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King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King CD (album) cover

IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.59 | 2889 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

rogerthat
5 stars King Crimson's first strike, In The Court of the Crimson King, is often hailed - rather unjustifiably in my opinion - as the first prog rock album or as the album that birthed prog rock. It is certainly a hugely influential album for our beloved genre and has been much imitated - with or without imagination - since its release in 1969.

And yet, what struck me when I listened to the album today was how unlike some of the leading lights of prog rock it is. With all due respect to the likes of Genesis, Yes or ELP, I must submit that ITCOTCK is on a higher plane aesthetically than some of the best work of those bands. This view is probably 'influenced' by the fact that I have listened to all these albums well after the fact and my frame of reference is therefore very different from those who experienced this music in the 70s.

I can say for sure that to me this album has a timeless quality that I find elusive in a lot of 'big band' prog from the 70s. ITCOTCK utilises very elegant and tasteful tones seemingly chosen with a lot of care and restraint and played with scintillating understatement. There is not a moment in the album that I felt assaulted by a very 70s sounding keyboard tone, a sensation that I frequently get while listening to the other aforementioned bands. Just the most beautiful wall of mellotron pervading the music like a cloud. In that sense, Foxtrot is the closest in generating that sensation for me (from amongst the albums of those bands). And I only cite this example because I can't find any better words to express this. Camel's Mirage is overall the closest in terms of a parallel in the sense of being another album in a style that is not exactly in fashion today and to which time has yet been kind.

But what even Mirage doesn't really evoke for me is the powerful sense of melancholy that comes through in this music. I have 'moved on' long since from ITCOTCK to the Reds and the Disciplines so this facet of KC's music surprised me today when I listened to it again. It really makes sense to me now why this album still exerts a magnetic pull on prog listeners, with many insisting that this is their best album and some of them going on to suggest everything else they made was a waste and an insult to the name of King Crimson.

I personally would not go that far for reasons that have more to do with personal taste. This album doesn't really offer the infectious, irreverent energy of Discipline and the overpowering muscle of Red. Which is perfectly alright except that those qualities draw me a little more to the music I listen to. In comparison, ITCOTCK, with the exception of the monstrous Schizoid, plays like a collection of evening music. Er, evening prog, you could say. And I was in fact listening to it on a rainy, cloudy evening. Perfect weather for this kind of music, if you ask me (and also for Steely Dan's Aja but that's another review).

I can't judge how much the recording quality (which sounded great to my uneducated ears) has contributed to the beauty of this music but most of it is down to the musicians. As I already said, this is a different side of KC from the Wetton/Belew years. This is music that unfolds beautifully before the ears, like watching a painting in making. The quality of musicianship reveals itself in significant details, like Giles's delicate snare and the lovely manner in which Fripp's guitar weaves around the soaring mellotron. All of which is a big help because the songwriting, while very focused save for Moonchild (which I will address in a bit), can get a bit predictable and it is the execution that often carries the day and how! Greg Lake delivers powerful but understated vocals that are very true to the character of the album.

As for Moonchild, I do think it has a place in the overall context of the album. Standalone it might be hard to make sense of but it works very well as a (long) precursor to the title track. Actually, if you really do want to make sense of it, you could read Mark's review for clues. As an intuitive listener, I focus more on the experience as far as this track goes as it is beyond me to attempt to dissect it critically.

With that 'impediment' out of the way, I have no hesitation in giving it all five stars. But I would only like to note that it's a 'lesser' five star for me compared to Red and Discipline. On a scale of 100, I could draw fine lines of distinction between these three magnificent KC albums. But on 1 to 5, I can only be too liberal to one album and too harsh on the others and I would not like to do either.

rogerthat | 5/5 |

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