A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 7 (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, 1973)

Back to the true excellence, and it only took a few breakups and reformations! The fourth incarnation of King Crimson featured Robert Fripp (spoilers: he’s in every one, yeah), John Wetton on bass and vocals (if the name’s familiar, he’d go on to more commercial success in Asia), drummer Bill Bruford (recently departed from Yes after Close to the Edge), violinist/keyboardist David Cross, and percussionist Jamie Muir. Not even this lineup would remain totally stable, with Muir taking off pretty quickly, though he does have a strong influence on this album’s sound, but Wetton, Bruford, and Cross would be around for a while.

That’s good news this time, because Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is the best Crimson album since their debut. This new version of the band, on this album at least, is powerful and focused — out of every song and piece on Larks’ Tongues, only Book of Saturday is kind of middling, and it’s not even bad, just a two-minute showcase for Wetton’s singing, some backwards guitar, and the work of new lyricist Richard Palmer-James, formerly of Supertramp. The Lyrics to “Saturday” sound like meaningless gibberish that I don’t care for too much for, but he does marginally better elsewhere. It’s Crimson anyway — the lyrics don’t matter nearly as much as the music.

Every other track is a winner. Larks’ Tongues is divided between songs and instrumental pieces, with a clear emphasis on the instrumentals more than ever before: despite the even 3:3 split, the instrumental section is longer, dominated by the title track suite that’s broken up across the album. To take the other two songs first, they’re both very good and present a nice contrast, with Exiles being softer and more atmospheric and melancholic with a nice use of synths (and Mellotron? It is listed as used in the liner notes with Cross and Fripp both playing) and Easy Money being more rock, with a lot of funk thrown in, just in case you thought this music was all for nerds like me. Just listen to the bass and drums in the instrumental middle of “Easy Money” and tell me it’s not music to move your ass to.

Well okay, I can’t dance either outside rhythm games, so not like it’s my concern. Has anyone ever danced to King Crimson anyway? Now there’s a deep question.

But the real focus does seem to be on those instrumentals, starting with the opening Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I, a 13-minute piece that’s simultaneously all over the place and together somehow, the best part being that repeated monster of a riff after the tense violin-guitar lead-in near the beginning. Even better is the closing two track-punch of The Talking Drum and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II. Though they’re separated in the track listing and on the album, they feel like one long song, with “The Talking Drum” tense lead-in once again only stretched over several minutes, starting from what sounds like a bongo beat surrounded by some swirling wind effect and building up to a wild full-band piece, then ending in an explosion with “Larks’ Tongues Part II”, which — just listen to that one. It’s the best piece on the album, an amazing closer, and a deserved fan favorite to this day.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is among my favorite King Crimson albums for a reason. It’s not my absolute top; might be my third or fourth-ranked below Crimson King and another album I’ll be taking on soon. However, Larks’ Tongues seems like it was just as ahead of its time, if not even more so, than the debut in 1969 was — I’ve even seen this one referred to as metal (maybe the first progressive metal album then?) and it’s easy to see how this version of the band would influence rock musicians 20 years later, where Crimson King instead inspired the “classical prog” movement that Crimson itself had already moved away from by this point.

Of course, Village Voice music writer and “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau didn’t like Larks’ Tongues very much, famously writing at the time that it “doesn’t cook,” whatever that means, and “doesn’t quite jell” which, sure, subjective opinion here, but he’s wrong. But then Mr. Christgau doesn’t like progressive styles in general, so his opinion doesn’t count for much when judging such music in my own opinion. There’s a reason I don’t have any posts about Call of Duty or Rent-A-Girlfriend on the site: I have no interest in the genres they represent, so I leave them to those who enjoy them and can most effectively address such works’ strengths and weaknesses. Does that make sense? Maybe not, I don’t know. I guess when you’re a professional, you have to review what you’re asked to review — another benefit of being an unpaid amateur!