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King Crimson In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970)


As an avid music enthusiast, I’ve often wondered what it must be like to compose a masterpiece.

It’s exhilarating enough to even be able to write your own music, but to have the rest of the world embrace your art? From aspiring musicians who praise your album as their sole reason for picking up an instrument, to ordinary fans who tell you that your music is what gets them through the day and makes their lives just a bit more tolerable- I can’t even imagine how overwhelming the ecstasy of such an accomplishment must be.

But I also surmise that it must be equally frightening to reach such an achievement at the very beginning of your career, because there’s the intimidating thought that the only direction you can go now is down. Then, the celebrated opus that you worked so hard to compose becomes your own personal curse. Casting a shadow on every attempt you hope will match it, and if you fail to top it, the shadow only grows larger and darker, eventually consuming everything else you do afterwards.

Of course, not everyone thought that In The Court Of The Crimson King was a masterpiece at the time of its release. But within the passage of time, many grew to admire its innovative nature. In fact, most critics today even hail it as not only King Crimson’s finest accomplishment, but also as one of the most definitive works in Progressive rock. So with such a reputation already established by its predecessor, the expectations for In The Wake Of Poseidon are rather daunting. And so the question on everyone’s mind is, is it as good as In The Court Of The Crimson King?

Well, normally one could argue that these are two different albums with two different agendas, but sadly, that isn’t the case here. In The Wake Of Poseidon could very well be considered as King Crimson’s attempt at recreating all of the experiences found in In The Court Of The Crimson King, but with some modest renovations so as to not appear like they’re selling us the same exact album. An invigorating opener, a gentle ballad, an experimental piece, and a lengthy title track, it’s all very familiar and even the instrumental aesthetics follow a rather synonymous intent and execution. But this is still nonetheless a very entertaining album that contains some of King Crimson’s most exquisite moments.

In The Wake Of Poseidon has a much more conceptual agenda within its architecture, as a lot of the central pieces are divided by brief interludes all sharing the theme of “Peace”, though the lyrics themselves have no real symbolic connection. The album opens with “Pictures Of A City”, and it is quite frankly one of the most exciting pieces in the whole King Crimson catalogue. Embellished in grandeur and intensity, the music erupts passionately with such prowess so as to establish a chaotic environment. But surprisingly, after the stunning coalescence of bombastic drum patterns and rupturing saxophone notes in its commencement, the music dissolves into a much more restrained jam. Saxophonist Mel Collins, who has now replaced Ian McDonald, does an exceptional job of leading the melody with some very provocative rhythms while still maintaining a rather restrained pace. We then arrive to the vocal sections of the song, which are actually pretty elaborate in their deliveries.

As Greg Lake illustrates an ambiguously gruesome lyrical image in our mind, Robert Fripp ornaments him with abrasive guitar arrangements that are drenched in static distortion to add a menacing impact. Though the most exciting aspect of the song lies in its instrumental section where we really get to see some of the band’s dynamic showmanship. Robert Fripp leads most of the instrumental passages while deploying several variations in style, such as going from frantic soloing to a similar stop-and-start technique like the one found in their debut’s opening piece, “21st Century Schizoid Man”. It’s rather interesting that the band chose to place “Pictures Of A City” as the album’s overture because with its suspenseful musical structure and utterly enthralling magnetism, we witness the peak of this performance too soon.

Though that isn’t to say that the rest of the songs on the album are boring, quite the contrary, but just like in its predecessor, we never get to see another performance as dashing as the opening song. “Cadence and Cascade” is another highlight, but in an entirely different manner. It’s a serene and mellifluous piece, driven by a delicate orchestration. It’s a very beautiful folk ballad and what makes it so enchanting is the singing of Gordon Haskell, an old schoolfriend of Robert Fripp. The choice of having Gordon Haskell sing the piece rather than Greg Lake also foreshadows how he would eventually take his role as bass player after Greg Lake leaves to form yet another influential act, Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

And just as we’re succumb with a feeling of déja vu at this point in the album, we arrive at the title piece, “In The Wake Of Poseidon”. Much like in “The Court of the Crimson King” in the previous album, we are again treated with a haunting mellotron intro that has us descend into a long voyage of elegant musicianship and a melancholic tale of medieval fantasy. It isn’t until “Cat Food” begins to play that we get any glimpse of change.

The songs that comprise In The Wake Of Poseidon, for the most part, continue to induce the similar gloomy atmosphere of its predecessor. And that’s what makes “Cat Food” such a welcomed deviation in style. It has a rather upbeat sound to it. The music is lively and optimistic, even the lyrics prefer a much more whimsical approach rather than the serious tone of the other songs. It’s a highly accessible song and yet another to feature a prominent Jazz influence within its essence, a style that would be thoroughly explored in the upcoming Lizard.

And finally, we conclude with “The Devil’s Triangle”, which is the most conspicuous transition in style. Influenced by Gustav Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War”, it is an avant-garde instrumental piece, and a malevolent one at that. Immediately it exudes a rather ominous atmosphere, as it takes the listener through a surrealistic nightmare of psychedelic ambiences and ghastly instrumental passages that overwhelm with suspense. Near the end of its climactic section, the band begins to bombard us with an anarchical collage of sounds that are orchestrated in a polyrhythmic fashion, a style very reminiscent to the content in Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. Needless to say,

“The Devil’s Triangle” is a very intriguing piece, and a progressive one in every sense of the word. By the end of In The Wake Of Poseidon, there’s a sense of disappointment that can overcome the listener. As entertaining as the album may be, it deludes us to think that King Crimson has chosen to resort to past tendencies rather than evolve as a group. But this is still a young band at the very beginning of their career, and have yet to explore the limits of their creativity.

So, is it as good as the triumphant In The Court Of The Crimson King? No. But it is a fantastic album. The shadow that In The Court Of The Crimson King casts on all of the group’s albums is a tough one to get out of. In The Wake Of Poseidon is occasionally dismissed as one of King Crimson’s lesser albums of the 1970’s, and it doesn’t really get the credit it truly deserves, especially when the band went off to write several remarkable albums after it. Often eclipsed behind its other popular siblings like Red and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, but there is fun to be had in this album. And it’s even more enjoyable when one isn’t constantly comparing it to In The Court Of The Crimson King. You really have to accept this album for what it is, to merely experience its music openly and let it get its point across.

Every song is well composed and inviting, each offering its own thematic voyage of musical splendor for us to enjoy. It may not be King Crimson’s best, but this is a host to some of the most impressive songs to ever be a part of Progressive rock.

December 30, 2013 - Posted by | King Crimson In The Wake Of Poseidon |

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