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King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black

November 26, 2010

Today’s roll: 2 – 5 – 3.
Result:
Starless and Bible Black by King Crimson.

With their first five albums, King Crimson precariously balanced a tightrope between progressive rock and that four-letter-word, prog. In 1974 they finally lost their balance and their sixth album, Starless and Bible Black, proves what many had always believed. King Crimson were total wankers.

From the get-go Robert Fripp used Crimson to push the pretension envelope. Their 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, blends jazz, metal, folk and classical into an audacious melange that was—and remains—truly progressive. It was also rock.

Over the next four albums, even in the songs featuring mainly strings, Mellotron and flute, there is a revolutionary fire that burns underneath. No matter how skilled the players or meticulous the arrangements are, it’s still rock’n’roll somehow.

If this creative fire was already beginning to diminish by 1973’s Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, it’s all but extinguished with Starless and Bible Black.

This isn’t to say the album doesn’t technically “rock” in places. The opening track blasts in with a juggernaut of a groove and “Lament” does its best to shake the speakers. But everything on the album is stripped of its passion, replaced by inhumanly tight synchronized phrases which feel planned down to the last nuance of every note.

Though musicianship had always been a centerpiece of what King Crimson was all about, this is the first time the musicianship takes precedence over the music. Previously the players seemed to be mere conduits for a creative and inventive expression with a life of its own. Starless, on the other hand, feels as if it’s being played by joyless machines with a clinical exactness both impressive and nausea inducing.

This is the kairotic moment where progressive rock becomes the loathesome prog. When you can’t honestly call it rock anymore and the whole becomes less than the sum of its parts.

Fripp would remedy this later the same year with the kraut-rock and (sometimes collaborator) Brian Eno influenced Red, but Starless remains a milestone truly terrible album in the Crimson catalogue signifying the end of their genius, warning the listener to pass no further.

Simply put, Starless and Bible Black is unlistenable in its pretentiously cloying sterility.

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