Lee Speaks About Music… #30

Starless And Bible Black (40th Anniversary CD/DVD Edition) – King Crimson

KC - SABB

Introduction…

With the band now down to a quartet after the abrupt decision by James Muir to leave. Bill Bruford added an arsenal of percussion to his drum kit so that the band was still able to tour their previous album Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. It was with the band now being more about drawing their attention and focus on American Jazz and more used to playing improvisation’s in a European style that they got to perform new improvised pieces live on stage, much of which was used to make up the biggest majority of their 2nd album of the trilogy.

The album Starless And Bible Black was very much a combination of studio and live material that made it all up. Only 2 of the 8 tracks that make it up were recorded in the studio, the live material was taken from 3 different venues the band played during October and November of 1973. Many of the live tracks were also overdubbed in the studios and the audience removed from them to make it appear more like a studio album.

The 40th Anniversary Edition Release…

The 40th Anniversary CD/DVD Edition of Starless In Bible Black was released on the 3rd October 2011. You will notice with all the editions in this series that they was not released in chronological order of when they came out, nor was they released on their 40th Anniversary either, and in some cases way before.

I think that they went on the idea that as soon has their debut album reached its 40th Anniversary. They would simply release all their other albums in the same series and they was also do so in no particular order, and this was even released before the album that came before it Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

On the 20th October 2014 they even released a 27 Disc Box Set of the album entitled Starless at a price of £130. I myself opted for the CD/DVD release at a more respectable price of £14.89 from Amazon.

The Packaging & Artwork…

20900545_1433897760023107_5537171148396852245_o

These 40th Anniversary CD/DVD Editions are all packaged the same and the slip[cases that hold the discs have been constricted from 2 thin layers of cardboard. Cheaply done but never the less are good enough and in my own opinion are certainly more presentable than how they packaged all the 27 discs in their £130 Box Set. Now that thing has been done entirely on the cheap and even some of its discs are just slotted into a thin sheet of cardboard, and the others just in cheap individual cardboard wallets with no sturdy plastic disc tray holders.

The Artwork.

The albums artwork is perhaps less interesting, and I have to say does very little or any kind of justice to the albums title. It was painted by Tom Phillips who even included the phrase “this night wounds time” on the back of the album, which was from his own signature work from a Victorian Novel entitled A Humument he was doing some alterations on back in 1970.

Starless In Bible Black (40th Anniversary CD/DVD) Review…

Has with all these 40th Anniversary CD/DVD Editions they come with an array of features especially on the DVD. The 5.1 mix of the album is my personal incentive for buying these albums all over again, but the extra bonus tracks you get on the CD and even the high quality stereo audio you get on the DVD makes these packages well worth the price.

The DVD without a doubt is far more superior in the quality than what the CD will ever be. It’s really only the video content from years ago that’s on the DVD that is never gonna be of any really great audio quality at all, and serves in general as a piece of nostalgic history in reality.

The CD & Bonus Tracks.

The CD comes with the new 2011 mixes done by Steve Wilson & Robert Fripp but only 6 of the 8 original tracks do have these new mixes, due to not having the original multi track master tapes of “Trio” and “The Mincer“. Both of those tracks are the same that was released on the 30th Anniversary HDCD version from 2005.

The bonus material is excellent on the CD and the good thing here is that they mainly consists of material that was not featured on the album, and the improv of “The Mincer” is the only one of them that was on the album, only here it does not have the abrupt ending like it does on the album. It’s also all live material and is like listening to a mini concert.

You get 5 bonus tracks in total and they are as follows “The Law of Maximum Distress, Pt. 1 [*]“. “Improv: The Mincer [*]“. “The Law of Maximum Distress, Pt. 2 [*]“. “Dr. Diamond [*] [Live, June 23rd 1973]“. “Guts on My Side [*] [Live, March 19th 1974]“.

The DVD.

SS 1

The DVD’s main menu screen is simple enough to get about and packs in quite an array of extras in the audio department and even contains a couple of videos. The DVD also contains the new 2011 mixes by Steve Wilson & Robert Fripp and come in high quality audio formats of a Lossless Stereo MLP mix in 24/96 and a PCM Stereo mix in 24/48.

Now let’s take a look at some of the other extras we do get on the screen below besides the 5.1 mixes which I will discuss later.

