Even less tunes on this one – it boasts but five tracks. Less members, too – Cross quit in the middle of the sections with the band carrying on as a trio (they even have their portraits on the front cover, quite an unusual treat for a King Crimson album; in fact, quite an unusual treat for any prog band album).
But certainly better in quality than SABB and maybe even better than LTIA; at least, this is inarguably the most easily accessible and immediately likeable record of the band’s entire “prog-metal” period. I thought primarily that this was the result of a somewhat more careful and attentive approach to songwriting, but turns out that I was wrong: parts of it were recorded live just as well as parts of SABB. Well, guess some things just can’t be solved easily, can they? Anyway, live or not, this album is more listenable than its predecessor because it is mostly music, not just pointless and uninspired jamming. It’s also tremendously heavy, maybe the heaviest album the band ever did, and that provides a level of energy that was often missing earlier when you needed it so badly. Of course, heaviness is not a virtue by itself – you have to think of good riffs and clever production, and that’s on here, too.
The first side on here is pretty much spotless, aside from a couple overlong solos, but you just have to get used to these things when you’re dealing with King Crimson. The title track is a great rifffest: beginning with a captivating ascending guitar line, it is soon metamorphosed into a convincing heavy melody that is, while not fast enough to get the laurel wreath of ‘Great Deceiver’, nothing short of genius. Kurt Cobain would be proud of that fat guitar/bass interplay, that’s for sure. Then there’s ‘Fallen Angel’, yet another Moody Blues-ish ballad sung quite convincingly by Wetton.
In the hands of Justin Hayward this song might have been turned into a medieval-stylicised, romantic chef-d’aeuvre; here it just feels good and kinda awkward, but it works all the same. Also, Wetton’s vocals are suspiciously reminiscent of Lake’s (I guess he should have had no trouble with singing ‘Schizoid Man’ on stage even without the distorted vocals), and this gives the song a certain ELP feel, so maybe that’s why I like it (I mean, it gives it the Lake feel, not the Emerson feel). It does take some time to enjoy the overlong jam session in the middle, and the song could have been far more great and hard-hitting in a shorter, abbreviated version; but eventually, its grim, spooky noodling grows on you, creating stately gothic moods the likes of which you could previously only find in obscure Krautrock compositions.
Finally, ‘One More Red Nightmare’ is one more classic, based on another, though this time a bit more lackluster, heavy riff, but what gives me the shivers about the song is the way Wetton sings the lyrics: his usual ‘careless’, a trifle intentionally off-key vocals, quite often irritating otherwise, make the tune totally! It’s about fear of flying, as far as I can see, and the rushed, speeded, stuttering vocals, together with the refrain ‘one more red nightmaaaare!’, really give the impression of a paranoid fear of something. I get so excited that I don’t even notice the usual solo wanking all over the place.
Unfortunately, the second side starts on a really low note (the one that costs the album one rating point – sorry Red lovers), the usual trademark of ‘bad Crimson’: ‘Providence’ is the same kind of atonal, messy jam that ‘Fracture’ was on the last record and even worse. Recorded with Cross still at the violin, it mostly features bits and pieces of drums and bass recorded over this stupid “violing” that seems to drag and drag on forever – just more dated experimentation. A bad idea that reduces the album to much less than forty minutes of listenable music. Oh well, at least we have ‘Starless’. You might think it’s horrendous just by looking at the running time – 12:18.
Don’t worry, it isn’t. A rare case when a lengthy King Crimson jam is endurable in all of its lengthiness. Apparently an outtake from the previous album (although it really is hard to talk in terms of outtakes when we deal with constant mixtures of new studio tracks and live improvisations), it should have appeared there instead of the far inferior ‘Starless And Bible Black’. A dark, bitter tune, it’s probably the closest they ever got to replicating the bliss of ‘Epitaph’ (Fripp even uses the same guitar pedal he used on the intro to ‘Epitaph’).
There are tons of beautiful, emotional guitar lines, Wetton’s singing has never been better, and the lengthy solo passage is breathtaking. It seems that Fripp keeps repeating the same note on his guitar over and over, but he manages to build up the tension so well that I’m left almost stunned – just because of the very nature of this paradox: this is maybe the simplest musical idea that Bob has ever put to life and it works so much better than tons of far more complicated ones.
Actually, the whole album, except for that wretched ‘Providence’, is simpler and more ‘available’ than the previous two, and it shows that even if the Frippergang’s main purpose was to experiment with song structure, chord progressions and bizarre instrumentation in the wildest mode possible, they hadn’t still gone as far as to forget the basics of songwriting business entirely. Red, more so than any album since In The Court Of The Crimson King, demonstrates that they still knew how to make great simple tunes and that King Crimson was still a band making music, not just weird, psychic (psychic, not psychedelic) background noises for one-day consumption. Would they take notice of their ‘reincarnation’, you think?
