soundstreamsunday: “Starless” by King Crimson

kingcrimsonKing Crimson appeared in 1969 as an island, on the far side of the bridge joining a tiring psychedelic scene to a studied, if no less freaky (for its age), “progressive” rock.  In its nearly fifty years the group’s membership has drifted in and out through orbits around guitarist Robert Fripp, his steady hand and heart dissolving and reforming Crimson as there is music for it to play.  As Fripp assembled the band’s third incarnation, Crimson was riding a wave of popularity the rewards of which didn’t settle entirely well with him, and in promising a more difficult, rockier terrain he was able to lure drummer Bill Bruford, looking for a similar fresh start, from megaprog juggernaut Yes.  With violinist David Cross and bassist/vocalist John Wetton, the band created three albums in quick succession, ranking among their diverse best.  1974’s Red, the last of the trio, is an able summation of Crimson to that point, before Fripp forcibly retired the band (he would let Crimson lie dormant until a brilliant, left-field return in 1981).  The music is a metallic, abrasive take on contemplating the dying of the light, its mood no doubt reflecting Fripp’s, and his band’s, growing uneasiness.

In its lyric, “Starless” is an extension of the previous album’s title, Starless and Bible Black,  but the resemblance more-or-less ends there.  It has more in common with the grandeur of Crimson’s first record, In the Court of the Crimson King, mellotrons drifting into Fripp’s signature sustained tones, with Wetton’s vocal part an overtly dramatic (such was Wetton’s m.o., but here it works) preamble to a long instrumental passage as heavy a piece of jazz metal fusion as has ever been created.  For all his professorial demeanor and seriousness, Fripp loves a good stoner riff, and the tension he can build around such beasts — harmonic, exploratory — separates him from the pack.  Brainy, yes, but beguiling, gorgeous, devastating.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

5 thoughts on “soundstreamsunday: “Starless” by King Crimson

  1. Michał

    “Fripp loves a good stoner riff.” Precisely. This is the aspect of KC that is criminally overlooked by critics. This is why KC is so different than other tech-prog-whatever bands out there. This not-really-metal heaviness that seems outside the triangle formed by high-brow prog lyrics/concepts, intricate harmonies/arrangements and improv freakouts.

    This is what the 80’s KC lacked, by the way.

    “Brainy, yes, but beguiling, gorgeous, devastating.” Yes!

    Spot on, Craig!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks so much Craig for posting this. I’ve never cared for Fripp but absolutely LOVE the three albums KC made with Bruford and Wetton. Starless is my favorite KC song and one of my all time favorites–period. Then again, I was a Wetton fan-boy loving UK, ASIA and all his solo work as well. R.I.P.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kruekutt

    I think the Larks’ Tongues/Starless/Red period was what cemented my love for Crimson. I bought Red in the early 80s, when it was only available as a British import, and it’s been one of my favorite albums ever since. The recent box sets (Complete LTIA recordings, Starless, and especially The Road to Red) reinforce how creative this version of the band was onstage, and how much groundwork lay behind the finished albums. Thanks for this.

    Like

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