Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is the Fifth Album by the English Progressive-Rock Band King Crimson. Though frequently credited with “inventing” the genre, King Crimson never fitted into most of the common progressive rock clichés. No cheesy concept albums, no sci-fi escapism, not too much overblown soloing, no horrible “rock” renditions of Pictures At An Exhibition (*coughcough*). In fact, starting with guitarist/mellotron player/leader Robert Fripp’s first from-scratch lineup rebuild in 1973, they turned into an increasingly strange beast, marrying brain-melting heavy rock to European-free-jazz-esque playing disciplines and souping it up with plenty of exotic influences and instruments. For Larks’… Fripp sought a different sound than all the previous Albums, he dropped the characteristic Saxophone and woodwinds, and brought to the Band the principle of Improvisation. Fripp also brought Drummer Bill Bruford along. Bruford was already an experienced Musician, having just recorded Yes’s Close To The Edge (He left the Band due to being confident that he had done all he could there and wanting to expand his Musical competences even further. Crimson’s new Jazz-Fusion Improvisational Sound was exactly what he wanted). This is often considered to be one of the Finest examples of the Sound of King Crimson and numerous times associated with the Cosmic-Rock sonority. There have been four “official” (Studio) parts to the song which is named after the Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ composition The Lark Ascending. I say official because, due to the improvisational nature of the band, countless live variations exist. For this post I will feature live renditions of each part and list the versions in order.
Part I is the longest part of the song and was first released in 1973 on the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic album. It begins with a long percussion introduction, provided by Jamie Muir (an associate of improv guitar legend Derek Bailey) on African thumb pianos and sheet metal which lulls the listener in and then, all of a sudden gives way to an eerie bridge of violin (bowman David Cross was a full-time member of the band then) and bass, before entering a driving, hard rock section fueled by Robert Fripp’s electric guitar. It slows down after a few minutes with David Cross’ violin becoming more prominent until the beginning of Book of Saturday. Few live performances have been documented; however, one is available on the King Crimson Collectors’ Club release The Beat Club, Bremen.
Part II is driven throughout by guitars and recalls a few segments of Part I. The beginning developed into the familiar rhythm found in Parts III and IV. This is the second shortest part of the epic, but also the most familiar. It was released, as with Part I, on the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic album. It segues out of The Talking Drum and was usually performed directly after it. Fripp said that the guitar starting rhythm is inspired by the “Dance of the Young Girls” part in Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” ballet. The version shown above was performed in 1982 by the re-formed King Crimson which retained Bruford and included guitarist Adrian Belew (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails), as well as session ace Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Seal, Yes). More about this unit here: 1995’s expanded “Double Troika”, (6 members) also did ver II. It can be heard here:
Part III appeared on 1984’s Three of a Perfect Pair album. It featured familiar rhythms to the first two parts, but was delivered much differently. The sound was far more electronic-sounding, as evidenced by the intro alone, a quotation of the guitar rhythm at 4:50 on Part I. This is the shortest part of the epic. It is positioned at the end of the LP, on side 2, which consisted of more experimental tracks.
This part was only played live in 1984 and always directly followed “No Warning” and was followed by “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (no story). Because this part was only performed on the Three of a Perfect Pair tour, not many live versions have been released. However, an audio version can be found on Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal as well as the above version on the DVD Neal and Jack and Me. (along with part II shown previously).
Part IV was first released on 2000’s The ConstruKction of Light; it is the second-longest part of the epic at just over nine minutes; even if the coda, “I Have a Dream” is included – as it is in live recordings – this part is still shorter than Part I. It is similar, in many ways, to Part II. Like most tracks on The ConstruKction of Light, it is heavily guitar driven with a variety of effects applied to the sound. If the coda is included, then this is the only part which includes vocals. The vocals are processed to make Adrian’s voice sound heavily mechanical as he makes note of several of the most world-shatteringly important (and some not so important) events of the 20th century, focusing heavily on loss and sadness. It made a reference to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The vocals were later dropped from the live performance.
Lark’s Tongue in Aspic is Jazz-Fusion. I mean, Progressive-Rock. I mean Heavy-Metal? It is what it is. I’ve always found the descriptions of KC’s music very lacking and not grasping the true complexity of their Sound. I cannot do it. No one can do it. Sometimes Music surpasses Writing (Faulkner used to say that if he hadn’t got such a bad ear, he would be playing Music, not writing, as Music is the only Art that can translate feelings with total precision). Do yourself a favor, don’t over-analyze it, just listen to it.