King Crimson, released December 1971. Islands would be the last King Crimson studio album before the group's trilogy of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red. It's also the last to feature the lyrics of Peter Sinfield.
The harmonic basis for the tune "The Letters" is derived from the Giles, Giles and Fripp song "Why Don't You Just Drop In," available on The Brondesbury Tapes compilation.
The bridge section is also taken from the King Crimson version of the
song, performed by the original line-up, titled simply "Drop In" and
later released on the live-album Epitaph. The original basis for the song "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" is derived from the Giles, Giles and Fripp song "Suite No. 1". The first vinyl release of the album features a hidden track.
At the end of side two there is a recording of studio chatter followed
by Fripp saying, among other things, "...What we're going to do, umm...
do it twice more, once with the oboe, once without it, and then... we
finish." This was included on the initial CD release but was
accidentally left off the first pressings of the 1989 Definitive Edition
CD remaster. It was restored on all subsequent reissues.
The original United Kingdom and European cover depicts the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius and displays neither the name of the band nor the title. The original United States and Canadian album cover (as released by Atlantic Records)
was a Peter Sinfield painting of off-white with coloured "islands".
This was used as an internal gatefold sleeve in the UK. When the King
Crimson catalogue was re-issued by EG, they standardised on the "Trifid
Nebula" cover world-wide.
I really enjoy this 1971 release by King Crimson in spite of the fact
that it is neither as wildly virtuosic nor heavy as the first album and
the trio of brilliant albums released during 1973-1974. In contrast,
Islands is largely quiet and brooding, with dark, low tones played on
reed, brass, and string instruments, woodwinds, along with moody
mellotron pads here and there. With respect to the new band members,
bassist Boz Burrell's lack of familiarity with the electric bass and his
admittedly simplistic approach to the instrument might not have worked
in any other setting but works well in this stripped down context.
Fortunately, his lack of playing ability is more than compensated for by
his great vocal abilities, superior acoustic bassist Harry Miller (his
bowed and plucked parts are featured on the first piece), and superb
drumming by Ian Wallace. Fripp of course is excellent as both a
composer/arranger and guitarist, although his guitar playing is not
featured prominently on this album - in fact, with the exception of a
single, frenzied guitar solo on Sailor's Tale, the electric guitar is
pretty much absent. Keboardist extraordinaire Keith Tippett is another
person that I wish there was more of on this album. The pieces
including Formentara Lady/Sailor's Tale, The Letters, and Islands are
more or less similarly sullen, quiet, and acoustic, while the
classically influenced instrumental Song of the Gulls is hauntingly
beautiful and features a wonderful string arrangement written by Robert
Fripp. In stark contrast to these five pieces is Ladies of the Road,
which is a brash and vulgar song (with Beatle-esque undertones) that
pays homage to groupies and is not terribly good, although Mel Collins
sax solo is perfectly "brash and vulgar". Although this album may not
be a fan favorite and the lineup was pretty awful live (listen to
Earthbound for proof), I find great pleasure in the overall darkness and
gloom of the recording. Although King Crimson would go on to greater
things following this album, I consider this an excellent addition to
any King Crimson collection.
When I first listened to 'Letters', back in 1971, I found myself shaking
afterwards! When I listen to this song today, it has the same effect on
me as back then! Nothing has changed, because this incredible album was
eons ahead of its time, to begin with. It's no wonder that many
Crimson fans do not place this gem where it belongs: It's too personal,
too esoteric, perhaps fully accessible only to the "initiates" (let us
not forget that Robert Fripp is a very spiritual person and a serious
student/teacher of meditation. In fact, in his guitar school,
meditation is an integral part of the student's training). This album
certainly contains the best elements of King Crimson's music. The heavy
(Sailor's Tale), the lyrical (Formentera Lady, Islands), the classical
(Prelude..), the jazzy (Letters, Sailor's Tale), and the pop/humorous
(Ladies of the Road). But most important, behind the real beauty of the
music, comes a message of despair and agony: The cry of the
contemporary man who tries to escape the crashing loneliness of this
age. The need of us humans to escape our plightful, lonely "island"
state of existence and merge into a collective consciousness (..Islands
join hands 'neath heaven sea). Together with 'Red', this is not only
my favourite Crimson album, but one of my five favourite albums ever!
1. Formentera Lady (10:14)
2. Sailor's Tale (7:21)
3. The Letters (4:26)
4. Ladies Of The Road (5:28)
5. Prelude: Song Of The Gulls (4:14)
6. Islands (11:51)
Total Time: 43:34
Line-up / Musicians
- Robert Fripp / guitar, Mellotron, Peter's Pedal Harmonium and sundry implements
- Mel Collins / flute, bass flute, saxes and vocals
- Boz Burrell / bass guitar, lead vocals and choreography
- Ian Wallace / drums, percussion and vocals
- Peter Sinfield / words, sounds and visions
- Keith Tippet / piano
- Paulina Lucas / soprano
- Robin Miller / oboe
- Mark Charig / cornet
- Harry Miller / string bass