“Their best work under the banner has always been the result of collaboration rather than dictatorship”: King Crimson’s 50th anniversary version of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic

Steven Wilson adds an understated sheen to an album that’s weathered the decades well

King Crimson - Larks Tongues In Aspic
(Image: © Panegyric)

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King Crimson always stalked the more extreme and art-driven end of prog rock. Creating a whole new vernacular, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic has weathered the last five decades well. 

Indeed, this is an album that inhabits a space in which King Crimson are the sole inhabitants. And while they’re largely seen as the product of idiosyncratic guitarist Robert Fripp, their best work under the Crimson banner has always been the result of collaboration rather than dictatorship.

Ergo this, the band’s fifth album, which is now celebrating its golden anniversary. What makes Larks’ Tongues In Aspic such an enduring and rewarding experience is that this particular line-up – mainstay Robert Fripp, drummer Bill Bruford, bassist and vocalist John Wetton, violinist David Cross and percussionist Jamie Muir – subscribed to a discipline that was lacking on the albums immediately following their debut, In The Court Of The Crimson King. Here, the improvisational runs are characterised by a lean focus that serves and bolsters the songs, so while this is music that’s definitely ‘out there,’ it first and foremost blasts off from the ground up.

Witness Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part 1, where the enigmatic opening percussion doesn’t so much meander as tease before giving way to David Cross’ urgent violin strokes and Fripp’s fuzzed guitar, which then explodes into a catharsis of sonic violence. Each section that follows ushers in the next, for here is a road map with a clear destination. Nothing is left to chance. 

Likewise The Talking Drum, which rises incrementally with all the intensity of water being brought to the boil. Among the chaos stands John Wetton, whose tuneful and melodic contributions are the anchor that moors this turbulent ship, most notably on Easy Money.

This 50th anniversary edition contains two new mixes of the album. Though differing from each other, they both compliment the original album. Steven Wilson offers an understated sheen that’s most evident on Fripp’s beautifully sustained guitar-playing during The Talking Drum, while Wetton’s bass punches through without detracting from the original.

Elsewhere on the second CD, David Singleton’s mixes of early takes of both parts of the title track, Easy Money and The Talking Drum offer a greater degree of separation that give insight into the creative process, though the Blu-ray with just about everything that was recorded for the album perhaps over-eggs this particular pudding. Nonetheless, it remains a milestone worth celebrating via mixes that shine a light on a well-trodden path.

Julian Marszalek

Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.