David Cross left King Crimson in 1974, reducing the group to the trio of Robert Fripp, John Wetton and Bill Bruford. The trio recorded Red with the help of Cross and former band-members Ian McDonald and Mel Collins. Fripp disbanded King Crimson on 24 September 1974, and the album was released later that year with no accompanying tour.
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 guitar overdubs. Later albums lacked acoustic guitar entirely and reverted to a minimum of overdubs, though by that point the band featured multiple guitarists playing simultaneously.
The album opens with the title track, a driving, hard rock instrumental. It features multiple time signatures including 5/8, 7/8 and 4/4. Its polyrhythmic melodies use whole-tone scales.
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 is available on the live four-CD set The Great Deceiver.
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 initially disliked the song and declined to record it for that album. Instead the group chose 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 contributed by Bruford) added to it, and performed live between March–June 1974. For the Red recording sessions, the lyrics were again altered (with contributions by Richard Palmer-James). The haunting 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".
|2.||"Fallen Angel"||Fripp, Richard Palmer-James, John Wetton||6:02|
|3.||"One More Red Nightmare"||Fripp, Wetton||7:07|
|4.||"Providence" (Recorded at Palace Theatre, Providence, USA, 30 June 1974)||Bill Bruford, David Cross, Fripp, Wetton||8:09|
|5.||"Starless"||Bruford, Cross, Fripp, Palmer-James, Wetton||12:16|
|2009 CD bonus tracks|
|6.||"Red" (pre-overdub trio version)|
|7.||"Fallen Angel" (pre-overdub trio version)|
|8.||"Providence" (unedited live version)|