Unfortunately not. Fripp disbanded the band shortly after, saying they’d turned into dinosaurs and their place was in the trash bin – more than two years before the punks reminded all the others of the same. Silly thing, really – if he’d disbanded the band after Starless, I’d certainly understand that. But disband them just as they were becoming used to writing and performing good music? Man, these proggers are one weird bunch of starpers!!!
The original King Crimson band– Robert Fripp (guitar), Ian McDonald (keys, reeds, vocals), Michael Giles (drum kit, backing vocals), Greg Lake (bass, vocals), and Peter Sinfield (lyrics) was a group positioned to do something great– when Ian McDonald joined Giles, Giles & Fripp (an off kilter pop band and the prototype for King Crimson), and eventually the arrival of vocalist Greg Lake, the band’s former pop sensibilities were largely replaced by a neoclassical form and a love for improv. The only resulting document of this group in the studio is this album.
I’m going to briefly jump into the sound before talking about the music– if you’re not interested, skip to the next paragraph. Fripp has remastered the album for what seems like the millionth time– this time from the original session tapes. The result is stunning– there’s a clarity here not present on previous editions, the production seems to have slightly changed, Lake often sounds like he’s singing right in your ear, the vocal harmonies, always for me one of the things that separated this album from similar achievements (the stunning playing of Fripp and Giles being the other) are clear and distinct. And for an album of dynamic, it has long gone without any clear hearing– “Moonchild”, which often sounded like unfocused tinkling, finally sounds coherent on record. From a sonic standpoint, this is finally the treatment the record deserves.
The music is this album is breathtaking– the sound is in some ways very 1969– mellotrons abound, lead playing splits between reeds and guitars, and a unique, high tuned drum sound, but there’s a certain timeless quality to some of the tracks that make it stand out, even when seeped in the technology of the time. The album’s opener, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, is the closest thing to a hit the band had– a group composition, the song opens with a whisper, mellotron effects, before exploding into power chord guitar and wailing sax– Lake’s voice, never a favorite of mine, takes a powerful and harsh edge and runs through two verses before the song breaks into a syncopated rhythm over which McDonald (on sax) and Fripp both take brilliant solos before coming back around to the verse again. By the time this ended for the first time, I was hooked. The level of playing on here, in particular hearing the four musicians playing complex lines in unison, will grab hold of anyone. Combine that with a great metal hook, and you’ve got something in many ways overwhelming.
The following track, “I Talk to the Wind”, is quite the opposite– delicate, with quiet guitars, reeds, a brilliant flute solo, and soft harmonies, makes you realize this band is not a one trick pony. This may be the finest lead vocal Lake has ever sung– he sounds relaxed, confident, and without that air of pretension that so often dominates his singing. Again, simply breathtaking, but in its own way. Skipping ahead a bit to “Moonchild”, the first two minutes are similar– quiet musical performance and a great lead vocal from Lake before meandering into an extended guitar, vibes and drums improv. While the trio improv is a bit overlong, it does (at least on this edition, not nearly as well on previous ones), work without having a feeling of draggin.
The other two tracks on the album are really the only ones that lack a timeless quality, largely in part because they’re dominated by the lush mellotron strings that clearly point to their era. “Epitaph” is probably my least favorite track on the album, dark, building, boiling, with some great guitar work from Fripp, I find it (and to a lesser extent the album closer) marred by Lake’s overblown vocal delivery. The album closer, again dominated by the string sounds and Lake’s vocal, is also washed in vocal harmonies, features a really incredible reed bridge, and some great distorted guitar interplaying with the mellotron– while it feels dated, its one of those period pieces whose performance is so brilliant and whose composition is so strong, it gets past its sound.
The album was one of a kind– while Crimson would continue and produce many stunning albums, McDonald and Giles abdicated leaving Fripp to continue. This is an effort that would never be repeated– it also, unfortunately, established King Crimson as a progressive rock band, a sound that, by the mid-70s, they largely abandoned, and by the 80s, they totally turned their back on. Nonetheless, its a great record, and definitely should be heard.
I think we all, at one point or another, whether we knew what it was or not, have all seen the screaming face that adorns the cover of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. This face, in many facets, describes the innovation, sound and intensity of this album.
Crimson’s music is not to be taken lightly. Nearly all aspects of it are creative, whether it be the touches of mellotron added to the melody, or Robert Fripp’s blistering guitar solos. This sole album, as King Crimson’s very first, basically defined the genre of what we call ‘prog rock’. Ironically enough, the band has always denied allegations that they are slapped with the ‘prog’ label. But on the contrary to what the band may think, this stunning five song, forty-five minute album is by all means, the true definition of the progressive rock genre.
