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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 | 2792 ratings

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Evandro Martini
5 stars The first wholly progressive album from history (in my opinion)

Defining prog-rock is a pretty hard task, and saying which album was the first to contain all of its elements will depend on your point of view and your taste. But to me this album, besides being a beautiful masterpiece, is the first album that can be called completely progressive. I'll explain it here.

By 1969, various experimentations with rock music had been made. The Beatles had recorded with orchestras and string ensembles, Moody Blues had recorded a conceptual album with an orchestra (that would be the first, I suppose, with the singer/flutist role, so common in prog), Jimmy Hendrix had recorded insane albums, Procol Harum and then The Nice had mixed classical and rock in a clever way, etc. All these influences were important to progressive rock, but they are not, to me, completely progressive. Now, let's go to Crimson King... 21st Century Schizoid Man opens the album violently, with saxophone being used in a completely original way, dialoguing with the guitar. Bass is behind, but very cleverly constructed, always changing, playing a melody, instead of just accompanying. What's the name of that? Progressive rock. The long instrumental section is amazing, ending with more vocals from Lake. Greg Lake is my favourite singer in all times, so I am really pleased with his voice all through the album.

I Talk to the Wind follows, showing that the album's style is regular in the world of ideas, rather than in musical ideas. This is the basis of prog-rock for me, let me explain it. While heavy metal is easily discernible by its sound, with heavy guitar, shouted vocals, etc, prog-rock is not constant in this way. It changes from calm to violent, from simple to complex, and what defines it is actually a group of ideas that are common to these different-sounding songs. In this song we hear Ian MacDonald's beautiful flute work, in a pastoral style, far from what someone would expect from a rock band. Ian MacDonald says: "The idea was to be expansive, more inclusive of other styles of music than just the old "two guitars, bass and drums" format, so we included classical and jazz elements." Greg Lake agrees: "My roots are very much European music rather than the blues, which is the basis of most rock'n'roll. I was always into classical and folk music, and that's where I look for my inspiration"* Pete's lyrics are slightly nonsense but still gorgeous and well written.

Epitaph has even better lyrics, dreamy but very direct. MacDonald says about it: "On Court Of The Crimson King, Peter deliberately wrote in this stylised, colourful language but the lyrics were actually sharp commentaries on the states of things at the time. It was just phrased in that way, but most prog writers then tried to emulate that style"* Here we have many highlights: Greg Lake's most expressive voice, going from extremely calm to extremely melancholic /sad, the gorgeous work on the Mellotron, being this one of the first songs to have it on such a crucial role, influentiating many bands. The way the melodies from voice and mellotron dialogue is fantastic.I must notice that this song manages to be completely effective and wonderful with a very simple (but good) harmony. At this time, prog wasn't a competition of who can make the most complex song...

Moonchild starts as a calm song, similar to I Talk to the Wind, and stays like that for 2 minutes. These two minutes are great, with good singing, discrete mellotron and dreamy lyrics perfectly constructed. Then, the song ends, and starts a long improvisation of guitar, vibes and, later, drums. This is very different from anything you'll expect: atonality is constantly present. This would mark the progressive tendency for experimentation. It is not for anytime, but with headphones, at night, it's a really interesting experience.

The album ends perfectly with its title song. Again we have perfect lyrics, evoking a medieval atmosphere in well-structured verses. After each sung part, there's an instrumental section, always great, with a hell of a work by Ian MacDonald (his personality was very important here, and his departure will deeply affect the band's sound). A friend of mine has defined well the mellotron/voices gorgeous harmony (aaah) repeated all-through the song as a perfect soundtrack for the gates of heaven (if there was one...) When you think the song has finished, enters a woodwind section that I love, reworking the theme with harmonies between flutes and clarinets. All in all, this album bring with it a whole new style of music, that would reach its peak commercially and arguably artistically in the 70s, but would keep alive until today. Says Ian: "The opportunity was there, groups were given more freedom in the studio, we were able to produce our own album. The Beatles had a lot to do with what was going on, this idea of using the studio as an instrument and being free to make the music that they wanted. That impacted on the rest of the business for a while. After a few years record companies started demanding more control over producers and budgets again, but there was a time there when bands had a lot more freedom to express themselves in the studio. We were never given a lot of time though, the first album was done very, very quickly-eight days from beginning to end I believe, including the mixing." Ok, Ian. And you expressed yourselves very, very well. Thank you for that eternal masterpiece.

*Interviews quoted from Record Collector magazine from December 2005

Evandro Martini | 5/5 |

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