SS 2

As we can see from the menu above starting at the top it comes with the 30th Anniversary remastered tracks of the original stereo album tracks. These also come with same audio formats has above.

Next up we have 35 minutes of the 1973 Live in Zurich concert and you can see the set list on the following menu screen.

SS 3

The Mincer” from this concert is the actual track they used for this album and I have to say it also works very well sandwiched in between parts 1 & 2 of “The Law Maximum Distress“. The audio comes in PCM Stereo 24/48 only but is a really great bit of concert footage to have.

SS 4

Next up as we can see from the screen above we have the additional tracks section. The 1st track is the only one that comes with a 5.1 mix and this version of “Easy Money” has been taken from King Crimson’s Night Watch album and is purely awesome how both Wilson & Fripp have done the mix on it. It also comes in the form of an high quality audio format of 24/96 and is stunning.

The rest of the tracks in this section come in the form of PCM Stereo 24/48 only, and it even includes a couple of Radio Spot adds that promoted the album at the time of its release.

The final section of the extras menu contains the video footage and in here we have a live version of “Easy Money” from Central Park in New York from the 25th June 1973. It also contains another video they have titled “Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet” but to be honest it’s that short I am not really sure if it’s a track at all :)))))))))) and it’s just a bit of an extension of the 1st track.

The video footage was filmed by Atlantic originally for promotional purposes and it’s a nice bit of nostalgia to be included here.

The 5.1 Mix.

Once again just like the superb 5.1 mixes that was on their previous album Larks’ Tongues In Aspic both Steve Wilson & Robert Fripp have totally matched the outstanding job on the mixes for this album. Though 2 of the tracks namely “Trio” and “The Mincer” could not be mixed into 5.1 due to the original multi track master tapes being lost. But once again they have been very well up-mixed into 5.1 by Simon Heyworth and Robert Fripp using Pentio Software.

Though both the up-mixed tracks are never gonna be as good as the rest of the tracks, they are quite good in the way they have been mixed, and do have that bit more about them than the stereo mixes do. But it’s only really the genuine 5.1 mixes here that will blow your mind, and they are purely stunning in every detail of how they project over all the 6 channels.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by King Crimson. Cover design by Tom Phillips. Equipment by Chris and Tex. Recorded at Air Studios, London and at the following live venues The Apollo, Glasgow. Volkshaus, Zurich. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on the 23rd October and the 15th & 23rd November and in the studio in January 1974. Engineer George Chkiantz. Assistant Engineer Peter Henderson. Lyrics by Richard Palmer James.

Personnel:

Robert Fripp: Guitars/Mellotron/Electric Piano & Devices.
John Wetton: Bass/Vocals.
David Cross: Violin/Viola/Mellotron/Electric Piano.
Bill Bruford: Drums/Percussion.

The Original Album Tracks Review…

The original album Starless In Bible Black by King Crimson was recorded between October 1973 – January 1974 and officially released in the UK on the 29th of March 1974. The album consisted of 8 tracks played over a total playing time of 46 minutes 41 seconds. The album was constructed and put together mainly by live material that was overdubbed in the studio and the audience was removed to make it sound more like, and present itself as a studio album. Only the first 2 tracks on the album were written in the studio to make the album what it is.

I have to say that considering the album was made this way the album presents itself in exactly the same way has their previous album Larks’ Tongues In Aspic which very much was a real studio album, and the only one out of the whole trilogy. Even the material we have on Starless In Bible Black is very strong, and once again highlights the individual talents of each member of the band superbly in how it’s put across. This for me personally is where the 3rd album in the trilogy Red really lacks the strength that both the 1st and 2nd albums had in the trilogy.

Not only does Red lack the individual characteristics of the band members, it also lacks the dynamics and quality recording both these albums have. Even it’s best track “Starless” was intended for this album in the first place.

Track 1. The Great Deceiver.

The album kicks off with one of the finest songs the band ever wrote “The Great Deceiver“. The diversity of this upbeat song is a pure classic. The lyrical content and its title is based around the devil and even though they were written by Richard Palmer James it was Robert Fripp who came up with the magic line “cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary” having seen some souvenirs being marketed in Vatican City.

Both lyrically and musically the song kicks ass and is very much my personal favourite track on the album and merits my top spot award.

