King Crimson, Red (40th Anniversary Series)[Inner Knot]
For progressive and classic rock bands releasing albums in 1974, the bar was set pretty high. In the wake of milestone releases from bands like Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer came King Crimson’s seminal album Red, in which the power trio of guitarist Robert Fripp, drummer Bill Bruford, and bassist/vocalist John Wetton took the seemingly welldrawn boundary between ethereal progressive rock and early hard rock and smashed it to dark, dissonant pieces. The result was an album that influenced future musicians—and bassists—far beyond what was imaginable at the time.
A large part of the record’s continuing influence can be traced to Wetton’s snarling, distorted bass tone. Taking Chris Squire’s high-end edge and Geezer Butler’s thick fuzz several steps further, Wetton’s overdrive dominates the mix in a way that today’s edgier tonal explorers—Billy Sheehan, Les Claypool, Tim Commerford, Justin Chancellor, and Chris Wolstenholme—pay constant tribute to, consciously or not.
Armed with such righteous tone, Wetton cuts deeply. The title track has its famous dirge guitars and high-register bass bends, but Wetton lays down a groove sludgy enough to somehow make Bruford sound greasy. “One More Red Nightmare” is a riff for the ages, but Fripp’s upper-register whole-tone thirds wouldn’t work without Wetton’s two-ton anchors below them. The opening distorted bass envelope swell of “Fallen Angel” seems transported in time back from the ’90s; the epic bassline of that tune’s bridge at 3:05 is pure metal in its infancy. The long, patiently building middle section of “Starless” is a testament to tone-driven, bass-created tension, and the live improv “Providence” features Wetton throttling his bass like an angry, feedingback guitar on the edge of exploding.
This deluxe re-issue package is stuffed with extra goodies like a 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, live video from a 1974 French TV performance, new liner notes from Fripp himself, bonus audio tracks (revealing trio/instrumental versions of “Red” and “Fallen Angel”), and much more. It’s worth it on those grounds, but even without the frills, the record is more relevant than ever. Want to know how modern rock and metal got so damned heavy, and how bass ended up prominently featured in that revival? Red is an essential signpost in that inquiry.