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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

4.62 | 4030 ratings

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Glimpse
4 stars The day In The Court Of The Crimson King hit the shelves of record stores worldwide, was the day Rock Music would change forever. In The Court is often considered to have single-handedly created the entire Progressive Rock genre. In reality it would be more accurate to think of it as an eruption. Artists like The Nice, The Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd among others had already been laying the foundation for Prog, building up pressure to the point where it just might explode into the mainstream. That explosion came in 1969 as "In The Court Of The Crimson King". The album caused a sensation upon it's release, nobody had heard anything quite like it before. With sales upwards of 500,000 copies in the US alone, it was certain to many that this was going to be the start of something big. After the release of "In The Court", hundreds of Prog Bands began to sprout up between 1970 and the end of the golden era of prog in the late 70s. Whether or not these 70s era Prog artists took direct inspiration from the album, they all have this album to thank for opening up the ears of thousands to progressive music, allowing many bands to at least achieve a cult following as opposed to being doomed to the abyss of obscurity. So, enough background, it's about time we take a dive into the album itself!

First off to bat we have "21st Century Schizoid Man", a jazzy piece with prominent Saxophone throughout. The track starts out soft, with airy woodwind sounds appearing seemingly at random. Then as if to startle the listener, McDonald's sax enters center stage with a powerful presence, welcoming the listener to the body of the track. Lake wastes no time once McDonald finishes his phrase, bringing his heavily distorted vocals into the creating a sound somewhat similar to the psychedelia of the 60s. The vocals here are short and to the point, consisting of just two short verses mentioning schizophrenia and the Vietnam War, (Which was still being fought during the time the album was released.) After the second verse we enter the middle section, fittingly called "Mirrors". Here we are treated to another solo by McDonald, This one being considerably more complex than the one seen near the beginning of the track. McDonald's sax sounds rather spastic here, as the pitch never stays the same for more than one note, but instead consisting completely ascending or descending notes. However, it's the schizophrenic instrumentation that gives "Mirrors" it's name, as the sound reminds me of light bouncing around a room full of mirrors, never moving in the same direction for too long. The "Mirrors" is split by a solo courtesy of Fripp, with a mild acidic sound similar to Lakes vocals earlier and some trademark King Crimson sax nonsense. After that idea is wrapped up we return to the ever shifting sax part from before Fripp's solo, this time with a guitar mirroring the sax. Before you know it, Lake's vocals have returned and are sounding just as distorted as before, this time singing only a single verse commenting on materialism. The ending fits the track perfectly, made up of McDonald's sax starting out slow, and speeding up until all musical order falls apart into a cacophony of incoherent sax overdubs.

Now, if you were expecting the entire album to be as exciting as "Schizoid Man", you'd be disappointed. The next track, titled "I Talk To The Wind", is a soft piece featuring now undistorted vocals by Lake as well as some vocal harmonies, calm percussion, and soothing woodwind accompaniment courtesy of McDonald. It is essentially the antithesis of "Schizoid Man" with it's tranquil sound and larger focus on vocals. The song has a very pretty melody that is sure to please the symphonic fans out there, but feels rather awkward to have two tracks that are so jarringly different in such close proximity to each other. However, as we venture further into the album, it becomes increasingly evident that "Schizoid Man" is actually the odd one of the bunch. This track is a sample of what is to come, marking a transition from the Jazz-Fusion sound heard in "Schizoid Man" to the more Medieval / Symphonic sound found throughout the rest of the album.

Continuing on in the Symphonic direction set by "I Talk To The Wind" is our third stop in our tour of the Court, "Epitaph". It is a very moody track, featuring dark instrumentation using acoustic guitars, clarinet, base clarinet, and heavy use of mellotron. The Wind directly leads into Epitaph with a timpani acting as a bridge between the two tracks. After the timpani bridge, we receive a solemn welcome from the acoustic guitar intro, followed soon after by Lake's emotional vocals. Now, the lyrics featured in "Epitaph", are some of, if not the darkest found in any of King Crimson's albums. The lyrics themselves have a very somber tone to them, the gist of these lyris is that if mankind is to continue in it's warmongering ways, we will surely end up destroying ourselves. Not really the most original concept, but still a very emotional one none-of-the-less. The tone is further developed by subtle percussion and acoustic guitar accompaniment, as the ever mystical sounding mellotron to provide an ominous feel to the track. After the slow buildup in tone from the start of the track to the four minute mark, we reach the only instrumental break found in the track. This break is absent of mellotron, but instead features a dirge like arrangement with McDonald's clarinet and base clarinet playing along with minor acoustic ideas scattered here and there. Then upon the return of Lake's vocals, verses one through six come back, and as the track begins to build up Lake repeats verse six up until about seven and a half minutes, when the track starts to fade out.... Spooky.

