Barry Cleveland: Previewing King Crimson’s The Road to Red 24-Disc Box Set

December 02, 2013
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Photo by Paul Haggard

Red marked the end of the line for the late-1972-to-’74 lineup of King Crimson—a group that began as a quintet, soon became a quartet, and ended its existence as a trio. The half-lit monochrome faces of guitarist/keyboardist Robert Fripp, drummer/percussionist Bill Bruford, and bassist/vocalist John Wetton peer from the cover. A month before the album was released, the band officially “ceased to exist,” in the words of Fripp.

Red is singular within the Crimson canon for various reasons, but perhaps of particular interest to GP readers is that Fripp employs multiple guitar overdubs to orchestrate some of the pieces—a technique that makes Red the most guitar-centric King Crimson album up to that point (and, arguably, ever).

Red also represented the culmination of a creative evolution throughout which the band’s live sound became increasingly concentrated and heavy—far exceeding the intensity and sheer weightiness of music played by “proto-metal” contemporaries such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and even Black Sabbath. The impact of Red on the subsequent development of metal, hard rock, progressive rock, and even punk is considerable.

The Road to Red is as gargantuan as the music it contains. Comprising 21 CDs, a DVD, and two Blu-ray discs—not to mention a 37-page book and assorted memorabilia—it is nearly overwhelming in scope. In addition to several versions of the studio album—including a new stereo remix by Fripp and Steven Wilson, and their 5.1 surround mix from 2009—there are also multiple versions of the 1975 live album USA, and a multitude of live recordings, some presented in high-resolution audio formats in addition to the standard 16-bit/44.1kHz CD versions.

The quality of the quartet's live recordings—which include violinist/keyboardist David Cross—ranges from remixed professional multitracks to soundboard cassette recordings made by the band to a surprisingly good audience-member bootleg of the Band’s legendary—and final—July 1, 1974 Central Park show.

Click here for complete details and also credits for the additional musicians that appear on Red.

The booklet contains information on the contents of every disc, an excellent essay by KC historian Sid Smith, notes on the audio sources and restoration processes by engineer David Singleton, copious excerpts from Fripp’s journals between April 11 and July 2, 1974 (accompanied by eyewitness accounts of the various shows), and lots of cool photos and other visuals, including a session track sheet, a handwritten lyric worksheet, and a page of music from Fripp’s manuscript book.

It will take quite a while to listen to all of the music on The Road to Red, but I can tell you that the new stereo remix by Fripp and Wilson is simply breathtaking—revealing many details obscured in the original, while retaining its essential power and focus—and the six live shows I’ve heard so far are spectacular.

I was quite fortunate to see the ’73-’74 lineup of King Crimson twice, and my view of music and the powers that inform it changed forever as a result. Even the best recordings can’t fully convey the otherworldly character of the forces invoked by the band, or substitute for the experience of being physically present in the room—but they can convey something of the sublime and transformational power of the performances.

I highly recommend this box set, but if you want to secure a copy, act quickly, as only a few remain in the pipeline, and there will be no more once those are gone.

Barry
barrycleveland.com

P.S. John Kelman presents his erudite perspective on The Road to Red in this extensive review on All About Jazz.

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