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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover

LIZARD

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.09 | 1416 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars After the amazing debut and the not-quite-as-amazing follow up, my friends and I wondered as 1970 was drawing to a close just what the revamped lineup of King Crimson would produce with LP #3. If we harbored any ideas that they would continue making exactly the same kind of music as before those thoughts vanished within the first few minutes of listening to this. Of all things considered we never anticipated so much brass and woodwinds and what we quickly realized was that going forward we should only expect the unexpected from this group. For, while most bands were desperately trying to find and establish a bankable identity, Fripp and his cohorts were doing everything they could to force us to abandon our preconceived notions of what we thought they were or should be.

As the album begins a cheerful, tinkling piano fools you into thinking pleasant thoughts as bassist Gordon Haskell's cold voice slowly rises from what sounds like a darkened cell. Soon Andy McCulloch's drums introduce the ominous Mellotron melody that will accompany you throughout your tour of the "Cirkus." Peter Sinfield's confounding, macabre lyrics and Mel Collins' demonic saxophone fills join to create a menacing atmosphere that's surprisingly intimate and not as cavernous as previous albums were. Robert Fripp's distorted electric guitar has been replaced by an acoustic but it still has very sharp teeth. There's a palpable experimental jazz flavor here that was only hinted at before and it mesmerizes as the song's insane carnival aura builds to a dissonant ending. Sly, funky horns lead us to "Indoor Games" and more familiar territory. It is reminiscent of "Cat Food" from "In the Wake of Poseidon" but not as captivating. By now it becomes obvious that a little of Haskell's singing goes a long way and that he's not close to being in the same league as his predecessor, Greg Lake. He holds this tune back. The satiric message gets through but the music drifts a bit before Collins' twisted sax finally adds some spice.

"Happy Family" is next and it is sarcastically aimed right at the Fab Four who had broken up about a year earlier. I detect a clever innuendo of "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" and "She's So Heavy" in the recurring theme of the song but the jazzy ambience stops it from turning into an unfair lampoon of The Beatles. The flute and electric piano blend is very creative and the fact that they electronically manipulate the vocal keeps Gordon from becoming an albatross around the neck of the proceedings. "Lady of the Dancing Water" is a short, serene song that fascinates by uniting acoustic guitar, flute and Nick Evans' uncharacteristically delicate trombone to slow the pace. Now that you've sampled the appetizers it's time for the main course, the impressive "Lizard." It was a stroke of genius in recruiting Yes' Jon Anderson to lend his angelic vocals to "Prince Rupert Awakes" but at the same time it shines a glaring light on the shortcomings of Haskell as a singer. It's a welcome change to say the least. Keith Tippet's subdued but intricate piano swims just under the surface as the song's minor key verses give way to the major on the engaging chorus. Fripp's reversed guitar lines and gushing Mellotron create a magical feel that permeates the tune. At one point the drums begin to tap out a soft marching beat. The group rides it to segue seamlessly into "Bolero-The Peacock's Tale." This is the album's acme. Mark Charig's cornet, Robin Miller's oboe and cor anglais along with the trombone construct a prog classic that's part big band, part Dixieland yet arranged in an unorthodox manner that only King Crimson can deliver. Their timing is immaculate, evolving through different phases even though the drums never stray from the underlying bolero rhythm. This is great stuff.

"The Battle of Glass Tears" ensues with "Dawn Song" rerouting things down a more sinister road. Haskell is back with his shaky intonation but his return is blissfully brief as they transition into the fierce conflict that is "Last Skirmish." Here McCulloch does his best imitation of previous drummer Michael Giles and mimics his play-all-around-the-downbeat style admirably. The heavy Mellotron is a throwback to earlier works but the wild flute and trombone spasms keep the tune from becoming a retread. As songs depicting war go, this one is suitably noisy and unnerving. Fripp finally trots out his electric guitar for the somber "Prince Rupert's Lament" and it's well worth your wait. As if the prince is mournfully walking among the bodies of his slain soldiers, the throbbing bass emphasizes Robert's wailing cries that he squeezes out of his strings. It is stark and stunning. Then, almost as an afterthought, you are reminded that life can be a bizarre midway filled with warped mirrors and gruesome clowns as the surreal strains of "Big Top" float about, then fade away into the distance.

You could search for a very long time and never find another album that is as individually unique as this one is. Mastermind Fripp wasn't in the music trade to win popularity contests, he was earnestly trying to express what he heard in his head. His art. And love them or not, that's what made King Crimson the most eccentric group of the modern rock era. "Lizard" may not be a masterpiece but there are masterpieces within. 4.3 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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