King Crimson - Sailors’ Tales album review

Three overlooked KC albums make up the core of this lavish box set

Cover art for King Crimson - Sailors’ Tales album

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Robert Fripp and King Crimson spent a career shrugging off the criticism ‘overblown’. That said, you’d be hard pushed to think of this expansive (and that word is underselling it somewhat) box set as being anything but. King Crimson have a recent history of reappraising their past in the most accomplished manner (in collections like these and as a born again live band). This grouping of their difficult and mostly underperformed trilogy of records from the start of the 70s – In The Wake Of Poseidon, Lizard (both released in 1970) and Islands (1971) – is a lavish reminder of the potency of King Crimson, even in an era where they were beset by intra-band barracking and considered to be at a low creative ebb.

Admittedly, those records were sandwiched between their spectacular debut and the defining Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, so it’s little surprise that they sometimes get lost in the past when people riffle through their catalogue. This 27-disc set (no, your glasses haven’t slipped off your nose – there are 27 discs) should help the reappraisal, and the Fripp/Steven Wilson remixes of the original material won’t hurt either.

That and the glorious din that are the live discs that make up the heart of this set. Discs 4 through 17 are an extended tracking shot of a band in rehearsal and live across the world. And like most bands that live on the road, there are some good nights and some not so good nights.

It’s a rapture, though, an immersive journey into a world where the varying King Crimson line-ups might have been falling apart off stage, but occasionally tuning in to the universe and singing the song of the heavens when they were on it.

The rehearsal tapes (appended as ‘Bonus Discs’ for some reason) are a raucous mesh of noise and then stabs of brilliant invention that cut through like a radio signal coming out of white noise.

The unpublished photographs, nuanced liner notes and, deliciously, a download code for yet another concert (Hyde Park, 1971) not only reaffirm Fripp’s tenacity to keep creating and doing things in his own way, but to also frame those moments, hold them forever and see them sparkling in the light.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.