Continuing with the high musician turnover in King Crimson in the early 1970s, Islands features an entirely new rhythm section. Ian Wallace joins on drums, while Boz Burrell, who’d later form Bad Company, is on vocals and bass. While his vocals aren’t outstanding, he’s an improvement on Haskell from the previous album. Despite the changes, on Islands Robert Fripp still has a supporting cast of journeymen, but it’s a more likeable album, ditching the strange medieval affectations of Lizard for a jazzier, spacier sound.
Apart from the gross groupie tribute, ‘Ladies of the Road’, the weaker material on Islands is merely monotonous – the opener ‘Formentera Lady’ doesn’t do a whole lot over its ten minutes. The album’s best moment is ‘Sailor’s Tale’, a menacing instrumental with squalls of Fripp guitar noise that points the way forward for the group’s next records. Elsewhere there’s a pretty classical instrumental ‘Prelude: Song of the Gulls’, not out-staying its welcome with a succinct four minute running time. ‘Prelude’ runs into the pretty, pastoral title track – while Burrell’s vocals aren’t ideal for the song, there’s some pretty work in the long instrumental coda with Mel Collins’ saxophone, Keith Tippett’s piano, and Fripp’s mellotron all prominent.
Islands is largely pleasant and a step forward after the unsuccessful Lizard, but compared to the stronger incarnations of King Crimson, Fripp doesn’t have a lot of talent in the band to work with. When Fripp re-emerged with Larks Tongues in Aspic in 1973, he would have an entirely different King Crimson lineup with him.