy elements, sax sounds and this moving, crying gutiar sounds made by Fripp. Interesting thing is that the verses of this song are being backed with an acoustic guitar, and this is the last time Fripp plays an acoustic on a Crimson record. Then, 'One More Red Nightmare', a composition in the 'Red' spirit, but with an interesting vocal and mocking feel. 'Providence' is an extract from an improv made at Palace Theatre gig - quite disturbing, but a nice piece for a change. At last, "Starless" brings us The Apocalypse. Beginning slowly, lyrically and nostalgically, providing sound of the mellotron and leading sax melodies, it then turns dark and heavy, with an incredible Fripp's solo played on just a couple of tones, finally ending with a sax solo and an epic (not power-metal epic, but majestically, lyrically epic) coda, that leaves the listener shocked, sometimes even crying. Is there anything bad about the sound? Maybe yes, some people can find the vibe too dark and moody. But you have to remember that it was recorded far back in '74, no high quality equipment back then, it's a shock that even the not remastered versions are quite clean.
Lyrics — 9
Only three pieces of lyrics here, but believe me, that's enough. Palmer-James, who was the man writing for John Wetton, did quite a job here. It seems that the songs were meant to be straight forward, but sometimes I cannot just ignore the impression that there is more to them than just a wordy message, especially that I had to look up some of the lyrics to figure them out. "Fallen Angel" seems to be a nostalgic, dramatic piece about being a trash, a person on a margin. "One More Red Nightmare" talks about living through - well, surprise - a nightmare, literally being a catastrophe, but who knows what lies beneath. Then, "Starless" - you have to be careful here, not to confuse it with "Starless and Bible Black", which was a composition from their previous album. The name is taken from the writer named Dylan Thomas and his work, 'Under Milk Wood'. "Starless" talks about a dusk of a relationship by the metaphors of upcoming dark, starless night. Although Wetton is not considered some kind of a top-class vocalist, his voice fits incredibly with the music. It's flat but strong, very moody. He's capable of singing very specific melodies that ring in your head for long.
Overall Impression — 10
To be honest - for me, it's KC's best album. Not too long? True, 45 minutes, 5 pieces, but it's long enough, consistent and a whole by itself. It's really up to everyone by themselves. I just love the poetry embedded into the songs, and I mean not only words, but how all these sounds tell you various stories. Each of the songs is great in it's own way, "Starless" being in my opinion a crown on the head of King Crimson's '68-'74 music. If I were to pick an album of King Crimson that you really, REALLY HAVE TO listen to, "Red" would be the one. You get a little bit of 'everything' here - not in a 'colorful-crap-jigsaw', way, it all remains full and coherent. I must say that King Crimson is one of my favorite bands, for long time it was my #1, and I know I'm biased. I'm trying to be critical. Thing is, you cannot be really critical if something is almost flawless.