by Rick Krueger
Autumn is coming; can a Big Box Set o’ King Crimson be far behind? In recent years, we’ve seen multiple-disc, multiple-format bundles based on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and THRAK, along with a package focused on the 1980s albums (Discipline, Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair). Each set has yielded an surfeit of riches: the 40th anniversary stereo and surround mixes of the studio albums; album rehearsals, outtakes and alternate mixes; and (for my money, the best part) more live performances, on both audio and video, than you can shake a stick at.
Robert Fripp has called the period covered by Sailors’ Tales (1970-1972) King Crimson’s “interregnum.” After Ian McDonald, Michael Giles and Greg Lake left the original band, Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield struggled to assemble a Crimson that would stay together long enough to record and tour. In the Wake of Poseidon (1970) mixed players and ideas from the 1969 band with new material and musicians, including stunning saxophone work from Mel Collins. Lizard (1971) spun in a more avant-garde direction; the cream of British free jazz players sat in, but vocalist Gordon Haskell quit before the album was even released. (Is this why Yes’ Jon Anderson sings lead on one track?) For Islands (1972), a solid line-up finally coalesced: Fripp, Collins, vocalist Boz Burrell (taught to play bass parrot-fashion for touring) and drummer Ian Wallace. This Crimson proved ferocious live, but as they downplayed the new album’s pastel romanticism in favor of straight-up blues/jazz improv, friction mounted again. Sinfield was forced out; the remaining quartet fell apart, then did a contractual-obligation US tour (documented on the bargain live album Earthbound), then tried to reform, then broke up for good.
No wonder Fripp basically disowned this era of Crimson for years; it took his 1990s reconciliation with Collins and Wallace, the release of multiple 1971-72 concerts through the King Crimson Collectors’ Club, and Steven Wilson’s revelatory remix of Lizard to ultimately change his mind. With the current Crimson regularly performing music from all three albums (and Fripp and Collins both tearing up these selections onstage), the time is ripe for the rest of the world to find out why.
Thus, Sailors’ Tales. As spelled out in the DGM press release:
- 3 CDs feature Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp stereo mixes of In The Wake Of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands plus additional tracks.
- 6 CDs feature the Islands line-up’s early concerts from Germany (new to CD) and the UK (1971).
- 9 CDs feature live recordings (several new to CD and/or previously unreleased in any format) from the 1972 US tour, including a new stereo mix of Summit Studios and an expanded Earthbound.
- 3 CDs feature auditions for the Islands band and two further, as yet, unidentified concerts from 1972 (all previously unreleased).
- 3 Blu-Ray discs contain the main studio albums in 5.1 Surround Sound, recent stereo editions mixed by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp, 30th anniversary masters of the original stereo albums mixes (all in 24/96 hi-res), plus extensive additional material with each disc also featuring a complete alternate album and a further selection of additional, related studio/live material in hi-res.
- The Lizard Blu-Ray also contains the audition material from CDs 19/20.
- The Islands Blu-Ray also contains the following concerts in stereo: Zoom Club (4 shows), Marquee Club, Plymouth, Glasgow, Detroit all from 1971.
- A 4th, Earthbound Tour Blu-Ray disc features an expanded version of the original album, Summit Studios gig in Stereo and Quadraphonic (newly mixed), the “Schizoid Men” sequence from the Ladies of the Road album, 2 newly discovered concerts in hi-res stereo and every existing soundboard concert recording from the 1972 US tour: Wilmington, NYC (2 shows), Chicago (2 tracks only), Detroit, Jacksonville, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Peoria, Indianapolis & Denver (2 shows).
- 2 DVDs feature the expanded Earthbound, Summit Studios, “Schizoid Men,” New York 1972 and the recently discovered live concerts.
- Presented in a 12” box with booklet, memorabilia, a further downloadable concert, and sleeve-notes by Sid Smith, Jakko Jakszyk and David Singleton.
Too much? The budget option is a new CD/DVD edition of Earthbound, expanded from 5 to 12 tracks as on Sailors’ Tales, with the DVD also containing Summit Studios and “Schizoid Men.”