Track 2. Lament.

Lament” is another great song, though I have to say it’s title bears no relation to James  lyrics what so ever, and is entirely out of context. The lyrical content is based around fame or being a famous rock star in this case and liking many things about it.

Though John Wetton may put over the lyrics half way through the song in perhaps a distressing way. I am afraid the lyrics do not pertain to sadness, grief or sorrow, and they should of just titled the song “Fame” because the title they chose here, is a very strange one to say the least :)))))))))).

Track 3. We’ll Let You Know.

The first of the 4 instrumental tracks on the album “We’ll Let You Know” is very much a live improvisation or on stage jam to be more precise they done at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow. The venue has been long demolished now and Fripp remembers how it was even Greens Playhouse before it was the Apollo and how it had customised carpets with the words “It’s Greens” embroidered on it.

It was even said that Al Jolson had a sell out week at Greens in the 20’s and was that good he brought the promoter a Rolls Royce.

King Crimson tended to play more live improvisations back in these days than their actual tracks from their own albums. Though they can still do the same today just as easily as well.

I have to confess they are not the kind of band I would want to see live due to this factor of playing something new all the time either. For me going to a concert is about seeing the band play the songs and music you heard on their albums you brought in the first place, and are familiar with. This is why some of the tribute bands are getting more successful for doing as well these days.

Hearing something like this track for the first time being played live on stage for the first time, would have many saying “come on get on with it, and let’s hear what we came here for” :))))))).

They may be great musicians but even if I was at the Genesis concert were they played the whole of The Lamb Lies Down On The Broadway album live before the album was released. I am pretty sure I would of been bored to death, because music like this has to allow the time to grow into it I am afraid, and you are certainly not going to enjoy it that much upon the first listen that’s for sure.

Once grown into even though “We’ll Let You Know” will speak better to you, especially for its use of fusion, and even I can listen to it with ease now. But it’s still never gonna have any contention or pose a threat to the other material we have on this album that’s for sure. Though I do have to say it sounds amazing in 5.1 and works very well for it as well.

Track 4. The Night Watch.

The ballad song of the album “The Night Watch” is very much a classic and an high contender for the top spot on the album. This piece was originally performed as an instrumental piece live for the first time at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in November 1973. During the performance the mellotron broke down. Later on both the mellotron and Wetton’s voice was recorded and overdubbed in the studio on the piece for the album release.

To be honest this is a song that perhaps you would not mind hearing played live for the first time, simply because it more instantly likeable and accessible. The lyrics by James are very good and he actually wrote them in 1972 before joining the band. It was in fact an essay he wrote about Rembrandt’s famous painting of the same title of the song, and pertain to the artist.

Track 5. Trio.

Another live improv that come from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam only this time a much more structured beautiful piece of music that was intentionally designed for a quartet. But the fact that Bill Bruford just sat there with his drumsticks crossed in his hands on his chest and never played a thing. It very much became a trio hence the title of the piece.

Though Bruford never contributed to the piece Fripp still very much gave him writing credits to it on the basis that he used his own initiative and knew it did not need any drums or percussion on it. I bet there was no doubt he enjoyed listening to the other 3 members playing it and was too taken in by its beauty.

It’s very much an expressive piece of work and no doubt is another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 6. The Mincer.

The Mincer” is the final of the 4 vocal tracks on the album, though it has very little words at all. Once again this was an instrumental piece and came from the live concert they played in Zurich. Wetton overdubbed his voice on the track in the studio and wrote what little lyrics we do have here to sing too.

There is no doubt that the original live instrumental piece would of went on a lot longer, but unfortunate for the band the master tape had run out and you can even hear the warbling noise of it has it comes to an end, and they just left the end of it on this recording.

It’s perhaps not the most professional way to put a track like this on an album, and in all honesty they should of just recorded it again in the studio rather than just overdub some vocals on it, and say that will do.

Had they have done so it may well have been another contender for the top spot on the album, especially as it has a great groove and feel about it, and the way it so very well builds itself up. They could of even further developed the piece too to make it a lot better than it is. Don’t get me wrong I quite like the track, but the fact they went about things here in a very unprofessional way does not really help it I am afraid.

Track 7. Starless & Bible Black.

