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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

4.60 | 3011 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review 17, In the Court Of the Crimson King, King Crimson, 1969

StarStarStarStarStarStar

An old crush, that I can never, no matter how hard I try, get rid of. I have managed to persuade myself at different times that it's not that groundbreaking, decide that Court itself is way too bombastic, and that the mellotron is too thick for me, that the improvisation on The Illusion is utterly pointless, that this album doesn't deserve even five stars. However, every time I hear the first throb of 21st Century Schizoid Man, all these delusions disappear. An absolutely stunning album from start to finish. Much like ELP's debut, this is only made more amazing by the variety of material on the album: jazz rock, softer songs, an extended improvised section, grandiose emotional pieces with a very epic feel. Artistic and emotive, very musically tight and diverse, and with Sinfield's amazing lyrics fitting each song perfectly. Just perfect. An almost unique six star rating (the other being Larks' Tongues In Aspic).

21st Century Schizoid Man is, in my opinion, the greatest opener ever, perhaps even the greatest song ever. Two subdued throbs on a mellotron give way to a driving, powerful sax riff, Fripp's guitar with fuzz box hammering through behind it, stunning drumming from Mike Giles and Lake's almost-spat out, distorted vocals. After the second verse, it moves into a stunning jazzy 'jam' (I don't know quite how to describe it: too organised and tight to be a 'jam') with bass, sax, drums and jazz guitar emerging from the mix at different moments, and then a forceful, brilliant return to the main riff. The last verse takes the song to another peak, and it ends with an insane, chaotic splintering combination of the instruments. Sinfield provides brilliant, gripping, evocative lyrics, perfectly fitting the music. Designed to be played in a dark room at an obscene volume. This song alone has more merit than most complete albums.

I Talk To The Wind is a very sharp contrast to the opener, but it works superbly in the context. A very soft song, particularly showcasing Greg Lake's voice, a beautiful flute part from Ian McDonald and Mike Giles' enchanting percussion. The vocal and instrumental sections both stand out. Truly magical. Sinfield's lyrics again fit in very neatly, and can really transport the listener to another state of mind. Very simple in format, but nonetheless perfect. Not your average ballad.

Epitaph can only be described by itself. Pure emotion trapped inside 8 minutes and 47 seconds of music. Again, a completely outstanding song, with more of Sinfield's superb lyrical contributions. Greg Lake's vocals, Fripp's acoustic guitar, McDonald's mellotron and piano and Mike Giles' drumming especially stand out. In fact, everything stands out. Another dose of musical perfection, and another dose of imagery.

Moonchild is the strangest of the expressions in the album, but no less effective. It begins with the haunting Dream, with the sublime guitar part from Fripp, a bit of subtly used Mellotron and Greg Lake's beautiful vocals introducing the idea: moonlight. Mike Giles provides more of his unusual percussion. After a few minutes, the largely improvised (according to most things I've heard about it) 'The Illusion' section begins. It echoes and brings up the lyrics and the imagery, cycling through the actions of the moonlight described by Sinfield's lyrics. The improvisation leads fluently to another arranged section, suggesting a slow dawn, and the shadows of the night gradually vanishing. A musical painting, and a greatly under-rated one.

In The Court Of The Crimson King crashes into existence with a thu-thu-thu-thub from Mike Giles and the suffocating, thick mellotron riff that is the core of the song. The verses are composed mainly of pretty acoustic guitar, vocals and a careful, directing drum part, and have a very medieval feel. As it moves onto the repeated 'chorus' line, perhaps the most impressive use of block vocals in rock history, the choking mellotron returns. Sinfield again provides superb lyrics with a very bitter, dark edge. Of especial note are the instrumental Return Of The Fire Witch, highlighting Ian McDonald's skill on the flute, with a sort of weird borderline improvisation around it from Lake, Fripp and Giles, and the double-conclusion. The first conclusion is a relatively simple vocal or mellotron (can't really tell which) fade out, probably responsible for the end of Genesis' Visions Of Angels. Giles provides a couple of taps on the percussion, and a mocking reed organ begins playing. We are treated to a brief solo from Mike Giles, and then McDonald and the band return to provide a full overblown repeat of the main riff, driving slowly towards a superb and hectic conclusion, echoing the end of Schizoid Man.

One of my introductions to prog rock, and yet still improving with every listen. Mike Giles' drumming here is perhaps my joint favourite for any album overall (together with ELP's Tarkus), and demonstrates how you can escape the mould for a musician even as a drummer. If not for Robert Fripp's ability to go on and keep making superb material with several completely different line-ups of King Crimson, the departure of Lake, Giles and McDonald after this album would be an utter tragedy. This album is genuine art as music. Peter Sinfield's lyrics, as I have pointed out earlier, are absolutely the best throughout this album, on a par with Roger Waters' Echoes. A stunning series of images, and a true observation. Art at its finest.

Rating: Six Stars. It's the other Larks' Tongues In Aspic.

Favourite Track: 21st Century Schizoid Man

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |

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