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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 | 2991 ratings

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Starette
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Apparently, this is one of the very first Progressive Rock albums. As usual (given the fact this is another one of those things where it all boils down to opinion) there's controversy surrounding this idea. I'm quite happy either way. I could moan and say "What about the Moody Blues?" or I could say "This King Crimson album sounds way better than anything before it's time therefore it IS the first Prog album!" Or I could be extremely wise: I don't give a toss whether or not an album can even be considered 'Progressive' or not; it's on this website, it sounds fantastic and I'm reviewing it!! Again- the lovely Greg Lake thrills me with his voice but I'm keeping in mind the fact that he's younger than he was the last time I heard him (on various ELP songs) and I'm also keeping in mind that (unlike in ELP) he didn't write the lyrics for the songs on this album. Not all by himself anyway. For example- we've got Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield to thank for the bizarre lyrics of the legendary In the Court of the Crimson King that the whole album takes its' name from. The lyrics of some of the songs have a streak of melodrama in them (eg: Epitaph) but there's also some GREAT poetry there. The first ever King Crimson song I heard was 21st Century Schizoid Man and I have to admit that I was not thrilled. But the first ever time I heard the beautiful In the Court of the Crimson King was on a friends mp3- player at university. There were people talking all around and my ex-boyfriend was comically miming the words as I was listening to them- but neither of these distractions stopped me from getting the full blast of the songs' beauty and realising how much I needed the album..if not just the song! As for the album cover, that put me off a bit when I first saw it, but I suppose we all have to look down the throat and nostrils of a hideous, red-faced, insanely paranoid-looking man at some point in our lives..don't we? Enough of my babbling! On to the album.

21st Century Schizoid Man: Is this what one could call Jazz Fusion? I've never heard any real Jazz Fusion before, not that I know of anyway, but I consider this particular song very 'jazzy' indeed- what with the saxophones and various brass instruments that feature on this track, not to mention the way in which they're backed up by Michael Giles drums. At first we hear a rather large audience in the distance- they're cheering or revelling, or so it sounds like anyway. On top of this, we hear the tuning of instruments (eg: a blatant electric-guitar pluck is heard) and then BANG! We're into the song which jumps out at us unexpected. The brass instruments play a very cool tune and the drum-work is doubly impressive. Then Lake comes in, singing into a microphone that distorts him voice. The lyrics consist of three separate verses, all with the same melody and all ending in "21st Century Schizoid Man!" For the record, someone who can be described as 'schizoid' has a long-term mental disorder in which they suffer fantasy mixing with reality and enjoy their solitude more than they should. There's your random fact for the day! To be honest, the melody and singing-style reminds me of old Rock 'n Roll. The Saxophones tend to take-over throughout the song. Two minutes into the song, we have a funky instrumental break in which the brass and bass dance around to ever- changing beats. Then Robert Fripp's electric guitar improvises for a while. This is also my first taste of Robert Fripp and I see why everyone says he's such a great guitarist- however he's not so much showing off his powers as a musician as much as he is just toodling around for this part of the song. Still sounds great though. After this, Ian McDonald's reed-instruments fool around. I have to say though, if it wasn't for Greg Lake's bass playing which holds everything together, then this bit would be crap. The saxophones *squeal* for goodness sake! Then the drums and brass work together, playing a little ditty- very funky. And now we're back to the riff he heard at the beginning and Greg Lake sings the last verse. The lyrics for this song are all depressing descriptions. Eg: "Death seed, blind man's greed! Poets' starving children bleed!" Bizarre but good for trying to jump into the mind of a very disturbed 'schizoid-man'. The end is nothing short of bizarre as well: after you think the song's already ended, the saxophones and guitar act like a bunch of frightened animals and squeal/scream/moan, all on different notes, once more.

I Talk to the Wind: And now for something completely different! This is a very sweet and gentle song. Ian McDonald and his two flutes play a pretty introduction. "Said the straight man, to the late man, 'where have you been?' " There is nothing more pretty than the way the snare-friendly drums work with the flutes in this piece, also with Greg Lake's choir-boy voice over the top of that. "I talk to the wind..the wind does not hear. The wind cannot hear." This melody is repetitive but the flute improvises on it all the way. Watch out for the very 60s 'cool-cat' flute solo with the sliding-up-and-down electric guitar. It may be short but what I like about it is the fact that it's basically another back-up for the main melody but this is hard to tell as it's so innovative and beautiful in itself. Then Greg Lake sings the first verse again: "I've been here and I've been there and.I've been inbetween." This is a song about a more optimistic view on solitude: how comforting it can be. However- that's only MY interpretation. The flutes play the introduction again, then one flute plays another improvisation- very gorgeous. Eventually an oboe joins it and it fades out. But not before the drum-roll comes in to lead us up to Epitaph.