It’s not exactly easy to pinpoint their music with two words, as their lyrics tend to focus on darker, creepy subjects, but the combination of classical instrumentation, as well as 7-minute plus suites, and interesting percussion, make this one of the most interesting, and well-respected albums of all time.
From the moment that the very first song, the staple of Crimson’s catalogue, ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ hits you, you are in for a very intense and provocative listen. Between the heavy guitar riffs and eerie voice of Greg Lake (whom we all know to be the front man of later progressive icons, Emerson, Lake and Palmer), ‘Schizoid’ proves to be a very worthy intro tune. On the subject of dark lyrics, you’ll get the jist of it when you hear Lake’s voice combined with the words ‘Blood rack, barbed wire. Politician’s funeral pyre.
The combination of various woodwind instruments, mellotron, and distorted guitar carries the eerie ambience, but only before a 3 minute jam between the three. Lake, being a multi-talented musician, provides a creamy bassline, as well as an exotic staccato rhythm during the jam session. The waves of monstrous feedback from Fripp are just another benefiting factor, letting you know what is yet to be heard. As you may have noticed, Crimson is responsible for some very interesting sounds, as well as unique instrumentation and choice, for that matter.
Therefore, it should not come as any surprise to you when you hear a wistful flute play a piece that depicts memories of the film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. For the entirety of ‘I Talk to the Wind’, you will feel relaxed. The mellotron tastefully plays a few stray notes between lyrical phrases, but it’s Greg Lake’s voice that welcomes me. As opposed to the previous song, where his voice was raspy, throaty with lots of attack, now his voice is soothing and subtle, taking you into a deep feeling of subconscious, as if you were floating. The most bombastic section is the flute solo, which is easy to connect to where Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull found his inspiration.
It is always necessary to have a powerful, yet slow paced song on a progressive album. What that song is about is not relevant, whether it be love or death, happiness or depression, rich or poor. The next piece showcases the latter of the many subjects, touching up on darker matters. But there is no precedent saying which you must choose, and that is what sets ‘Epitaph’ apart from other ballads in the genre of rock music. Mellotron, as well as keys, and a rich orchestral string section, provide a tender foundation on which Lake’s voice soars above. His voice is easily one of the best in rock music.
The highlight for me is undoubtedly the string etude, which provides a classical spin on a jazzy song. Fripp’s acoustic work is utterly picture perfect, and everything just seems to be top notch before the song comes to a closing. Progressive music wouldn’t be progressive music if it didn’t have an ambient theme to it. ‘Moonchild’ fills that gap, being an electronic and synth jam session. One thing that grabbed my attention was the cymbal hits during the verses. As stupid as it may sound, a mere three taps on a hi-hat could never have sounded more appropriate and attentive. Clocking in at merely 2:30, ‘Moonchild’ is nothing more but a relaxing, ambient interlude, taking you toward a nine-minute suite that will prove to be the epitome of the word ‘epic’.
I’m guessing that a title track for this album would be quite a listen, and I was right. I’d expect a song that lasts nine-and-a-half minutes to have separate movements, and mood swings. Once again, that is the case for this title track. ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ is a medieval, epic movement that displays nothing more than sonic brilliance. Between the classical, finger-picked acoustic guitar, string arrangements, dark piano, choir etudes, flute solos, Greg Lake’s soaring voice, and without a doubt, the best drumming on the album, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ sprawls a melodic, yet heroic sound.
The shift from lyrical verses to instrumental choruses is nothing short of uplifting, and the strings combined with the choir are brilliant and rich in sustain. The drumming is superb and rhythmically stunning. They really outdid themselves with this medieval suite. I’d like to ask yourself what you define as ‘epic’. Chances are, that your definition is totally crushed by this song.
Those wanting hard rock and great guitar work will take a liking to the music of King Crimson. Those who like progressive music and enjoy in-depth arrangements will like it even more. My point is, you don’t have to like only one aspect of a genre of music in order to enjoy King Crimson’s music. Whatever suits your tastes will probably find a home on this album. Every bit of this album was brilliant, intense, and epic. And who knew all of that could happen within 45 minutes?
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.
The trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp (see the review of their only album in the Appendix) happily dissolved after their weird, almost crazy album flopped badly, but this actually led only to the departure of Peter Giles; brother Michael and friend Robert somehow stayed together. Even so, the change of direction was incredible: Cheerful Insanity didn’t offer us even a single hint at what they’d become in just about a year.
