King Crimson: Islands

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For the uninitiated: this was a tough one to review. King Crimson, icons of progressive rock who tend to reinvent themselves every three albums or so, with only the unifying thread of guitarist Robert Fripp running from start (their 1969 debut LP In the Court of the Crimson King) to present. Anyone familiar with the band in any of their incarnations expects a heavy guitar presence, and yet, Islands has a noticeable absence of such.  Instead, the songs tend to be very much jazz influenced, and flute, sax, piano, and trumpet are the stars here, and the final piece is accompanied by strings, giving it a classical feel.  As a fan all the way back to high school, I’d have once named this my least favorite Crimson album.  I wanted more Fripp!

Now, a bit older, I’d have to revise that opinion.  Lengthy passages of slow, almost ethereal jazzy jams, as well of controlled, melodic energy, with Mel Collin’s sax often taking over for Fripp’s often frenzied fretboard work.  The songs have a maturity and grace to them, the energy more subdued then in later incarnations, but still present, and when the Fripp does chose to grace us with his presence, it’s quite wonderful.  That’s not to say there aren’t a few more ‘rocking songs’ here, but they tend to be broken up by more some what improvised jazzy jams.  Also of note, this Fripp plucked Boz Burrell, who later moved on to Bad Company out of relative obscurity to be his front man for this endeavor.

For the initiated: For the fans, yes, the remastering is well worth the price of upgrading your old CDs.  This album lends itself well to the crisp separation of sound.  Someone spent some time making sure it sounds good!  That said, the extra, while interesting to a completist simply for the sake of owning them, aren’t likely to get played often.  Out takes of instrumental passages from some of the songs as well as a remix of “Ladies of the Road” which doesn’t wander far from the original mix.  Still, if you’re a fan, it’s a worthwhile upgrade for the sound alone.  As a plus, the packaging is quite nice, and bears the original UK cover, rather then the redone US version.