King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King: Album Review

King Crimson In The Court Of The Crimson King

Photo: By Hunter Desportes (DSCN1003) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Since its genesis, Progressive Rock has been highly polarized as some of the most complex and musically dexterous music, and some of the most pretentious drivel ever produced; it’s mainly demonized within the mainstream circles of “high profile music journalism.” The main reason it probably never gets the kind of exposure it truly deserves is because twenty minute music suites typically never fare well when it comes to radio play. There’s a very elaborate contrast between the typical musical form prevalent in standard rock, and the dynamic delineation of Progressive Rock. At a time where just about every band was doing pop numbers sugar-coated in some form of psychedelia, there was one band that went against the grain and decided to usher in a freshly cooked sound that rejected those fundamentals; that band was King Crimson.

Guitarist Robert Fripp, one of the co-founders, was previously in the band “Giles, Giles, & Fripp,” with drummer Michael Giles, and bassist Peter Giles; they were an unsuccessful psych rock band during the late sixties who went through a series of lineup changes that would ultimately become King Crimson. The new roster was now vocalist/bassist Greg Lake, vocalist/guitarist Ian McDonald, drummer Michael Giles, lyricist and light show operator Peter Sinfield, and of course, guitarist Robert Fripp; their name being adopted from a lyric out of Sinfield’s song “Court of the Crimson King.” The band would make their mark performing in front of more than half a million people at Hyde Park where the likes of The Rolling Stones were headlining before going into the studio and recording their first album, and their magnum opus, “In the Court of the Crimson King.”

This was a very intriguing album because it brought to the public a new genre that completely blew the lid off the fabric of commercial rock. King Crimson were the originators of this sound, and still remain the Godfathers of Progressive Rock because of what they started. This wasn’t your parents kind of rock music; this was rock music for the intellectuals and the disillusioned. This was the kind of rock and roll that made you think. This was the kind of rock and roll that made it cool to subsume jazz fusion and classical. And even though prog rock leaves an uneasy feeling with some listeners, “In the Court of the Crimson King” proved that all you needed was a handful of talented musicians and a great sound, because this album put the band on the map for casual success, topping the UK charts and climbing its way up the American charts. Of course critical reception wasn’t without its reprimanding. While most of the public praised the band, there were mainly those collective groups of professional music critics who had quite a bit to say about it; but who honestly cared what they had to say about anything? King Crimson is the very cult band that didn’t depend on the rhetoric of critics; they were there to make music for the fans like every other band of that era.

The opening song, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” doesn’t make any bones about hitting you upside of the ears with a prominent guitar riff that’s drenched in so much wily character that’s impossible not to bob your head to it. Sinfield’s lyrics, which present very vague and sometimes disturbing imagery, ultimately paints a much broader picture with his poetic references to the horrors of the Vietnam war and the greed of these politicians, and Greg Lake’s fuzzy, yet angry coherency only makes the songs message even more powerful. Of course it’s worth mentioning the killer guitar solo during the middle section, courtesy of Fripp, and the screeching bawls of an erratic saxophone before the tune does an irregular turnaround from its instrumental suite back into the main structure again. And thanks to Hip Hop artist Kanye West, who sampled this tune in his single “Power,” “21st Century Schizoid Man” is what introduces more and more new fans to King Crimson.

“I Talk to the Wind” takes you into a much more somber territory. It’s smooth and quiet progression, tacked on with a beautiful flute solo, makes this lyrically indifferent piece the kind of music to fall peacefully asleep to. And the tranquil theme doesn’t end there. The next song, “Epitaph,” exhibits a more classical tone with the band here; a nine minute acoustic epic that showcases the vocal prowess of Greg Lake. The woeful acoustic guitar is nothing short of chilling mastery that goes through a dissonant expedition into a foggy landscape that’s complimented wonderfully with the portentous lyrics of fear and desperation.

The penultimate song, “Moonchild,” is a quite an enchanting composition. Its imagery is deeply rooted in an almost counter-cultural Walt Whitman fashion of poetics. And before you know it, the songs innocent and delicate approach segues into straight jazz, with intricate improvisation between the band members; its nothing short of an avant-garde migraine that frolics in and out of the speakers. And with one final segue comes the closer, “The Court of Crimson King.” It starts out manic with a farewell riff that quickly descends into more haunting acoustics, quiet flute playing, and medievalesque storytelling, before ending the song with that very au revoir progression that feels as if it’s literally waving goodbye to you; but only for now, because great music knows you’ll always come back for more.

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