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Peter Sinfield - Still CD (album) cover

STILL

Peter Sinfield

 

Prog Related

3.63 | 45 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
2 stars REVIEW #7 - "Still" by Pete Sinfield (1973). 06/09/2018

Pete Sinfield is perhaps best known for being the chief lyricist on the first four albums of eclectic prog giant King Crimson, from 1969 to 1972. While he never had an on-stage presence with the band, opting rather to conduct the band's light shows from backstage, he is responsible for gifting us the masterful penmanship of songs such as "21st Century Schizoid Man" or "In the Court of the Crimson King." Going on to write lyrics for the prog super-group Emerson, Lake, & Palmer as well as Rock Progressivo Italiano icons Premiata Formeria Marconi, Sinfield's influence on mainstream progressive rock is profound, and for the most part he has received due respect for his contributions to the genre.

As the first generation of King Crimson came to an abrupt close, a power struggle had emerged between Sinfield and guitarist Robert Fripp, both of whom were considered the leaders of the band. Seeking new directions for the group's music, the ideas of the two musicians clashed most notably on the 1972 "Islands" album which fluctuated between delicate, artsy prog and chaotic, dissonant rock en route to one of the band's less well-received albums. Following the album's corresponding tour, Fripp opted to take the initiative and promptly fired Sinfield along with the rest of the band. While this move was brutal and severed the relationship between the two, it led to King Crimson's reincarnation in 1973 with the masterpiece "Larks' Tongues in Aspic." That same year, Sinfield pursued a short-lived solo career, which culminated in the album "Still", which features several Crimson alumni alongside a slew of other guest musicians backing up Sinfield, who indeed plays some music himself on the album.

The musical approach of Sinfield is obvious; a delicate folky style seen on Crimson works such as "Formentera Lady", "I Talk to the Wind", or "Islands". He does not take any insane musical risks on this album, and I would consider it to be almost easy-listening in many places. That being said, Sinfield shows off his impressive lyrical talent on the opener "The Song of the Sea Goat", which is a reworked rendition of the guitar and string parts from Vivaldi's Largo from Concerto in D major. His way with words is to put it bluntly, impressive. From the beginning of the song the exotic and imaginative lyrics are extremely descriptive whilst being incredibly pretentious. Backing up Sinfield on this piece is a lineup which is taken straight out of King Crimson - the current Crimson bassist John Wetton makes an appearance, alongside session keyboardist Keith Tippett on piano, Mel Collins on flute, and Ian Wallace on drums. While this piece does not strike fear in a listener's mind, it is an altogether beautiful ballad which is the immediate highlight of the album. I am personally not a fan of the following piece "Under the Sky", which was in part written by multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald of King Crimson (and Foreigner!) and stays rather abstract and mellow. I could even consider it relatively psychedelic in the hushed vocal style of Sinfield - to be honest he does not make for a great vocalist, as we will see on the more active pieces on the album. His voice is only really geared to the very fragile ballads such as "Sea Goat". "Will It Be You" comes up next, and is a much more alluring European country-style piece which reminded me a bit of the shorter ballads that Pink Floyd put on their "More" and "Atom Heart Mother" albums. I've always liked this approach to prog, with the Stravinsky-esque guitar works of Yes guitarist Steve Howe being one of my greatest pleasures in the genre. I was left confused at the next track "Wholefood Boogie", which is a humorous piece that draws on Sinfield's healthy diet - it is a rather upbeat and rocking tune that exposes the weaknesses of his vocals. Both musically and lyrically this piece does not impress me; it feels like a really obvious filler track, so I quickly moved onto the title track, which opens up with some spoken word parts by Sinfield amidst a rather psychedelic background. I was almost ready to chalk this one off as another dud until the music broke out and the vocals of the great Greg Lake serenaded my ears. One of the greatest voices in prog, Lake can handle the higher ranges with ease, and combined with Sinfield's wonderful lyricism, it makes to save this track and end the first side of the record on a decently positive note. I wouldn't consider "Still" to be a highlight of the album, but Lake's guest vocals do a lot to keep me interested as we reach the halfway mark.

