The final album by King Crimson's first incarnation, Islands is a mishmash of musical styles, absorbing instrumental interplay and progressive rock excess. But it's not the disaster some have said it is.
Future Bad Company member Boz Burrell takes over bass and vocal duties this time out; his husky yet quirky voice and his bass work carry the first half of "Formentera Lady," which has the usual stupid lyrics but a pretty good beat. It gives way to meandering instrumental jam, which suddenly snaps into the jazzy "Sailor's Tale," one of the stronger tracks of Crimson's ealry days. The band's fascination with jazz, especially Miles Davis' electric work, infuses this song (nay, the whole album) as much as it did the previous Lizard. (Points docked for the middle section of "Tale," which is just an irritating clanky guitar solo).
The short pop of "The Letter" is so straightforward it's boring, but the quiet raunch of "Ladies of the Road" is interesting; watch for out-of-nowhere Beatle harmonies on the chorus. "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" hearkens back to medieval England with some beautiful string work, giving way to the 10-minute title track, a piano- and sax-driven ballad driven by Burrell's smoky vocals. The instruments slowly build in intensity before winding down and ending on a single Mellotron note.
Islands is by no means an art-rock classic; the multiple sections of meandering instrumentals suggest the band was running low on ideas, and after this they would disband for a while before roaring back to life in 1974. But it's certainly brilliant in spots and worth rediscovering for Crimson or art-rock fans.