Larks' Tongues in Aspic is the fifth studio album by the English progressive rock group King Crimson, originally released in 1973. This album is the debut of King Crimson's third incarnation, featuring original member and guitarist Robert Fripp and new members John Wetton (vocals, bass guitar), David Cross (violin, Mellotron), Jamie Muir (percussion), and Bill Bruford (drums). It is also a key album in the band's evolution, drawing on Eastern European classical music and European free improvisation as central influences.
At the end of the tour to promote King Crimson's previous album, Islands, Fripp had parted company with the three other members of the band (Mel Collins, Boz Burrell and Ian Wallace). The previous year had also seen the ousting of the band's lyricist and artistic co-director Peter Sinfield. In all cases, Fripp had cited a developing musical (and sometimes personal) incompatibility, and was now writing a starker music drawing less on familiar American influences and more on influences such as Béla Bartók and free improvisation.
In order to pursue these new ideas, Fripp first recruited bass guitarist/singer John Wetton (a longstanding friend of the band who'd lobbied to join at least once before but had become a member of Family in the meantime). The second recruit was Jamie Muir, a wildly experimental free-improvising percussionist who'd previously been performing in the Music Improvisation Company with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, as well as in Sunship (with Alan Gowen and Allan Holdsworth) and Boris (with Don Weller and Jimmy Roche, both later of jazz-rock band Major Surgery).
On drums (and to be paired with Muir) Fripp recruited Yes drummer Bill Bruford. Another longstanding King Crimson admirer, Bruford felt that he had done all he could with Yes at that point, and was keen to leave the band before they embarked on their Close to the Edgetour, believing that the jazz- and experimentation-oriented King Crimson would be a more expansive outlet for his musical ideas. The final member of the new band was David Cross, a budding rock violinist and occasional keyboard player.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic showed several significant changes in King Crimson's sound. Having previously relied on saxophone and flute as significant melodic and textural instruments, the band had replaced them with a single violin. Muir's percussion rig featured exotic, eccentric instrumentation including chimes, bells, thumb piano, mbiras, a musical saw, shakers, rattles, found objects (such as sheet metal, toys and baking trays), plus miscellaneous drums and chains. The Mellotron (a staple part of King Crimson's instrumentation since their debut album) was retained for this new phase and was played either by Fripp and Cross, both of whom also played electric piano. The band's multi-instrumentalism initially extended to Wetton and Muir playing (respectively) violin and trombone on occasion at early gigs, but this was quickly dropped (Wetton and Cross did, however, contribute additional piano and flute to the Larks... album sessions).
The album spawned the concert staple "Exiles", whose Mellotron introduction had been adapted from an instrumental piece called "Mantra" the band's original line up performed throughout 1969. At that time, as well as in late 1972, the melody was played by Fripp on guitar. In addition, a section of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" was reworked from a piece entitled "A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls", which was recorded by the Islands-era band and finally released in 2010 as a bonus track on that album's 40th anniversary edition.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic is the only studio album with this particular quintet line up, since Muir left the group while on tour in 1973. (Musical and personal attrition would gradually reduce this incarnation of King Crimson from five men to three across the course of the next few albums, culminating in Fripp's "retirement" in 1975 and a cessation of Crimson activity for six years.)
In 2012 Larks' Tongues in Aspic was issued as part of the King Crimson 40th Anniversary Series, including the release of an expansive box set subtitled "The Complete Recordings". This CD, DVD-A and Blu-ray set includes every available recording of the short-lived 5 man line-up, through live performances and studio sessions. As with the rest of the 40th Anniversary Series, the release features new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes produced by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp, taken from the original multi-track master tapes, as well as a selection of alternative versions. Clean video footage of the band performing early versions of "Exiles", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part I)" and a 30-minute improvisation became available publicly for the first time as part of this reissue; previously only one of the pieces had been broadcast on German television, with heavy visual effects applied to the image. In addition, all known concert-recordings with this line-up are enclosed. Some of them were previously released through the King Crimson Collectors Club. There are two new recordings; one is from Glasgow, and was delivered from Ole Petter Dronen and the other one is Muir's penultimate gig with the band in Portsmouth, without credited source. The box also contains a link to a free download of a London-gig whose unrestorably poor audio quality renders it barely listenable; its internet-only release is meant for completists only.
The album peaked at number 20 on the UKcharts and at number 61 in the U.S.
"For sheer formal inventiveness," Bill Martin wrote in 1998, "the most important progressive rock record of 1973 was... Larks' Tongues in Aspic", adding that listening to this album and Yes's Close to the Edge will demonstrate "what progressive rock is all about".
AllMusic's retrospective review was resoundingly positive, marking every aspect of the band's transition from a jazz-influenced vein to a more experimental one as a complete success. They deemed John Wetton "the group's strongest singer/bassist since Greg Lake's departure." They especially praised the remastered edition.
Robert Christgau's retrospective review gave a more ambivalent view, saying of the band's instrumental work, "not only doesn't it cook, which figures, it doesn't quite jell either."
In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album came number 22 in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums".