Few recordings from the height of the '70s progressive-rock movement brought about swifter and more assured transition to a band than Larks' Tongues in Aspic did for King Crimson in 1973.
After struggling with the disintegration of two touring versions of the band and lineup changes that shifted dramatically over its first four albums, Crimson sharpened and streamlined (somewhat) its sound by dumping horns and reeds, adding violin, intensifying its percussive attack and placing the guitar work of group founder Robert Fripp (the only holdover from the previous Crimson bands) front and center. Those attributes become luminous on a new 40th-anniversary edition of Larks' Tongues mixed by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Fripp.
The interplay between two then-new members, percussionist Jamie Muir (who toured with this lineup at its inception in late 1972 but vanished by the time the album was released) and violinist David Cross percolates like a wind-up toy during the opening Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One and colors much of the animated music that follows. But it is during the opening passages that their playing benefits most from the clarity of this new mix.
The three vocal tunes (Book of Saturday, Exile and Easy Money) introduce bassist/vocalist John Wetton (who would gain international fame a decade later with Asia). But the rubbery depth of Wetton's bass playing during the neo-bolero The Talking Drum is what truly comes alive on this edition.
Yet the big delight is the pairing of Fripp with drummer Bill Bruford (who had exited Yes at its creative zenith before joining Crimson). The two are musical juggernauts throughout the album. The real magic of the newly remixed music is the drive created when the two lock horns during the closing Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two. Cross gets his licks in, but the introductory sparks created by Fripp and Bruford form one of the cleanest, simplest and most infectious riffs of prog-rock past. What a delight it is to hear it again with such assertive detail and depth.
Lark's Tongues returns to us this winter in several editions, including a monster boxed set that compiles virtually every available studio and concert recording by this quintet Crimson band (the latter being comprised of bootleg recordings of varying quality.
Reviewed here was a two-disc edition that adds unreleased versions of Book of Saturday and a more elemental version of The Talking Drum, with a chattering percussive preamble by Muir. The second disc is devoted to audio and video mixes highlighted by vintage television performances of this Crimson.
The basic album rightfully remains the big prize. Artfully restored and enhanced, Larks' Tongues can now reclaim its place as an essential prog recording. This new edition should delight veteran fans and, in a perfect world, astound new ones.