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King Crimson - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.80 | 1641 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TCat
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Wow, the reviews for this one are all over the place. It was not very well received by most reviewers when it was released, and here in the Archives, the reviews are really mixed. Personally, I love the album, maybe it's not as good as the first 2 albums, but it's close, and it is better than "Lizard" (except for the amazing title track) which was ruined by the worst vocalist hired by Fripp. Thank goodness they had Jon Anderson sing part of the epic title track, and even Haskell did a decent job on his part of that track.

For "Islands", Boz Burell was hired on as vocalist and as bass guitarist. At least he is a better singer, more dynamic, but still far from the best. Apparently, Boz wasn't that good of a bass guitar player when he was brought into KC, at least not as good as Fripp thought he was when he hired him on, but instead of searching for someone else, Fripp worked one on one with him, and got him up to snuff. The band however, pretty much had decided to all go their own separate ways after this record was finished, but they afterward agreed to stay together at least until the tour was over. The tour must have gone well because they all decided to tell Fripp that they were going to remain with him, but Fripp had already moved on. Burell of course, went on to help form Bad Company and ended up in a good way for that.

So, for this album....it is not quite as chaotic and crazy as the previous efforts, it is more mellow for the most part, but don't let that fool you because it is quite a study in contrasts. You have to be careful with this one because you will turn up the volume to hear the minimal and quiet sections, but you'll suddenly be blown away by bursts of heaviness coming from either the brass or the guitar, so be ready. That, to me, is what makes this album so unique compared to their others, the dynamics are amazing here, but it can get rather quiet, and those bursts can be quite surprising, but they are very effective. Better control over these bursts in loudness will happen on later albums though. Dynamics will be handled better, but in the meantime, that doesn't make this a bad album, not at all. I kind of like the surprises hidden throughout this album.

"Formentera Lady" is a 10 minute track that is quite mellow all the way through. It is quite a well composed song for being so soft and pensive, but there is plenty to keep it interesting. Towards the end, Boz improvises with wordless vocals and his voice goes soaring off into places it probably shouldn't have, but it does kind of add to the psychedelia of the piece anyway. At the end of the track, you hear the click-ity click of the cymbal as the next track "Sailor's Tale" takes over, and it suddenly jumps right onto the previous track in a sudden contrast of sounds. This is a completely instrumental track in 3 distinct parts. The first part is a bit reminiscent of "...Schizoid Man" and concentrates on strings in a wild frenzy of sound. After this the track changes to a new harder rhythm and you get crazy strumming and guitar sounds being coaxed out of Fripp's guitar. I love the intensity here, and it builds into beautiful chaotic heaviness. The last section concentrates on the mellotron, but even then, the intensity doesn't give in at all and this works out very well overall. This is a masterpiece of a track and on any other album, the piece would have gotten the recognition it deserves. After this is a vocal track called "The Letters" which is one of the studies of contrasts that I was talking about. It starts out almost folky and barely discernible with a slight build, but not much. Even with me telling you that the sax is going to come in a blow out your speakers, you still won't be ready for how truly intense and how "opposite" this sound is to what you had been hearing. Dissonant sax from Collins will melt your eardrums if your not careful. I'm warning you in advance, so be ready.

"Ladies of the Road" comes next, and despite the x rated lyrics, it's still a better composed song than the previous one, even though it is quite similar, that crazy contrast is there again, dissonance, short bursts of chaotic beauty from the sax mostly, but still far from being avant garde, more like a warped jazz than anything. The next track is "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" and continuing in the contrast theme, this one is an extremely beautiful track all instrumental and all strings. I mean this is so stunningly lovely that it might bring a tear to your eye, quite the opposite from the previous track. The last track is another long track and is the title track "Islands" This one is once again quite mellow like the first track, but with a more traditional sounding melody, one that is easy to pick up quite quickly. The vocals are soft and the instruments are mellow and consist of flutes and guitars and keys etc. but is more of a pastoral sound. The music does build a bit and becomes fuller, but the main feeling stays throughout the song. It has a lovely and understated climax.

I imagine many KC listeners were a little disappointed with this album because it doesn't contain as much substance in the way of hard sounds like previous endeavors, this album still concentrates on contrast, but relies more on the softer side of things. But this also brings your attention to the complexity of KC's music and the harsh passages are even more harsh when contrasted to the minimalism of the album. I can easily give this one 4 stars and feel good about it, because I still appreciate the music and the sound and I could easily consider it's highest points (namely "Sailor's Tale" and "Song of the Gulls" with "Ladies of the Road" being a runner-up) as some of KC's best music. It is overall quite an under rated album, and unfortunately one that gets ignored because of the subsequent albums which now overshadow it, and rightfully so, but that doesn't mean this one should be ignored. It has it's gems and if you have explored KCs music, then you should eventually come back to this one.

TCat | 4/5 |

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