Side two opens up with "Envelopes of Yesterday", which is a retrospective diss track against Robert Fripp and the power struggle within King Crimson which ultimately resulted in the exodus of Sinfield from the band. Ironically enough, Wetton is featured as a bassist on this song, despite the fact that at the time he was an active member of Fripp's band. I believe that Wetton was also a session bassist for the band similar to Tony Levin before he became an official member, so there were some inherent ties to Sinfield present, but the circumstances of Wetton's featured appearance here are definitely strange. With all that said, "Envelopes" is a fine piece which is a bit on the long side at six minutes, and Sinfield continues to make use of fine lyricism to launch jabs at the eccentric guitarist. I do not think that he nor Fripp have been in contact since the first generation broke up in 1972, so I guess there is still some sort of bad blood between the two, but even then both musicians deserve their due respect. Moving on, "the Piper" follows as another brief folky intercalary - I view this piece as a fusion between "Sky" and "Will It" from the first side, with the former's vocal style and the latter's tempo being expressed here. Sinfield delivers his lyrics like a poet, but apart from the initial soft impression, there is not much else that this piece offers. "A House of Hopes and Dreams" comes up next as a longer and more interesting piece, while still retaining the rather mellow ballad theme, which I admit is starting to become tiring at this phase of the album. Sinfield made it clear that he intended his album to be soft and easy to listen to, and while it certainly has its moments, I can only truly stand so many similar ballads before it gets awfully repetitive. The music tries to erupt on this piece, and honestly it has a rather alluring instrumental coda featuring some sax - also reading the liner notes Greg Lake is also credited with playing electric guitar on this tune, which is an interesting tidbit. "Still" closes off with "the Night People" which brings back together some more Crimson musicians. This time future Bad Company bassist and former King Crimson vocalist Boz Burrell makes an appearance alongside Wallace. It is on this song where Sinfield's vocals sound most vulnerable, with it at some parts sounding something like the Wicked Witch of the West. It sounds like there is some element of distortion accompanying his voice, but it ultimately comes off as sounding very amateur. Maybe he was trying to be like Greg Lake from "Schizoid Man". That being said there is an uncanny amount of music going on here relative to the rest of the album, and alongside "Sea Goat" might just be the proggiest work to come off the album. It does not seem that Sinfield was targeting a strictly progressive approach, and therefore the "prog-related" moniker is frankly deserved here. Mel Collins makes one last hurrah on the album as the wind instruments help intensify the song. Another thing I noticed here is that Sinfield's music might just have too many vocals, which to me causes just a bit of an overload. Don't get me wrong, his lyricism is great, and perhaps is one of the best in the genre altogether, but at this point in the album I have been exhausted by it, and its delivery here is wrong. Unlike the rest of the album, this tune ends in a flurry of jazzy noise, which in turn concludes the entire album.

Pete Sinfield's sole studio album is an interesting listen. It definitely allows us to contrast the musical directions of Fripp and Sinfield as a means of seeing where King Crimson could have possibly gone, but ultimately Fripp's visions prevailed decisively, as "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" is now considered a prog masterpiece and "Still" is left obscure and only tread upon by the most devout Crimson fans. It did not mean that Sinfield's career was over, as he was responsible for penning lyrics for other successful prog acts, but if there was any sort of competition between Sinfield and Fripp, the latter outright demolished the former. There are some sporadic moments on "Still" which might be worth listening to if you were a huge fan of the "Islands" album, most notably "Sea Goat" and "Envelopes", but otherwise there really isn't much to see here. Those good moments are really overshadowed by much more filler, which really does not warrant a good review of the album. It is definitely interesting to see the rest of King Crimson sic Fripp come together to help Sinfield produce an album, and there are some cool guest appearances, but I would only really recommend this album to fans of a very specific and obscure period in King Crimson's history. There are some okay takeaways which lurch the album into the two-star range, but "Sea Goat" is the only song really worth your time here. My ultimate review of this album is a two star (68% - D+), saved largely by the fact that it didn't get too mucked down with filler.

SonomaComa1999 | 2/5 |

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