Now we move past the middle of the album and into the second half, where we encounter the 12 minute "Moonchild". The track starts simple enough, being a primarily mellotron driven section, along with a rather interesting cymbal alterations by Giles. The vocals have a very pretty, medieval sound to them, and in conjunction with the lyrics, give it a very mystical feel. However, this section only makes up two minutes of this 12 minute song. With the next ten minutes consisting completely of free improvisation. Now, normally given King Crimson's reputation, you'd think the improv would at least be somewhat interesting to listen to, well that's not the case here. The improv featured here has rather sparse instrumentation for the remaining ten minutes, making for a very dull listen in my opinion. However, there is one part of interest in this section, and that is when Fripp plays an excerpt from "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top" at a point during the section. Sadly, it's not enough to raise my favor of this track, as I usually just end up skipping it after the two minute mark.

At long last we reach the title track, the nine minute "The Court Of The Crimson King" a return to the Symphonic sound after the more Avant-Garde "Moonchild". The beginning is a rather straightforward mellotron info, introducing the listener to the idea that is seen throughout the track. That, when paired with Lakes vocals create a certain sense of majesty, a mood that one would expect for such a song. There are four vocal sections throughout the track, each containing two verses telling the tale of the "Crimson King". After each of these four vocal sections there are another four sections consisting of the melody played by the mellophone at the start of the track, except this time it sung by Lake along with the use of overdubs to create a choral effect with Lake's vocals. Though while you think that the repetition of the aforementioned idea would sound like it'd become tiring fast for many, (especially after multiple listens,) but none of the three choral breaks are quite the same. The first break, (found about one minute into the track), is the most basic of the three, containing only the choral part. The second, (about two minutes in), is were things start to change up a bit. Here the choral part remains unchanged, but, after two repetitions of the melody, it moves into a brief mellotron solo, before returning to the choral melody, repeating another two times. The third, (about four minutes in), has the same choral melody, though this time, you may notice that there are now additional overdubs increasing the amount of harmonies found in the choral break. After the usual two repetitions, we move into a flute solo, which, has not been seen in the album since "The Wind". It is a very pretty flute solo, and it's melody provides a refreshing break from the usual melody heard throughout the past few minutes. After the solo, we are led into the fourth verse by an acoustic guitar rather than the choral idea used the first two times. The fourth verse sounds pretty much the same as all the others stylistically speaking, and at about six minutes in we reach the fourth and final choral section. For the last choral section we return to the basic choral features we heard during the first choral break, this time with a slight twist. The chorus repeats three times now, each time featuring additional overdubs with each repitition. After the third repition you're promptly led out by a percussion roll, as everything gets quiet. Many first time listeners are often tricked into thinking that the track ends after the fourth choral section ends, Admittedly, even I was taken by surprise when the woodwinds came in soon after the third cymbal, (quite a cute little thing they did there when I think on it now.) With a soft, chamber-ensemble sounding woodwind part there, I had expected something not quite as bombastic as what came afterwards. The reprise of the melody is brought in by Giles's percussion, making way for the mellotron, (now having lost the magnificence from before instead taking on a rather hectic tone.) Along with Fripp's guitar, which hasn't been as dominant in the ensemble or as acidic sounding in the album since "Schizoid Man". Ultimately, despite being as repetitive a song as it is, it's short enough and brings enough ideas to the table to keep the interest alive, making for a very satisfying conclusion to this album.

This album is held to some of the highest standards of all Progressive releases, and after you give it a listen it's easy to see why. No two tracks are quite the same, each bringing a few tricks of it's own to the party. But as creative as it is, King Crimson would not reach the height of their potential until several years to come, as the variation of the album not only shows their creativity, but also says to me that they're were not quite sure what they wanted to be at that point of their career. Any Crimson fan knows that in the albums that follow, they would begin making a slow transition to a predominately Jazz-Fusion sound. In the following years of all the tracks from "The Court", "Schizoid Man" was the only one that remained a key part of their live repertoire. "The Court", (and "The Wake Of Poseidon", but that's a review for another time), was them experimenting with their sound in an attempt to discover what they'd become. "The Court" is the infant of the King Crimson discography, and as a result, lacks the more matured songwriting found in later albums as Crimson began to find their place.

In the end, "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is still very much a high quality release, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of the King Crimson discography. It serves as preview to their entire '69 - '74 era sound, making it a must-have for any Crimson newbies. My suggestion if you are looking to purchase the album, I'd recommend the 2009 remaster, as it contains an trimmed version of Moonchild reducing it from 12 minutes to four and a half minutes, making the track much more tolerable to sit through. (It also includes the original version of the track as well if you're interested in knowing more about the whole song.) But all I can do is make a recommendation, it's up to you to decide whether or not you like it, I'm just here to convince you to give the album a listen!

Glimpse | 4/5 |

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