Red is the seventh studio album by English progressive rock group King Crimson, released in 1974 by Island Records in the United Kingdom and by Atlantic Records in the United States. It was their last studio recording of the 1970s and the last before lead member Robert Fripp temporarily disbanded the group. Though their lowest-charting album at the time, spending only one week in the UK charts, Red has received critical acclaim.
Tours in 1974 had seen King Crimson's musical approach becoming louder and more brutal, an approach primarily driven by bass player John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford (guitarist and group leader Robert Fripp once compared their powerful playing to "a flying brick wall"). This had the effect of drowning out the band's fourth member, violinist and occasional keyboard player David Cross, and led to tension within the band. Deemed not strong enough as a musical personality, Cross was ejected from King Crimson after the end of its tour in summer 1974, reducing the group to the trio of Fripp, Wetton and Bruford. Having already begun to record Red with Cross, King Crimson finished the album with the help of former band-members Ian McDonald and Mel Collins.
While musically similar to its predecessor Starless and Bible Black, Red was produced very differently from previous King Crimson albums. For instance, while the acoustic guitar features prominently in previous releases, on Red it is heard only for a few bars in "Fallen Angel". Also, unlike previous King Crimson albums, Red features extensive use of guitaroverdubs. Later albums lacked acoustic guitar entirely and reverted to a minimum of overdubs (perhaps partly because every lineup of the band after this included two guitarists).
During the recording process, Fripp decided to take a "backseat" from the sessions' decision making. Although plans were considered to add McDonald to the lineup again for the next tour, Fripp abruptly disbanded King Crimson on 24 September 1974, and the album was released the following month with no accompanying tour.
The fourth track on the album, "Providence", was recorded live at Palace Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, on 30 June 1974, and is the album's only live recording. Charles Snider refers to the album as a "swan song", and comments that "'Providence' packs just about everything improv-related from the last two albums into its eight short minutes." A longer, unedited version of the track was first available on the live four-CD set The Great Deceiver and later added as a bonus track to the album itself for its release as part of the band's 40th Anniversary Series.
The original lyrics and melody for "Starless" were written by John Wetton. He originally intended the song to be the title track of the group's previous album Starless and Bible Black. Fripp and Bruford had initially disliked the song and declined to record it for that album, with the group then choosing an instrumental composition as the title track for the Starless and Bible Black album. However, "Starless" was later revived, its lyrics altered and a long instrumental section (based on a bass riff in 13/4 contributed by Bruford) added to it, and performed live between March and June 1974. A discarded verse was later used by Wetton in UK's "Caesar's Palace Blues". For the Red recording sessions, the lyrics were again altered (with contributions by Richard Palmer-James). The introductory theme, originally contributed and played by David Cross, was taken over by the guitar, with Fripp making minor alterations to the melody. As the title "Starless and Bible Black" had already been used, the original title was shortened to "Starless".
Released in October 1974, Red spent only one week on the British charts, at No. 45, whereas all the band's previous studio albums had reached the Top 30. In the United States, it reached No. 66 on the Billboard 200. However, it remained a popular album with fans and critics.
Retrospective reviews were resoundingly positive. In theirs, AllMusic declared Red to be weaker than its two predecessors, but nonetheless a superlative work: "few intact groups could have gotten an album as good as Red together. The fact that it was put together by a band in its death throes makes it all the more impressive an achievement."Robert Christgau also applauded the album, having been generally critical of the group's past work, calling it "Grand, powerful, grating, and surprisingly lyrical" and commenting that "this does for classical-rock fusion what John McLaughlin's Devotion did for jazz-rock fusion."
The album had CD releases in 1986 (this is the first digital version, marketed by Jem Records, considered by many music experts and audiophiles to be the best sounding one), 1989 (the Definitive Edition Series) and 2001 (the latter as part of 30th Anniversary Series), each newly remastered by Fripp at the time. The 40th Anniversary Series version appeared on 21 September 2009, containing a 5.1 Surround Sound mix on DVD-Audio (created by British musician and producer Steven Wilson, in collaboration with Fripp), but the same stereo mix as the 30th Anniversary Edition – as opposite to all the other releases from that series, which contained Steven Wilson's stereo remix. The proper stereo remix by Wilson and Fripp appeared on yet another CD edition, released in September 2013.
In 2001, Q magazine named Red as one of the "50 Heaviest Albums of All Time" and Kurt Cobain had reportedly cited the album as a major influence. Musicologists Eric Tamm and Edward Macan both consider Red, and particularly the track "Starless", to be the highlight of King Crimson's recorded output.
The title track was ranked number 87 in Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs".Pitchfork ranked Red number 72 in its "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s" list, stating that "For a band that was very obviously about to splinter, King Crimson's music sounds remarkably of a single mind. On Red, they achieved a remarkable balance between bone-crushing brutality and cerebral complexity."
The title track was covered by Canadian rock band Glueleg in their 1994 debut Heroic Doses, with this version featuring saxophone and trumpet.
^Romano, Will (2010). Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. Backbeat Books. ISBN978-0879309916. "At the time we were recording [Red], Robert Fripp said he wanted to take a backseat, because he wasn't sure where this [band] was going", Wetton said.
^Rolling Stone – The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. Retrieved 2011-01-24. "‘I'm not a blues guitarist’, Robert Fripp said in 1995, 'but I think I've met the spirit of the blues several times.' This is one of them: blunt-instrument funk in which Fripp, leading a power-trio Crimson, jars the mathematical cadence of his riffing with a wrecking-ball swing and rude pig-squeal harmonics."