Overall, this is better than Lizard, but this is still one of the more overrated albums by a mostly overrated artist. Song-by-song review:
1. ”Formentera Lady” has some nice textures built out of bowed bass and sprinkled piano, mostly spent in its opening minutes. New vocalist Boz Burrell replaces Lizard’s then-new vocalist Gordon Haskell (who couldn’t sing) and … well … Boz can’t sing well either, but his voice doesn’t impose itself on you, which is a good thing. He steps back to let an opera singer carry the second half, and her voice does impose itself on you, which is a bad thing.
2. Robert Fripp composes two songs here, and “Sailor’s Tale” – the first – is one of the two best songs the album has to offer. But even this one can’t hold your attention for its entire runtime (protip: open it up in Audacity and slash the last 40 seconds of silence). The band work up a mean groove in the opening two minutes before the song shifts and Robert Fripp lets loose in one of his best guitar solos, all cold steel clamoring and clashing and trying to break free of the soundproof studio walls. The initial groove returns thereafter, but fully-formed from the get-go this time ‘round, building towards a climax and ending with only Robert Fripp sounding like a train arriving at the station.
3. “The Letters” employs BIG DYNAMIC SHIFTS to get your attention and that’s all there is to it.
4. ”Ladies of the Road” tries, it really does. I mean, the band throw so much at it that I can’t help but commend it – raunchy saxophones (that fit the song well), a Robert Fripp guitar solo (that doesn’t) and Beatles-like harmonies in the choruses (that’s somewhere in between). But the lyrics are unforgivable and intolerable in their stupidity; “High diving Chinese trender / Black hair and black suspender / Said, ’Please me no surrender / Just love to feel your Fender’” (because Chinese people talk like this, right? No, they don’t – not even in parodies). I get that King Crimson – not exactly the Rolling Stones in this department – are being satirical, but when I have to deal with lines like “Stone-headed Frisco spacer / Ate all the meat I gave her / Said would I like to taste hers / And even craved the flavor”, it feels more like wish-fulfillment than it does parody.
5. Robert Fripp’s other composition, “Prelude: Song of the Gulls” gets a lot of attention and … I don’t like it much. In fact, the song could’ve been shortened by half and become an interlude and it would have only better served the album. As for its sound, I’ll defer to Lester Bangs, who feels me on this issue (italics are mine): “’Prelude: Song of the Gulls,’ with its pizzicato strings and delicate oboe waftings, sounds like a commercial for a vaginal deodorant.”
6. But the band saves the best for last in the title track; easily one of King Crimson’s prettiest songs. Like “Formentera Lady,” there’s a lot of textures (ie. the piano twinkles starting at the 3:23 mark, or the piano, strings and vocals filling in the empty spaces during the cornet solo from 6:05 to 9:13), but the key difference is the textures here are second to an actual melody!
Bonus Track: Two minutes of tuning string instruments; fuck off.
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Robert Christgau: “When I feel the need for contemporary chamber music or sexist japes, jazz libre or vers ordinaire, I’ll go to the source(s).”
There exists a huge disconnect between the number of albums and the number of nebulae that can be used as album covers; I call this a waste of a perfectly good nebula.