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Old 01-31-2009, 10:44 PM   #34 (permalink)
Seltzer
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Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Hobbit Land NZ
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ISLANDS (1971)
  • Robert Fripp - Guitar, Mellotron, Other
  • Boz Burrell – Bass, Vocals
  • Ian Wallace – Drums, Percussion
  • Mel Collins – Saxophone, Flute, Mellotron
  • Keith Tippett - Piano
  • Robin Miller - Oboe
  • Mark Charig - Cornet
  • Harry Miller – Double Bass
  • Paulina Lucas – Soprano Vocals (Track 1)
  • Peter Sinfield - Lyrics




PROLOGUE

After reinventing their sound with Lizard, King Crimson lost their rhythm section and vocalist. For Islands, Ian Wallace was enlisted on drums and Boz Burrell on vocals. As the rhythm section was still lacking a member, Fripp taught Burrell how to play bass while the album was being written - I feel that his novice skills perhaps limited where KC could go with it although this isn't necessarily a bad thing as we see another dimension of the band here; Islands is worlds apart from Lizard. Where Lizard would present itself with avant-garde/jazz 'structures', Islands prefers to bask in meditative tranquillity.



TRACK-BY-TRACK

01 - Formentera Lady:
Formentera Lady begins the album with warm orchestral parts, lush flute and tinkling piano. It takes a while to get started and plods on with the same steady bassline once it does. The second half features some tasteful instrumental work and haunting guest vocals from Paula Lucas. With this song first emerges the common theme of love, and in this case, it's romantic love backed by a fervent and halcyon atmosphere.

02 - Sailor's Tale:
With its vigorous rhythm, jazz-rock template and jam section, Sailor's Tale is probably the song which most closely resembles their earlier works. It has quite a cool buildup featuring awesome guitarwork from Fripp and angry sax from Collins, followed by some utterly bizarre and aggressive rhythm guitar. The extended jamming does grow a bit tedious towards the end and is better executed on earlier/later albums but nevertheless, this isn't a bad song.

03 - The Letters:
The Letters portrays dishonest love through a story of a woman committing suicide after discovering her husband cheated on her. To be honest, I don't much like this song... some of the lyrics coupled with Burrell's vocal delivery are cringe-worthy and the song as a whole is overblown with a directionless jam in the middle.

04 - Ladies of the Road:
Ladies of the Road is a highlight of the album and its underlying theme is promiscuous love - it's a fun song about groupies and the lyrics are hilariously sleazy and lecherous. Who would have expected King Crimson to come up with a verse like "High diving Chinese trender. Black hair and black suspender Said "Please me no surrender. Just love to feel your Fender" and then follow it up with a nonchalant sounding Beatlesesque chorus? Anyhow, as such, Fripp offers some funky blues licks on guitar and Collins' sax is monstrously raunchy.

05 - Prelude: Song of the Gulls:
This prelude to Islands is a full blown dive into classical territory written for woodwind and strings. It is simple but elegant in its serenity, very pure and harmonious. Some say it doesn't fit in, but I wholeheartedly disagree... there couldn't be a better way to pave the path from Ladies of the Road to Islands.

06 - Islands
The self-titled track is a great way to close the album and is quite reminiscent of post-rock (long before Spirit of Eden too). Islands I believe represents the universal form of love; not love which is merely between two people, but the collective love of all things in the world. The first two verses paint a somewhat doleful picture of a lonely solitary island, embellished by flourishes of piano, woodwind and sparse brass. The chorus indicates that despite appearing disjointed, the islands are really all connected together as one. Like Formentera Lady, Islands takes a little while to develop; it's as if the third and last verse is the realisation of connectedness and it is around there at the 5 minute mark that the song really picks up. The second half (ignoring the band outro) is truly glorious and uplifting with some splendid brass instrumentation absolutely free of any inhibition. This culminates the album on a high and it leaves you in a state of complete peace with the knowledge that all is good in the world.



EPILOGUE

Islands is yet another album which falls victim to being overlooked and written off, even by fans. And the King Crimson fanbase can be hard to please - on one hand they would complain that In the Wake of Poseidon is too much like its predecessor, and on the other, they would bemoan the fact that Islands is a departure from everything before it, not just in terms of branches of experimentation but general aesthetics. If you listen to this album without prior expectations, you'll find some gems.

Overall I consider Islands a mixed bag. The first half with the somewhat protracted but otherwise pleasant Formentera Lady, the semi-decent Sailor's Tale and poor effort of the Letters, is a bit lackluster and unengaging. However, the second half is hard to fault as it explores ideas pristine to KC and explores them well. Islands is certainly one of the great King Crimson pieces.

My advice is to check out King Crimson's other 70s output before Islands. And if you do check out Islands, approach it with an open mind lest you might unfairly dismiss it, because it is a mostly good album.

7.5/10
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