Epitaph: The drum-rolling and crashing repeats a number of times at the start, backed up by the mellotron. The string-sounds and guitar stay together while Greg Lake sings at his most 'sultry' (if that's the word). When I think about it, this is a very dark song. "But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying." Here- the mellotron picks up. Part of me believes that King Crimson (all band members contributed to the lyrics for this song) knew how overly-romantic some of these lyrics are so the passionate music was a play of how cheesy they could be- making it sound somewhat melodramatic. On the other hand some of the lyrics seem to have a deep meaningful side: "Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one sets the rules. The fate of all mankind I see is in the hands of fools." After this, there's a slow climax of the strings and a gentle guitar plays. Reed-instruments sound over the top of that. Then we're back to Greg Lake singing the chorus for the last time and that wonderful mellotron. "Confusion will be my Epitaph." He gets a lot more passionate for the last few "Cryyyyying!" s- it's great! The mellotron 'baps' towards the end and a piano is heard playing along in the distance as the track fades out.

Moonchild: The start of this is very 60s indeed. A whining electric guitar plays with an acoustic while the mellotron controls the background. Pulsing, echoing vibes are heard in the distance and they 'water-down' everything in contrast with the very vivid percussion. (The drum-set focuses on the hi-hat for this track) The lyrics are cute: "She's a moonchild, gathering the flowers in a garden. Lovely moonchild, drifting on the echoes of the hours." They remind me of my cat- Artemis- as she plays in my backyard. This is very much like a ballad. The lyrics are also slightly sad and melancholy: ".waiting for a smile from a sunchild." Dream: This is the transition to 'fooling around'. The gentle pulsing vibes in the background are brought to the front and the guitar starts a slow improvisation. Every now and then Giles decides to hit part of his drum-kit. This is beautiful at first but it soon becomes tedious. Then it becomes frustrating due to the constant feeling that it's actually leading up to something! After the distorted guitar and drums make a few clanking sounds, the vibes go crazy. We *know* they're just fooling around. Some riffs are pretty good: one example being when the snare picks up with the guitar. Finally, when the guitar resorts to a slow strumming- the piece ends on a major chord.

In the Court of the Crimson King: The best! This is also a personal favourite of one of my best mates who was brought-up listening to Prog as a result of having parents with a decent music-taste and a large selection of King Crimson records..the lucky girl. The drums are the first thing heard but the singing mellotron is the main fruit of this song. When you think about it- the lyrics of Uriah Heeps' 'Magician's Birthday' are like this song: descriptions of a fantasy land. However, while Uriah Heep is all happy-clappy, this song has a much darker tone. "The choir softly sings.three lullabies in an ancient tongue For the COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING..Aah!" (No,no- you *can't* deny the "Aah!"s.) Everyone sings at this point. For the verse, a sad guitar and drums accompany Lake but it's the title of the song/album that takes the full blast of the whole band. Later, Robert Fripp picks up on the guitar and the keyboard is tapped faster as the mellotron does its' own beautiful solo. Then, of course, back to those wonderful "Aah!"s. This may be a repeated melody but sometimes repeated is better- this is a good tune to get stuck in your head. A verse starts where the guitar is slightly more distorted and you can tell from Greg Lake's voice how much he's loving this. "The gardener plants an evergreen, whilst trampling on a flower." This is what I mean by the dark- undertone. This song is filled with conventionally cute but cruel fantasy-characters! After yet another "Aah!" we have a lovely flute. King Crimson love their flutes on this album. This flute starts off slow and improvising then gets frantic and trills into the last verse. "The yellow jester does not play but gently pulls the strings and smiles as the puppets dance in the COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING." By now we should be closing our eyes and lying back in bliss to the sound of this chorus. Just when we think it's ended, The Puppet's Dance begins! Ian McDonald plays clown-like flutes and recorders to find the right sound for this part. They do a duet version of the chorus' melody- Lets go to the Circus! Then the drums make a slow grand-entrance and we hear the *real* chorus music with the mellotron again. Except it's made somewhat amusing this time with the brass instruments in the background. The ending is crazy- it ends on one chord but it's not unlike that of the ending to 21st Century Schizoid man.

Overall- this is the King Crimson album to start with if you don't know where to begin. It's the very first one anyway, so why not? They're beautiful sounding- that's what they are. Beautiful but bizarre= two forces that should always be together when it comes to good music (in my opinion anyway). As for the lyrics of the album, they're indirectly dark- not depressing but melancholy. It's slightly sad poetry but not overly tragic (except maybe Epitaph). Personally, I don't think Greg Lake's vocal-techniques changed one bit between his King Crimson and ELP days. I would give this a 5-star rating but some of the songs can be quite repetitive (you know the ones I mean) and Moonchild just got silly in the end. But the truth is that this album IS fantastic. Listen to the last track and see what I mean.

Starette | 4/5 |

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