Had the family car today, which means a (vastly) better listening environment than the Jeep. On such occasions I will frequently arrange a more intentional listening session, for the 20 mile drive to and from work. Today, that was King Crimson’s 1973 record, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, which I haven’t really listened to closely in some years.
Holy cow, what a triumph. Even now, with all that has happened in music since–a notion that’s nearly incomprehensible in and of itself–the record’s ideas and experiments just drip with freshness and authority. What it must have been like in 1973, coming nearly out of nowhere (King Crimson having been in a sort of perpetual shambles since the end of 1969) is something I can only speculate about, but for the average rock-idiom listener at least, it must have been like being hit by a truck. I recall Robert describing it somewhere as a “leaner” and “more muscular” Crim than earlier ones, which is true enough–the raw power the band had is justifiably legendary–but boy, does that risk oversimplifying a host of nuance within the group as well. And that nuance comes out more on the LITA record than anything which followed it.*
Just consider “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One”. On YouTube:
This is a simply massive statements. (Yes, plural. Definitely plural.) The closer you get to it, the more carefully you listen, the more inventiveness you hear at every turn.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I know that when I first heard LTIA (around 1990, I’d guess) I was by no means ready to grok all the things I can hear now, and of course there is probably still an ocean left to discover. Other parts of the record spoke to me more immediately–“LITA Part Two” and “Easy Money” most prominently–and “LTIA Part One” was comparatively a slower burn. Not to worry of course; true masterpieces of art simply wait patiently until we clouded dolts make ourselves available for the experience.
Man, I love drives like that.
Because Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, that’s why.
* One gets the impression, both just from listening to the music and also from reading Robert’s comments over the years, that this new edition of Crim found its voice right away (something that just as self-evidently happened with ’69 and ’81 Crims, as well), but then grew quickly into an almost self-competitive beast that shed members and eventually collapsed of its own mass. (Maybe the KC muse was simply drunk on its own power…) On one hand, what a shame to lose Jamie’s brilliance** so soon, and to have David essentially drowned out by the ridiculous power of the Wetton-Bruford rhythm section (Robert considered it all that he could do just to keep up)… The flip side of course is that we got to see just how much Bill learned from working with Jamie–wow!–and what the group did manage to achieve in 1973-4 is nothing short of staggering; for some of us at least, it’s hard to imagine more significant music than this. It may “belong” to the rock music idiom, but there is so much more in there than just that–and that’s before considering how much of it was group-improvised…
** Want to hear something really nerdly fascinating? Check out this clip of Jamie’s isolated track from the studio recording of “Easy Money”. Who else would have come up with this? Yes, this man is an artist.