King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black was the first of two studio albums the band released during a busy 1974, a feat they last achieved with In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard in 1970. Unlike the widely divergent 1970 albums, however, Starless and Bible Black and its followup Red were composed and recorded by many of the same musicians, and share a unified character, intent, and sound.
Starless and Bible Black cemented the dramatic shifting of alliances that began a few months before with the debut of the totally new lineup that recorded the now-classic album Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. The contributions of Bill Bruford, David Cross, Jamie Muir, and John Wetton (joining sole original member Robert Fripp) to the band’s new direction are of course obvious and immeasurable, it was to be a different change in personnel that arguably sparked an even greater revolution in the band’s look and sound.
The story of King Crimson’s Islands is worthy of a soap opera: the product of a tangled lineage, troubled by interpersonal jockeying for influence, and subject to a continually revised legacy for 40 years. When Crimson once set the standard for iconic album art, the artwork proposed for their fourth studio album was as poorly received by the band as it was by international distributors. The result was two divergent packages, neither of which is a design triumph. The album is troubled musically as well, failing to reflect the band’s true live nature — evidently a difficult job, as the following live album Earthbound also didn’t capture their essence. The Islands artwork wasn’t unified until 1987, and the way the band actually sounded onstage was lost to time until 2002.
King Crimson’s Beat dropped in June 1982, smack in the middle of the most unprecedentedly consistent run in the band’s career before or since. After unexpectedly reincarnating and radically reinventing itself less than a year before with the album Discipline, an intense 3-year period of activity saw the band stay true to their new direction, employing for the first time a consistent sound, lineup, and — most relevant to the discussion at hand — unified design approach.