Flipping the Side

Recently, I did something that I hadn’t done in a long time: flipped the side. The record was King Crimson’s Red, a 1974 gem that rejoined my collection last May when an old college roommate unloaded a bunch of vinyl on me (not surprisingly, several other LPs of mine, missing since college, turned up in the stash). I can’t remember the last time I just sat and listened to a full album from start to finish without multitasking — was it high school? But Red had me riveted.

For a circa-1974 release from a “prog-rock” band, Red is surprisingly gritty. The eponymous first track finds Robert Fripp coaxing snaky, evil-sounding riffs from his guitar, while Bill Bruford sounds at times like he’s pounding on sheet metal — six years in advance of Industrial bands like Einstürzende Neubauten. And John Wetton’s distortion-laden bass is yet another departure from the genteel sonic norms of mainstream early-70s prog.

The jagged elements heard in Red’s opening instrumental continue throughout the album. For example, lyrics in songs like “Fallen Angel” conjure urban violence, while the instrumental “Providence” creeps slowly toward a free-jazz freak-out. Other tracks use horns and strings to balance Fripp and Bruford’s aggressive playing, which at certain points sounds like something copped from Mogwai’s Mr. Beast. But along with having an incredibly cohesive tone, Red just works as a whole — the sequencing and the flow are near perfect. No wonder Fripp dissolved the band once the album was finished.

Like many other folks, my music listening habits have become increasingly iPod-centric. I concern myself much more with crafting iTunes Playlists for sessions on the treadmill than appreciating albums as total works of art. But I’m glad I managed to break that routine long enough to rediscover Red — an album that, unlike many others in its genre, sounds fresh today.

When was the last time you flipped the side? —Al Griffin