King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic came alive again with masterful remaster

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Besides In the Court of the Crimson King, and possibly Red and Discipline, no other album in King Crimson’s catalog more richly deserves revisiting than Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.
And, with the 30th anniversary editions of the King Crimson catalog, that had been done — leaving most of us pretty satisfied. The reissue featured 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 King Crimson 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.

Fast forward a few years, and the 40th anniversary editions of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (originally released on March 23, 1973) weren’t simply remasters. No, they were — 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 this Larks’ Tongues in Aspic set was packed with goodies, the gem here, of course, was Steven Wilson’s new mix. For an album already 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 King Crimson’s self-production four decades before, 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.

Then, tucked into that DVD were no less than six versions of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: 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 versions consisting of different takes and mixes. It’s that last set that probably proved the most interesting to long-time fans. While the track list was the same, the versions were all together different.

“Larks’… Part 1” eliminated 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” was revealed as a simple guitar/voice piece. An instrumental “Exiles” was next, allowing Robert Fripp’s fairly rare acoustic guitar to take center stage, but this version also showcased an unusual addition of piano. Fans of Jamie Muir likely delighted in the solo mix of “Easy Money” that cuts out the rest of King Crimson, so his various weird percussive elements could stand on their own. “The Talking Drum” eliminated that too-long fade-in and let the band get to business, as they do in concert. (Perhaps Steven Wilson should have replaced the 2012 stereo mix with this take instead.) “Larks’… Part 2” removed violinist David Cross all together. Fans of “Easy Money” were no doubt happy to know there was an alternate take of the full tune, this time sans Muir, to close out the disc. These were tracks for all those times when “what if” questions ran through your mind.

To cap it all off, the expanded Larks’ Tongues in Aspic edition’s DVD featured 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 was a real treat to watch Muir interact with King Crimson.

Robert Fripp has described the percussionist as “not really straight enough” to be a drummer, and 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 played off of each other brilliantly, making Jamie Muir’s short time in King Crimson such a shame. Despite David Cross’ fears about this Larks’ Tongues in Aspic reissue (he said he was “going to be found out now”), the whole band was performing at the top of their game here, playing at such a level that each member was feeding off the others’ energy.

[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.]

Guided by Robert Fripp, Steven Wilson has been assembling what must be considered the ultimate packages for each of King Crimson’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 particular reissue, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic was packed to the gills with extra material. While one could splurge for a 15-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 was also a 2-CD package available with the 30th Anniversary Edition as the second disc.)

All that was 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 King Crimson 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. As another anniversary arrives for Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, your heart (and your bank account) will have to decide how important that stuff is.

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