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King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.63 | 4163 ratings

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5 stars In this year of King Crimson's 50th anniversary, as today's version of the band is once again on tour, it's time to remember this amazing year of 69 for Fripp and his cronies, and how close King Crimson went to be but a shooting star in the dawning skies of prog, passing from birth to death in less than a year.

Officially born in January at the Fulham Palace Cafe where they met for their first rehearsal, Fripp, Giles, Lake, McDonald and Sinfield conquered London's underground scene during the spring (when, according to Crimson legendarium, they were crowned "the best rock'n'roll band in the world" by none other than Jimi Hendrix), before opening for the Rolling Stones in July in Hyde Park, in front of an audience of several hundred thousands. In August, while still playing the London clubs, they recorded their first album "In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson)" (let's use the full title at least once) which went out in October and was immediately praised by the critics. Following that, they embarked in November on an extensive tour of the USA (after less than a year of existence and only one album, those were indeed the days !) at the end of which the band exploded, Lake answering the call of the siren Emerson and Giles and McDonald giving up. If Fripp and Sinfield hadn't gathered the tattered remnants of the band around them to go for a second album, what would have happened ? But they did, and the rest is history.

Of this extraordinary year, there remains an album which lays down several of the bases of prog : two lengthy epics, each divided in several parts with different themes, tones and times, each delivering meaningful philosophical or political lyrics, both establishing the reign of the mellotron ("Epitaph" and the title track); the perfect prog ballad ("I Talk To The Wind"); and a statement : King Crimson are and will remain unique and unrivalled by their capacity of improvising on stage (and even in studio) and including those improvisations on their studio albums; no other band, at least none with a similar status of popularity or sales, does that. Of course, as improvs go, "Moonchild" is far from perfect, but it's a start; Fripp and his mates will get much better at it in the following years.

And now to the masterpiece, "21st Century Schizoid Man". It's the symbol of King Crimson's debut, played at this first rehearsal in January, opening both the Hyde Park set and the album. It's also the piece that defines the band's style : a perfect blend of rock and jazz. Forget about jazz-rock, which is only jazz played on electric instruments : the real fusion of both genres has been, if not invented, at least perfected to a genre in itself, by Fripp and the different casts of musicians who have participated in King Crimson since 69. It's no wonder that a young Bill Bruford (who of course couldn't imagine he would play with the band only three years later) was "scared to death" (according to his interview for the BBC4 "Prog Rock Britannia" documentary) when he heard the first riff at Hyde Park : not scared because this music his scary (although "21st" has some degree of violence which wasn't that usual in 69) but because any young musician hearing it has to think "Is it what we will have to do now? This insane level of musicianship, this audacity, this conjunction of the rigour of classical music, the creativity of jazz and the energy of rock ?". Bruford will come to it in his time and will greatly contribute to some of King Crimson's finest creations, but no other band (with the possible exception of Magma, in a different style but a similar project) will ever go this far.

Whether "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is the first real prog album or not doesn't matter. It's a monument, not only of prog, but also of 20th century popular music. Like "Rock Bottom" or "Tubular Bells", every amateur of music should have it in his collection. Essential, and a masterpiece : nothing short of five stars will do.

Kaelka | 5/5 |


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