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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

4.63 | 4141 ratings

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kaiofelipe
5 stars This is not just one of the best albums of the 1960s, but also of all time. In the Court of the Crimson King is the debut of a band formed just nine months earlier: King Crimson, a quintet composed by Robert Fripp (guitar), Michael Giles (drums), Greg Lake (vocals and bass), Ian McDonald (backing vocals, mellotron, flute, sax and vibraphone) and Peter Sinfield (lyrics). 1969 was an "annus mirabilis" in the Crims career: in January, the band performed their first rehearsal in the basement of a road cafe; in April, they made their first shows in England; in July, they played to half a million people at a festival in Hyde Park, as the Rolling Stones' opening band (and in a way stealing their scene); in August, they recorded their debut album, being the producers themselves, after having aesthetic disagreements with Tony Clarke, the producer of The Moody Blues; In October, they released In the Court of the Crimson King, which debuted straight at #5 in England (behind only big commercial hits like Beatles Abbey Road and Rolling Stones' own Through the Past Darkly), reached five months later #28 in the United States and also a surprising #1 among international records in Japan (surpassing even Abbey Road); at the end of the same month, they began an extensive US tour, which had a great reception; in December, during the American tour, the band disintegrated, as McDonald had artistic differences with Fripp (the first wanted King Crimson to adopt a more folk and romantic direction with less heavy and dark themes, and the second prioritized the experimental verve), Giles didn't want to keep up with the tiresome touring routine (he even argued that they should become a studio band like The Beatles, but Fripp wasn't interested in it) and Lake was invited by Keith Emerson to form the supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer. That is, in less than a year the first King Crimson lineup had a promising start, a meteoric rise (it was one of the most praised albums of '69, even though it was released at the same time as Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin II; it wen Gold in both UK and USA) and an abrupt end. Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield kept the band alive, with the former being the only constant member in all subsequent lineups (Sinfield would be out in 71, and two years later he started writing lyrics for Emerson, Lake & Palmer). In the Court of the Crimson King is considered a classic, among other reasons, for laying the ultimate foundations of progressive rock, from conceptual appeal (the apocalyptic theme of three of the five tracks) to eclecticism, incorporating other musical styles - including classical music - and departing from blues-based rock. It should be noted that four of its songs are among the most popular and influential of the band's entire career, and the other ("Moonchild"), as much as it is still controversial, was important for its avant-garde spirit and for anticipatingthe improvisations ( "blows") that would become recurring on their subsequent albums.

Here's a track-by-track analysis of the Crimsonian debut: 1. "21st Century Schizoid Man": seven minutes of musical revolution. This track combines elements of heavy metal (incidentally, it was one of the pioneering songs in the genre), jazz (its middle part consists of almost 4 minutes of insane and frenetic improvisation) and progressive rock (complex structure with many key changes and high musicianship). On the musical side everything is spectacular: Robert Fripp's fierce guitar, Greg Lake's distorted vocals and bruising bass, Ian McDonald's hysterical sax and Michael Giles's visceral drum performance (try listening to a version of the track with the battery isolated from other instruments). It should be noted that this track was recorded live, in one take. The lyrics also deserve attention, containing strong dystopian tones ("Neurosurgeons scream for more (...) Poets starving, children bleed"), criticizing from the Vietnam War ("Innocents raped with napalm fire") to rampant consumerism ("Nothing he's got he really needs"). By the way, the famous and disturbing cover of the album accurately portrays the "schizoid man" described in the lyrics. Fripp kept this track in the repertoire until 1974 (year of the end of the band's first incarnation) and again in 1996 and from 2014 onwards, perhaps because it was the only link of the first album with all other King Crimson incarnations: the successor In the Wake of Poseidon (1970) - which has "21st Century"'s younger sister, "Pictures of a City" -, the jazzy tyle of Lizard (1970) and Islands (1971) and the heavier sound of Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974). "21st Century Schizoid Man" is, alongside "Starless", King Crimson's best song, and curiously both complement each other: one opened the band's range of aesthetic possibilities and the other presented it in its ultimate form. 2. "I Talk To The Wind": one of the most beautiful moments of In The Court is precisely the transition between the chaos of "21st Century" and the serenity of "I Talk To The Wind", because it is where we realize that we are facing an eclectic and talented band. In fact, it was probably during those few seconds that King Crimson conquered me 8 years ago. Ian McDonald's performance on the flute is masterful, and it clearly shows the kind of pastoral sound he wanted - but couldn't - develop at King Crimson, which he eventually performed on his great solo album McDonald and Giles (1971). 3. "Epitaph": another remarkable transition is between the previous track and this one, with the drums announcing the beginning of a song as epic in its sound as it is tragic in its lyrics. Once again Sinfield evokes a pessimistic and decadentist view: "The wall on which the prophets wrote / Is cracking at the seams (...) When every man is torn apart / With nightmares and with dreams / Will no one lay the laurel wreath / When silence drowns the screams". This is one of the songs in which the use of mellotron is most prominent, creating a gloomy atmosphere, as if depicting the fall of an empire. The acoustic guitar adds some delicacy to the melody, and Greg Lake's vocals are majestic. By the way, "Epitaph" contains my favorite King Crimson lyrics: "Knowledge is a deadly friend / If no one sets the rules / The fate of all mankind / I see in the hands of fools". 4. "Moonchild": the first 3 minutes suggest a melodic and delicate song like "I Talk to the Wind", but the final 9 minutes go down an unusual path, full of instrumental improvisations, ranging from vibraphone to percussion. It can be said that "Moonchild" sows the seed for the intriguing, disconcerting - and yet sometimes beautiful - improvisations that will mark later albums such as Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973). 5. "The Court of the Crimson King": of the five songs on the album this is the most paradigmatic for progressive rock, from the abundant use of mellotron (this time in a more expansive tone) to the deeply allegorical and sophisticated lyrics (see verses like "The pattern juggler lifts his hand / The orchestra begin / As slowly turns the grinding wheel / In the court of the crimson king "). You can trace its legacy to bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Camel and anyone else who has tried to build a symphonic (or simply long and ambitious) song ever since. The title track can convey elegance and melancholy at the same time, and its powerful chorus is one of the most cathartic moments of Crimson discography - and what is further enhanced when it is performed live, creating an ecumenical sensation. From the musical point of view, again we have McDonald's beautiful flute and Giles's overwhelming drums. The song also features a coda, which comes slowly after the supposed climax and ending; even in its final two minutes the song (and the album) holds us one last sublime moment, as it takes up the main melody even more intensely.

Rock would never be the same after In the Court of the Crimson King; the artistic elevation and high-culture potential of a music style that had begun to be strictly popular and commercial was already finding its first full demonstration in the late 1960s, and the legacy of King Crimson's first (and greatest) masterpiece continues to delight listeners five decades later.

kaiofelipe | 5/5 |

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