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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 2112 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review 20, Lizard, King Crimson, 1970


Lizard is really where King Crimson move mercilessly towards their classic formula of not having a formula. The songs on it bear almost no resemblance to earlier Crimson songs, and the band replaces many of its rock elements with jazz and, to a lesser extent, classical, ideas, which would be explored a little more on Islands. The new line-up produces a very interesting and powerful album, even if it's sometimes difficult to stomach, and Lizard fully merits five glittery stars. Sinfield's lyrics do work here, even if it took me a long time to get Lizard itself lyrically, and he moves through a lot of different styles with plenty of skill, though occasionally lacking the panache he possessed on Court and Wake. The album was really a grower for me, so I suggest giving it a little time to ferment before making a judgment.

The musicians have undergone a large transition of line-up, and, given how much Crimson albums are affected by the musicians involved, it's appropriate to examine it. Vocals (Jon Anderson's finest moment excluded) and bass are taken over by Gordon Haskell, who, whilst not a particularly good singer, suits the theatricality of the album, and handles the bass surprisingly well. Mike Giles has been replaced by the very capable Andy McCulloch. If there was one instrument on which the change could have been a massive mistake, it was the drums. Even a plain excellent drummer wouldn't do. McCulloch, however, was a very successful choice, I think. Keith Tippet takes a much more active role on piano and E-piano. Mel Collins really comes into his own a little more on saxes and flute. The biggest change, perhaps, are the studio contributions of Robin Miller on oboe and cor anglais, Mark Charig on cornet and Nick Evans on trombone. The diverse instrumentation is certainly something that marks the album's character, and it is merged with the previous Crimson line-up very well.

Cirkus, among a long list of classy Crimson openers, is among the best. Everything is utterly amazing: Keith Tippet's astral electric piano, the post-superb acoustic guitar work, the heavy jazzy mellotron (I think) riff, Andy McCulloch's curious, tapping percussion. A superb cornet solo. Gordon Haskell was made for this song, providing the appropriate delivery for Pete Sinfield's enchanting, biting abstract lyrics ('Elephants forgot, force-fed on stale chalk/Ate the floors of their cages'), and some superb crystalline bass. The gentle, spectral Entry Of The Chameleons works very neatly, preparing for some of the best interplay (acoustic guitar, piano and drums) that I have ever heard and a blaring jazz explosion and relaxation. Absolutely masterpiece material, with every musician more than standing out.

Indoor Games is one of the album's weirdest pieces, and I hated it on the first listen. Glad to say I've changed my mind on this. Pete Sinfield's lyrics are sarcastic, semi-nonsensical, and don't even seem to have a theme. The highlight is, again, the interplay and the way that the musicians come in and disappear without a seam. Fripp provides some very interesting strained electric guitar, and we get some amazing VCS3-Mellotron interplay on the middle section. The bass and drumming are seamless, and we get a cracking saxophone solo from Mel Collins to boot. Gordon Haskell's vocal and accompanying insane laughter is a grower, and Another masterpiece song, even if it took me a little while to get it.

The impact of satirising The Beatles' break-up is lost on me. Nonetheless, it sounds great, and Happy Family blares in very neatly at the end of Indoor Games, giving them a sort of one-song feel. Much more chaotic than the previous one, in its own way, with a distorted vocal from Haskell, a weird VCS3 (I think) riff that comes in every now and then, some flute and other soloing and a xylophone tapping on the conclusion. Very, very weird song.

Now we have the gorgeous Lady Of The Dancing Water. Perhaps the most beautiful ballad ever, with a combination of flute, trombone, acoustic guitar and piano that is genuinely able to reduce me to tears if I'm in the right mindframe. Pete Sinfield's lyrics could not be improved upon. Beautiful, beautiful song. Also an example of how to do a 'progressive' ballad.

Prince Rupert Awakes begins with an enchanting piano part that continues throughout the piece and a beautiful high vocal from Jon Anderson (Yes, the Jon Anderson), the uplifting, optimistic song continues with some acousticy Spanish-sounding and more typical guitar additions from Fripp and glistening, haunting mellotron, as well as superb VCS3, bass and drums on the chorus. A sweeping piano and drum crescendo leads us into one of the greatest mellotron-based sections of progressive music.

From the end of this chaos, a lone cornet turns up, and the rather loose, improvisational (I suspect) Bolero section begins, giving especial opportunities for Mel Collins and the four jazz-men to show off. Gordon Haskell and Andy McCulloch provide an odd rhythm section, while the others switch between solos and polyphonics, with Tippet providing an outstanding piano part. An oboe solo, combined with outstanding classical drumming, leads on to the haunting sax intro to Dawn Song.

The Battle Of Glass Tears begins with Gordon Haskell's hesitant, haunting, quiet vocal and backing, curious drumming and piano. What I presume is Last Skirmish kicks off with an eerie mellotron and rhythm section trio. The other instruments variously hammer in, including particularly exceptional flute and sax solos from Mel Collins as well as chaotic jazzy riffs and parts from all involved. Robert Fripp adds in shrieking electric guitar. Every section either escalates or builds tension, until it relaxes to a bass-and-drums beat over which Fripp lays the tragic Prince Rupert's Lament, a powerful, tense, emotional electric guitar solo. This would have been the perfect end to the epic song.

But it wasn't, for some reason, probably pertaining to Pete Sinfield's concept, the band tacked on a random Circus part to the end, which, while it might not be too bad in and of itself, damages the atmosphere, and I hate the speeding-up effect in all its shapes and forms.

This is, from what I've so far got, Mr. Fripp's high point as a guitarist. He never dominates or takes centre stage so bluntly that the other players don't have seem to have the space to develop, and he doesn't feel like he's made the conscious decision 'OK, we put a guitar solo here, a flute solo here, and then throw in a mellotron', but like he's organically fitted into his diabolical creation. The interplay and musicianship on the album is very dense, and it is almost flawless.

Five stars. Highly recommended to anyone interested in experimental music combinations, quality, diverse guitar-work and anyone who likes albums that take ages to grow on you.

Rating: Five Stars

Favourite Track: Cirkus

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |


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