King Crimson's "Larks' Tongue in Aspic" is an Acquired Taste: Prog Rock Countdown #20

King Crimson's "Larks' Tongue in Aspic" is an Acquired Taste: Prog Rock Countdown #20

King Crimson Larks' Tongue in Aspic.jpg


Larks' Tongue in Aspic
has a lot going for it. In the prog department, its experimentalism strikes you right off the bat with its slowly mounting wall of sound. The xylophone, chimes, and other percussion swell and wane, while jagged guitar and spooky violins form not quite melody, but something approaching music. Nearly four minutes into "Larks' Tongue in Aspic, Part One," there's a satisfying crunch of a guitar riff, repeated again about a minute later. For the next nine minutes or so, you're anticipating its return, but the song dances around the idea with frenzied drumming and psychedelic guitar noodling before drifting off into some dreamy violin snippets. A slow build gets us ready for the return of that cathartic guitar riff, but the idea is aborted after the first chord, leaving the song to halfheartedly melt away in the last minute of this 14-minute song. It's very cool experimental stiff, but not the sort of thing that'll keep you coming back for more and more listens.

That's just a (very long) prelude to an album full of satisfying moments stitched together with atmospheric thread. The album approaches some of the beauty of In the Court of the Crimson King in the short and soulful "Book of Saturday" and the plaintive "Exiles." The former is a tight, vocal-driven ballad forming a sharp contrast with "Larks' Tongue" before it. This sets the stage for "Exiles," a deeper, darker foray into melancholia that defines some of King Crimson's best songs, like "Starless" and "Islands". Mellotron and strings (real or synthesized) is a sadly underused combination that fortunately receives its due on this beautiful track; unfortunately, the album never again reaches these heights of profundity in its second half.

Nevertheless, Larks' Tongue in Aspic is also a great album if you're looking for more of the jagged, heavy sounds of Red, albeit with more breathing room for textured weirdness and slow grooves. The album trades more heavily on electric guitar in its second half, with crunchy rock riffs dominating. "Easy Money" sandwiches a mellower, proggier instrumental section between its raucous and jazzy bookending sections. From there, "The Talking Drum" slowly builds over 7 minutes to a burning crescendo of nearly unbearable sound, silenced only by a violin squeal that immediately launches into the syncopated staccato of "Larks' Tongue in Aspic, Part Two," a mercifully shorter and more coherent song than "Part One."

The album intrigues me for the same reason I don't love it: with the exception of "Exiles," all the songs promise more than they deliver. King Crimson's improvisational approach yields surprising and mesmerizing results, but it can almost as often leave musical ideas unexplored and underdeveloped. Red is the pinnacle of what King Crimson could accomplish with their approach; Larks' Tongue demonstrates what happens when they come close, but don't quite hit the mark. I've been listening to some live versions of these songs from Larks' Tongue, and they are much successful than the album versions that lay the groundwork for a band whose nature naturally makes their songs more engaging live.

Rolling Stone Rankings                       

  1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  2. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  3. Rush - Moving Pictures

  4. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

  5. Yes – Close to the Edge

  6. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  7. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  8. Can - Future Days

  9. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  10. Yes - Fragile

  11. Rush - Hemispheres

  12. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  13. Pink Floyd - Animals

  14. Genesis - Foxtrot

  15. King Crimson - Red

  16. Gentle Giant - Octopus

  17. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

  18. Frank Zappa - One Size Fits All

  19. Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico

  20. King Crimson - Larks’ Tongue in Aspic

ASK Rankings

  1. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  2. Genesis - Foxtrot

  3. Yes – Close to the Edge

  4. King Crimson - Red

  5. Gentle Giant - Octopus

  6. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  7. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  8. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  9. Rush - Moving Pictures

  10. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  11. Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico

  12. King Crimson - Larks’ Tongue in Aspic

  13. Pink Floyd - Animals

  14. Frank Zappa - One Size Fits All

  15. Yes - Fragile

  16. Rush - Hemispheres

  17. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  18. Can - Future Days

  19. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

  20. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

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