David Cross was ejected from King Crimson after Starless and Bible Black, leaving the group as a three piece for Red, their final album before a seven year hiatus. Like the preceding two albums, Robert Fripp is joined by bassist and vocalist John Wetton, and drumming virtuoso Bill Bruford. The core band is augmented with saxophone and wind instruments – Ian McDonald and Mel Collins, both from previous iterations of the band, make guest appearances on Red. But the foundation is from the heavy power trio of the core trio, and it’s the most consistently heavy album that the 1970s’ band cut.
There’s one live improvisation, ‘Providence’, which features David Cross’ violin prominently – the first half is eerie violin scrapings, while the second half is dynamic once the full band joins. The instrumental title trackand ‘One More Red Nightmare’ are both evocative and intense; the former spirals out of control, while the latter is a paranoid account of a fear of flying. Bruford’s percussion is notably innovative in the latter, producing a clattering riff. Sitting between these two pure hard rock songs, complete with powerful drumming, feedback and distorted bass, ‘Fallen Angel’ starts off as a delicate ballad, but it ends up as intense as everything else with Fripp’s dissonant one note lead spicing up the chorus. But it’s the majestic closer ‘Starless’ that’s the standout track on an excellent album. The first five minutes consist of a lovely jazzy piece, merely an entree for the stunning instrumental passage which culminates in a huge climax.
Famously a favourite recording of Kurt Cobain, Red is a towering achievement, a culmination in an erratic but highly rewarding, five years from King Crimson.