That record was funny, almost hilarious, displayed a typical British-style optimism and was also highly eclectic – I think I’ve mentioned the immense variety of style. This one is sad, almost tragic, displaying a sort of bitter Medieval pessimism, and is all dominated by sweeping, mastodontic arrangements of a cathartic character. In the whole history of rock music there’s never been witnessed such a radical change of direction.
Oh, okay, this is not Giles, Giles & Fripp, really. Three factors contribute to the general sound of the record, all three of them people, all three – new members of the band, now called King Crimson for sure. Ian McDonald brings us the new musical sound of the band – his keyboards, Mellotron, saxes and woodwinds dominate the tunes, bringing them a grandeur previously unheard of. Greg Lake brings us The Voice – being one of the most powerful male singers in rock, he emphasizes that grandeur and makes the theatrical, artificial songs almost come alive.
Finally, Peter Sinfield brings us the Lyrics – meaningless, but fascinating half-fairy tale, half-Tolkien-inspired images that fit in with the music one hundred per cent. On top of that, add Fripp’s manic guitar and Michael Giles’ precise and tasteful drumming, the glimpses of which we already witnessed on the previous record, and you get yourself a masterpiece.
In fact, if King Crimson had never recorded anything but the opening track on the album, ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, they would still earn themselves an eternal place in the pantheon. Written, sung, and played with a staggering level of brilliancy, it is one of the most powerful apocalyptic songs in rock. The lyrics are good, and Lake manages to sing them with enough venom to be convincing; moreover, his voice is encoded by some kind of electronic gadget that makes it all the more scaring (I must add, though, that even the clear, untampered with vocals, as heard in concert on Epitaph, are just as captivating).
The main rhythm track, booming and crashing, rivals the Who in volume and power; and the lengthy instrumental passage in the middle (called ‘Mirrors’) is simply awesome. It borrows a lot of elements from jazz, mostly courtesy of McDonald’s Mellotron, but they rock; and Fripp’s Hendrix-style soloing also fits the song well. Along with Genesis’ ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ and a couple Jethro Tull tunes, this is my favourite creation in the whole prog rock genre.
The other tracks don’t fall short of the standard, though, because the record manages to contain all of my Top Three King Crimson songs. The beautiful, oh so incredibly beautiful ‘Epitaph’ beats lots of classical music chef-d’aeuvres for the title of ‘The Grandiose Epic’, and it features Lake’s most stunning vocal delivery on the whole album. Of course, you might also consider it highly theatrical and insincere, but who cares? This was the first true prog rock album in the full sense of the word; are we speaking sincerity when we deal with prog rock albums? Certainly not. So forget that and just let yourself be swept away by this ‘storm of emotions’; and the opening guitar notes (are these guitar notes?) are just as moving as Eric Clapton’s solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (which is a very high compliment, in case you doubt it).
Finally, the title track, the most ‘pretentious’ one on the album, is just as good, this time punctuated by the band’s celestial vocal harmonies. Who is the ‘crimson king’, I wonder, and why does the song activate visions of some kind of underwater fairy kingdom in my mind? Anyway, that’s the good thing about Sinfield lyrics: they always mean something different to everybody. Which means they don’t mean anything, of course, but that’s just a game, isn’t it? Yup. The song is fantastic.
Finally, we have the ultra-overblown, almost ridiculously so, artsy ballad ‘I Talk To The Wind’; its pomposity and almost sickening flatulence used to drive me crazy, but since then I’ve come to realize that the melody is awesome. I just don’t pay much attention to the lyrics. Try to imagine it’s a love ballad, for Chrissake, and you’ll be able to enjoy it as much as I do.
The only mishit on the album is another ballad, the deceiving ‘Moonchild’: it starts close in style to ‘I Talk To The Wind’, but later on is transformed into a dull, avant-garde collage of keyboard noises that seems to drag on forever. Maybe it was inspired by Pink Floyd’s experiments on Ummagumma? Even so, these guys, unlike Pink Floyd, never knew where to stop: ‘Moonchild’ is, funny enough, the longest track on record. To tell you the truth, I should have deprived it of one point for this load of dreary crap.
But I won’t. Just because the other songs are so darn incredible. No wonder it made the band big stars overnight, and they were never able to top their effort – neither artistically nor commercially. Ah, but that don’t matter, really. The record still holds up as one of the most monumental, important and enjoyable creations of prog rock, and this is certainly the most natural and evident place to start with King Crimson. If you don’t have this record, you basically… never mind.
Just think how much impact the record must have had in 1969. Virtually, it spurred all of the major prog rock bands – ELP, Yes, and Genesis among them – to further and unexplored heights. But few of these further records were able to beat the original.
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!