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.
One of the most confused albums in the whole history of King Crimson, this was recorded not exactly in the wake of Poseidon, rather in the wake of McDonald’s and Giles’ departure from the band. The latter might not have been exactly tragic since Giles was never an extremely prolific drummer, but the loss of McDonald was truly a terrible blow for the band that lost its Mellotron soul and main songwriting talent.
Okay, so the Mellotron wasn’t exactly lost: Fripp took over the instrument and in the process created the image of a whacked multi-instrumentalist picking the guitar with one hand and tapping the keyboards with the other. However, McDonald’s songwriting was a somewhat harder task to replace, and this is where Fripp lost the battle.
Another blow was Greg Lake’s sudden decision to quit the band and join ELP in the middle of the recording sessions. Thankfully, he decided to fulfil his obligations by faithfully helping old friend Bob with both the bass parts and, more importantly, the singing: all of the tracks but one feature Greg’s beautiful voice, and only ‘Cadence And Cascade’ showcases his replacement, Gordon Haskell. Other replacements include Mel Collins on sax and flute and Keith Tippet on piano; old friend Peter Giles helped on base, and Michael Giles still filled in on drums, although this would be his last appearance with the band. Not that it matters – the sooner you bring in Bill Bruford, the better.
Okay, the songs. If you heard Epitaph before this one (which, strange enough, happens to be my case), you’ll be glad to discover some old numbers. ‘Pictures Of A City’ is the same as ‘A Man, A City’, for one, and it sounds infinitely better in the studio than it did live: the band is well-oiled, the booming verses rock almost as hard as ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, and the crazy middle part is overwhelming, although the best part about the song is still the famous jazz riff that introduces the song.
I still regard it as one of King Crimson’s finest creations. ‘The Devil’s Triangle’ is a re-write of ‘Mars’ with a little more complicated arrangement. It is said to feature three different parts, but they’re not that different really, except for an unexpected change of time signature in the second half of the composition. As you might expect, it also superates the live version, and the level of consternation it produces is immeasurable, with all these creepy synth noises imitating… imitating what? An attack by aliens, I guess? Whatever, it’s just a great song, tons better than anything Yes could ever hope to produce.
The other compositions are new, but they’re okay. There’s a ‘I Talk To The Wind’-style ballad – ‘Cadence And Cascade’, with horrendously stupid lyrics set to a nice, luxuriant, piano-laden melody. It might be deemed a little too pop sounding for King Crimson, but hey, let us not forget that ‘prog rock’ rarely sounds like ‘rock’, all of these Yes and Genesis and even Pink Floyd tunes are more ‘pop’ than ‘rock’, partly due to the domination of keyboards.
In fact, this King Crimson stuff generally rocks much harder than the other prog rock bands, just because Fripp rarely let the guitar be overshadowed by other instruments. So why shouldn’t ‘Cadence And Cascade’ sound poppy? It’s a good song. The single ‘Cat Food’, on the other hand, is a rock song, dominated by weird avantgarde dissonant piano bursts and Lake’s eerie shouting that is strangely similar to his style on early ELP records. Well, why strangely? Early ELP records belong to the same time period. The lyrics are dumb just as well, but who cares? They have been written by Pete Sinfield.
That said, I’d like to prattle a little about the title track. Essentially it’s just an inferior rewrite of ‘Epitaph’ because the melody’s just the same; the main difference is that it’s a bit louder, with synths and Mellotrons complementing Lake’s lilting vocals where they were mostly silent on ‘Epitaph’. The lyrics are also inferior; ‘Epitaph’ at least boasted great lines like ‘the wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams’, this one mostly has lines like ‘Plato’s spawn cold ivyed eyes snare truth in bone and globe’ (Jon Anderson, let’s shake hands).
So you could just consider it a ripped-off step down the stairs. And yet, it has a charm of its own that’s lacking on ‘Epitaph’. The synths give it a more classical feel, and there’s a certain grandeur, once again, which Yes could never attain, maybe because this one is more structured, well-cared-for and just more listener-friendly. I enjoy it as hell, and so should you. Fripp might not be a great songwriter, but he certainly can monkey other people’s ideas with a lot of verve, and God bless him for that.
The only slight letdown on the album, in fact (if you forget about the fact that at times the whole record seems like a pale shadow of In The Court), are the three reprises of ‘Peace’, the really pretentious one. ‘I am the ocean lit by the flame, I am the mountain, peace is my name’. It mostly features Lake singing accapella, and this only makes the song more nauseating.
Still, these reprises are short, and they rarely spoil the overall experience. A great, great album – yes, a big rewrite of the band’s debut in general, but at least the melodies are different and at least they don’t play in the AC/DC style. Get it!