King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973)

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Shane Greenler, Photography

King Crimson’s fifth album Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973) is one of the most important and daring albums in the history of progressive rock. Even 47 years later, its music remains a complete enigma, being a nearly unclassifiable mishmash of hard rock, free-form, industrial and experimental. One could argue it stands out as a genre in and of itself.

 

King Crimson is notorious, especially in their early years, for having a massive identity crisis. They formed in the summer of 1969 and by March of 1973 the band’s main lineup had been changed and altered a total of five times, with many of its personnel leaving to follow other projects, or in some cases, due to personal disagreements with the band’s main guitarist and figurehead Robert Fripp.

 

Their previous album Islands which released in Dec. 1971 would mark the end of their latest lineup, as well the band’s first hiatus. By April of 1972 nearly all the former band members had left. Flutist and saxophonist Mel Collins, drummer Ian Wallace, bassist & vocalist Ray “Boz” Burrell, and most notably lyricist Ian McDonald, who had been with King Crimson since the beginning, had all left the band leaving only Fripp and a few producers.

 

In order to reconcile these losses, Fripp recruited a multitude of artists: John Whetton on vocals. He was an old friend of Fripp’s and bassist for the band Family. Jamie Muir, a freelance percussionist, would be paired on percussion with former Yes drummer Bill Bruford. Finally, Fripp recruited Supertramp founder Richard Palmer-James for help with lyrics as well as violinist and keyboardist David Cross.

 

https://www.dgmlive.com/in-depth/larks-tongues-in-aspic-the-long-view

 

The previously mentioned pair up for the percussion section which is easily one of the most intriguing parts of the album, with Bruford on drums and Muir on “percussion and allsorts”. These “allsorts” consist of a multitude of different percussion instruments including chimes, bells, gongs, kalimbas, a musical saw, shakers, squeaky toys, rattles, random objects found around the studio, and other miscellaneous drums.

 

The entire album is simply put: brilliantly weird. It has a jagged and dirty sound that makes it feel as if it was filmed in someone’s garage. The album cover is an odd esoteric sex symbol, with a sun and moon enjoined inside one another, and even the title “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic”, which basically just means “bird tongues in meat jelly”, could be interpreted multiple different ways.

 

Rolling Stone reviewer Alan Niester summarized it perfectly saying, “You can’t dance to it, can’t keep a beat to it, and it doesn’t even make good background music for washing the dishes…you have to approach it with a completely open mind.”

 

No other song exemplifies this point more than the intro song, the titular 13 minute instrumental epic “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part I”. There simply isn’t enough I could possibly say about how utterly fascinating this song is. Its sound is so incredibly unique that it puts itself into a genre of its own. It’s nothing more than choreographed insanity.

 

The song’s feel and tempo are constantly changing, starting off with a warm and fairly pleasant kalimba melody, immediately followed by multiple aggressive and nearly frantic guitar sectionals, some with no discernible time signatures that end up falling short of sheer insanity.

 

All of this ends up falling back into an odd semblance of calm with a haunting violin solo, only to build up and end off in an ominous drone of guitars, violin and the unintelligible voices of a British radio drama. All of this utter musical and auditory madness is brilliantly guided by Fripp’s guitar, Bruford’s drums and Cross’s violins.

 

There’s an obvious reason as to why in 2011, PopMatters ranked “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part I” as the eighth greatest progressive rock song of all time, just above “Time” by Pink Floyd. Without a doubt, this and its sequel are the shining highlights of this album, as well as within King Crimson’s entire discography.

 

We’re treated next to the soft love ballad “Book of Saturday”. This song is perfectly pleasant, especially following the chaos of the previous song, with the comfort of finally being able to hear John Whetton’s lovably awkward yet welcoming voice. Being just under three minutes long, it’s a nice little treat of a song.

 

“Easy Money” is a nice return to King Crimson’s old heavy instrumental based jazz-rock-progressive fusion sound from the likes of “21st Century Schizoid Man” or “Ladies of the Road”. This song makes use of all the previously mentioned “percussion and allsorts” implementing objects from squeaky toys, crumpling money, ripping pant fabric, zippers and even a duck call and, once again, Whetton’s raspy vocals are perfect for this weird little romp.

 

“The Talking Drum” is yet another fascinating instrumental piece. Starting off ominously with a quiet solo from the titular talking drum accompanied only by the sound of howling wind, other instruments slowly but surely make their appearances. As drum kit, bass, electric guitar, and finally Cross’s violin add onto each other, they still never impede on each other.

 

The intensity, speed and key in which they play invoke a sense of urgency and panic, all climaxing into the shrill squeal of violins, seamlessly transitioning into the crown jewel of this album: “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part II”.

 

This song is a no holds barred proto-progressive metal masterpiece that has been boggling the minds of fans like me for decades. The riffs are intoxicating. The switching between odd time signatures like 11/8, 7/8, and ⅝ are mesmerizing. The random bird squawks and whistles are charmingly chaotic. The ending is explosive. Bruford’s drums, Fripp’s Guitar, Cross’s violin all blend together perfectly in one of the greatest progressive rock experiences you can hope to find

 

Despite all the disjointed and harsh sounds, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic manages to flow nearly perfectly.  It may not be as easy to listen to as “Red” or “Discipline” but it’s my personal favorite from all of King Crimson’s discography, and an experience you definitely can’t get anywhere else.

 

  • 97 / 100

  • Favorite tracks: All of them