No doubt the most unusual piece of music to be merited as the albums self titled track. My guess is that the reason why it was chosen was entirely down to it’s strange title and nothing else. The truth of the matter here is that the music we get here for the albums title was not what it was first intended to be at all, and if Wetton had got his way the song we got on the album Red entitled “Starless” would of been titled “Starless & Bible Black” and would of been on this album instead.

It was during the making of this album that Wetton wrote the lyrics for the instrumental piece of music that eventually appeared on the Red album. The fact the Fripp never thought the lyrics were good enough and Bruford never really liked the song in the first place is the reason for it ending up on Red and this other live improvised instrumental piece ending up here instead.

Starless & Bible Black” was also taken from the concert they played at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. It’s very much an interesting piece of work that features the band interacting very well with each other, though just  like “We’ll Let You Know” it’s something one would have to grow into and would not want to hear for the first time being played live on a stage.

I certainly do not think it’s a contender for the top spot of the album, and neither do I feel that it should merit the title of this album either. I personally think that Wetton had right idea in the first place and not Fripp I am afraid, especially as far of what should of been the album’s track here, and the fact that Fripp never went along with the idea he would of been better off calling the album “The Great Deceiver“. But maybe the devil got to him :))))))).

Track 8. Fracture.

The instrumental piece “Fracture” for many this may be their favourite track on the album, and no doubt this is the best instrumental piece on the album that is an high contender for the top spot. It’s also the longest track on the album and Robert Fripp describes it has the most difficult piece he has ever played on his guitar.

To be perfectly honest I would not have any idea how difficult this piece is and every time I have seen Fripp play live on video with King Crimson he just makes everything looks so of damn simple, though I am sure he has some fine technique in his playing approach, but when it comes to talking about the many guitar greats there are in this world, I certainly would not put Fripp amongst them.

The very thing I like about Fripp is the fact that he lets his other musicians shine more than himself for most of the time. There is no doubt that Wetton’s bass playing on the first 2 albums in this trilogy stands out a mile in relation to anything that Fripp is really playing at all. He comes into more of a feature on the final album in the trilogy and drowns the rest out :))))))).

But no doubt that Fripp does get to feature a lot more on this superb track and it not only has some heavy riffs, but also has some very intricate guitar melody arpeggios played over some of the chords in it. It’s a very powerful track with a great build and puts an end to another magnificent album.

Summary…

To sum up my review for this 40th Anniversary Edition of Starless In Bible Black by King Crimson it’s got to be the best release of the album. Once again the 5.1 mixes will blow your socks off and even the 2011 mixes are very well done and sound much better for it.

The original vinyl album would of certainly had some downgraded quality issues down to its time slot limitations being 46 minutes in the first place. The extra bonus tracks on the CD are a superb addition as well.

Once again the DVD is where the real quality lies and the extras and all you are getting here makes it tremendous value for its price point.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the original albums tracks I would say that what we have here is on the same par with Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. I also feel that some of the material is slightly stronger too, even though there is no doubt that a couple of tracks on Starless In Bible Black do not measure up to it being more of a solid album than their previous album.

It’s very hard for me to personally pinpoint why I have always seen Starless In Bible Black has my favourite of all King Crimson albums, especially has I do feel that it’s not a solid album. I guess it has something to do with the best tracks on the album more than anything. I still rate both the first 2 albums in this trilogy the best and they could of easily of made a solid double album out of the best material on the 2 albums.

Cigarettes, Ice Cream, Figurines Of The Virgin Mary…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. The Great Deceiver. 4:02.
02. Lament. 4:04.
03. We’ll Let You Know. 3:40.
04. The Night Watch. 4:40.
05. Trio. 5:39.
06. The Mincer. 4:08.
07. Starless & Bible Black. 9:10.
08. Fracture. 11:18.
09. The Law of Maximum Distress, Pt. 1 [*]. 6:41.
10. Improv: The Mincer [*]. 4:21.
11. The Law of Maximum Distress, Pt. 2 [*]. 2:27.
12. Dr. Diamond [*][Live][Live, June 23rd 1973]. 4:00.
13. Guts on My Side [*][Live][Live, March 19th 1974]. 4:30.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 7/10

The Bonus Tracks Rating Score. 8/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 10/10.

The Original Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s