King Crimson – ‘Red’
I have a long and somewhat checkered history with King Crimson. The first I knew of them, from reading them name-dropped in NME articles around the turn of the millennium (being roughly sixteen years old at the time), severely turned me off. I read that they were notoriously pretentious musicians and their output outrageously overblown, beside articles about the likes of “Saviours of Music” bands like the fabled, folklore-inducing Vex Red, Hundred Reasons and Goldie Lookin’ Chain.
A year later, I’m being driven back from Leighton Buzzard on country roads at night, and my companion inserts a cassette of David Sylvian’s ‘Gone to Earth’ into the car stereo. I am instantly swooning over Robert Fripp’s intricate and sublime guitar work on opening track ‘Taking the Veil’, and continue to be enchanted throughout the record by further slabs of undeniably brilliant string-picking.
I blame being young, impressionable and stubborn for my reluctance to deviate from my magazine-influenced perception despite having tangible evidence to suggest it was wrong, and for it requiring around six years from that evening drive home to even bother investigating further.
Upon hearing ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ on a compilation LP (age 23), I had further multi-faceted, omni-directional evidence to obliterate that misguided idea. Months later, I pick up the album containing it and find myself dismayed that the vast majority of the material on it has fluted instruments and songs about pixies, pipers and other various forms of infantile 60’s English psychedelic imagery. Mortified, I dismiss them once again.
Two years pass and I am introduced to ‘Red’, their 1974 album, whilst being tattooed.
It is a magnificent record. I can’t offer much in the way of detailed analysis, since the only time I have heard it all the way through was during that ink session. Besides, trying to convey the ecstasy of hearing a group I had twice thrown on the scrap heap, and wanted for some time to blow me away, cutting loose and combining squalling, freewheeling saxophone solos with devilish, low-end riffage and cacophonous drums, briefly and intermittently aquiescing into genuinely plaintive laments reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane’s “Comin’ Back to Me”, and back again is a task that I don’t think I can really manage.
So I finally caught the Crimson bug in July 2010. Last night I watched the excellent Alfonso Cuaron film Children of Men on ITV. In it, there is a scene where Clive Owen walks into the foreboding skyscraper condo of an immigration official to plead for transit papers out of a London envisioned as something of a gulag. The low angle camera shots and monochrome setting, the stark lighting and general ambience of an ominous corridor of power, set against a musical backdrop of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’, which song I am listening to on repeat as I type this.
Says it all, really.