King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues In Aspic: 40th Anniversary Edition (1973; 2012 reissue)

Besides King Crimson’s debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, and possibly Red and Discipline, no other album in their catalog has been as anticipated for a revisiting than 1973’s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

Chances are, had the “30th Anniversary Editions” of the King Crimson catalog been “it,” most of us would have been pretty satisfied. Excellent sound on CD paired with nice packaging (especially in the LP-style initially sold with these remasters) and small scrapbooks of photos and other period-appropriate band ephemera. But time marches on and the idea of breaking open those master tapes to have another go at them again proved too tempting to pass up.

These 40th Anniversary Editions are no mere remasters; no, these are (for the most part) complete remixes, staying essentially true to the style of the time but taking advantage of the capabilities of today’s audio equipment thanks, in no small part, to the mixing expertise of ex-Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson.

While the set is packed with goodies, the gem here, of course, is Wilson’s new mix. For an album four decades old, it sounds extremely fresh. Not updated, mind you – there’s no doubt this music’s vintage. It sounds bright and clean in a way that the original mix simply never could have. Wilson followed the basic template set out by the band’s self-production forty years ago, but made slight variations to give everything a bit more space to breathe. Some tracks you won’t notice it as much – “Book Of Saturday” sounds only slightly improved – but others are revelatory, such as “Easy Money,” where percussionist Jamie Muir’s contributions become much more noticeable in their own right. Everything benefits from Wilson’s touch, however.

This is, without a doubt, the best this music has, or will, ever sound on CD.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: John Wetton takes us into his legendary collaborations with Robert Fripp in the early 1970s-edition of King Crimson, as well as his time with UK and Asia.]

Tucking into that DVD reveals there are no less than six versions of the album – the two high resolution takes on the new mix and the original album (both 24/48 and 24/96, and both in stereo and surround), the 30th Anniversary Edition, and a set of alternate version consisting of different takes and mixes. It’s that last set that could prove the most interesting to long time fans. While the track list is the same, the versions are all together different.

“Larks’… Part 1″ eliminates a couple of minutes and some of the heavier overdubs for a more subdued, and kind of disturbingly open-ended climax while an intimate “Book Of Saturday” is a simple guitar/voice piece. An instrumental “Exiles” is next, allowing Fripp’s fairly rare acoustic guitar to take center stage, but this version also showcases an unusual addition of piano. Fans of Jamie Muir will delight in the solo mix of “Easy Money” that cuts out the rest of the band so his various weird percussive elements can stand on their own. “The Talking Drum” eliminates that too-long fade-in and lets the band get to business, as they do in concert – perhaps Wilson should have replaced the 2012 stereo mix with this take instead, and “Larks’… Part 2″ removes violinist David Cross all together. Fans of “Easy Money” will be happy to know there’s an alternate take of the full tune, this time sans Muir, to close out the disc. These are tracks for all those times when “what if” questions ran through your mind.

To cap it all off, the DVD features the only video performance of this particular lineup, a three-song set on Germany’s Beat Club where, as noted by in the booklet, they played two songs that had yet to be recorded (“Exiles” and “Larks’ 1″) and a nearly 30 minute improv later named “The Rich Tapestry Of Life.” It’s a real treat to watch Muir interact with the band. Fripp describes the percussionist as “not really straight enough” to be a drummer, and drummer Bill Bruford “perhaps a little too straight,” which is hard to believe when you know what Bruford was capable of even in the much more “straight” Yes. They play off of each other brilliantly, making Muir’s short time in the band such a shame. Despite David Cross fearing that he was “going to be found out now,” the whole band is performing at the top of their game here, playing at such a level that each member was feeding off the others’ energy.

Guided by Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, Wilson has assembled what must be considered the ultimate packages for each of the band’s albums, consisting generally of a remixed CD and a DVD packed with as much relevant material as could be mustered. In the case of this latest reissue, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic is packed to the gills with extra material. While one could splurge for a fifteen disc box that includes a bunch of live material, much of it of questionable quality, most of the real meat of that package is contained in the CD/DVD package (there is also a 2-CD package available with the 30th Anniversary Edition as the second disc).

All that’s missing from the CD/DVD edition is the box’s “Keep That One, Nick” sessions reels CD, a kind of making-of disc that documents the band in the studio as they work through the music. Besides, of course, the beautifully designed box, book, and other little non-essential niceties, that is. Your heart and your bank account have to decide how important that stuff is.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.