Wednesday, July 7, 2010

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

9/10

The 30 seconds or so of ambient noise that introduce this album are one of my favorite parts. I can't help but imagine someone popping this into their record player in 1969 and wondering, "What the hell am I listening to?" This may not have been the first progressive rock album ever (depending on your definition of the genre, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum may have had King Crimson beaten), but it's definitely the most influential. It's really hard to talk about an album as famous as this one, because pretty much everything that can be said about it already has. Nearly all of the elements that would define progressive rock are here- long songs, mellotrons, fantasy-based lyrics (I just love Peter Sinfield's work here), and extended instrumental sections.
Of the five songs here, 21st Century Schizoid Man is an abrasive saxophone/guitar workout, I Talk to the Wind is a soft flute-based ballad, Epitaph is a mellotron-based epic, Moonchild is a decent mystical lo-fi song with a horrible eternity of free-jazz noodling tacked onto the end, and the title track is another mellotron-based piece.
The only real blemish here is the free jazz section on Moonchild, which is nine minutes long and has almost nothing going on in it. Several minutes of it would get chopped out in the 40th anniversary remaster (which I haven't heard); although some die-hards might cry out "FRIPP SHOT FIRST," but it doesn't bother me too much. I would definitely give this album a 10 if it weren't for that horrible, horrible stretch.
Fripp's guitar isn't that prominent one most of these tracks; most of the emphasis is on Ian McDonald's reeds and mellotron. He does a great job of playing the saxophone chaotically on Schizoid Man, creating tense mellotron soundscapes on Epitaph, and performing serene flute melodies on I Talk to the Wind. Unfortunately, he would leave the band shortly after this album, and his later career wasn't that great (I've heard that his album with drummer Michael Giles, who left KC at the same time, is pretty good; most surprisingly, he would go on to be a founding member of Foreigner!) Greg Lake also puts in some fine vocal performances; he, of course would go on to front Emerson, Lake and Palmer; unfortunately, he would leave after the band's second album. That left just Fripp and Sinfield as original band members (Sinfield was considered a member even though he never sang or played on record). One can only wonder how a more consistent lineup would have turned out.
Despite this, it's really amazing how well this album brings you into its world. It deserves all the acclaim it gets, and is an album that no one should be without.

1 comment:

  1. Pugs: I've always felt COURT was a bit overrated -- to me its always sounded like a heavy Moody Blues album, with darker, doomier lyrics, more guitar & some wild sax. Certainly "Epitaph" & "In the Court" both sound heavy-Moody-Blues. The most adventurous, ear-opening piece is right up front, "Schizoid Man." Everything but the 1st 2 mins of "Moonchild" is a waste of vinyl, & the version of "I Talk to the Wind" released on YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE TO KC beats this version to death.
    3 songs makes a great album? No. Maybe in its time -- but even then, the Moodies, Procol Harum, The Nice, Pink Floyd & others were working this same general area with better, more consistent results. & I LIKE these guys. This just isn't my fave KC album -- it seems very much of its time, to me. But I agree that the good stuff on it is really good.... -- TAD.

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