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King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.63 | 4340 ratings

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4 stars In The Court Of The Crimson King is, at least in my eyes, probably the most overrated album in King Crimson's catalog, mostly due to it being labeled as the album that defined the genre. Granted, it helped play a key role in the Second Era of prog (1969 - 1974), influencing Genesis, Gentle Giant and Yes to take up the torch, not to mention Greg Lake applying what he learned form King Crimson when he joined Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but the rest of the scene was either heading down that path anyway (Van Der Graaf Generator, Jethro Tull) or were playing this type of music before King Crimson came along (The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Deep Purple, The Nice, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and The Soft Machine), and in the case of the latter group, the album owes a lot to those aforementioned artists. The only explanation I can think of why Court got the "first prog album" title in the first place is that music like this didn't have a name at the time, and the emergence of King Crimson led critics and music fans to try and find one. At the end of the day, however, overrated does not always mean low in quality, and even when the unneeded praise is set aside, it's still a well crafted album and a solid debut, making very good use of the traits displayed by its predecessors.

Most of the line-up from the final Giles, Giles and Fripp incarnation is here. Robert Fripp mostly stays in the background, delivering some tasty acoustic and electric guitar lines, with Ian McDonald leading the proceedings with reeds, flues, keyboards and Mellotron. Michael Giles' drumming takes on a more stately role and Peter Sinfield expands his role as lyricist. That leaves new guy Greg Lake, who proves to be a worthy successor to Peter Giles in terms of bass playing and, to a greater extent, vocal ability.

The band's ability is immediately thrust upon the listener with the opening track, "21st Century Schizoid Man". The main, proto-metal song portion is impressive as it is - mostly due to the riff and Lake's distorted screaming - but it's the middle section that earns the piece's reputation among fans, as the band screeches, screams and pounds its way through a fierce electric bebop, perfectly capturing Sinfield's lyrics of a world gone mad. Truly a testament to the band's instrumental skills and a major factor in giving the genre its more chaotic characteristics. Oddly enough, it's also the odd duck of the album, at least in terms of overall sound. The other four tracks are fairly subdued and it's not uncommon for some people to walk away from that initial blast greatly disappointed, but the band manages to keep up the quality for the most part.

"I Talk To The Wind" is a ballad that emerged from the later days of Giles, Giles & Fripp, heavily based on McDonald's flute work, which is quite impressive. I like the little flourishes Giles puts in his drumming during the chorus and the grooves he puts in the instrumental parts; I'm not sure if I would like the song as much as I do without them. Oh, and Fripp gets to squeeze in a nice little solo.

"Epitaph" is the first of the album's two Mellotron based epics. Comparison with the Moody Blues material at the time - especially On The Threshold Of A Dream - are pretty much inevitable, but this one leans towards the more pessimistic side of the spectrum, opting for the hopelessness shown in "Schizoid", funeral march and all. Pompous, yes, but well executed, with Lake delivering what is probably his best performance on the album, giving the song its emotional impact.

If someone who has heard this album is asked what is the weakest track, the answer will usually go to "Moonchild", and I'm not about to deviate from the norm on that one, though it's not all bad. The first two and a half minutes is one of the most brilliant things I've ever heard, an interstellar ballad with Fripp's mandolin sounding electric guitar and McDonald's Mellotron and flute stealing the show. Unfortunately, the last ten minutes is a quiet jam consisting of Fripp, Giles and McDonald that, despite some interesting passages - most notably the lullaby sounding last minute in a half, which, I admit, gets to me every time - just drags. It's this part that ultimately prevents me from giving this album a perfect score. Not helped that another incarnation of Crimson would render this section useless five years later on Starless And Bible Black.

Fortunately, the band bounces back with the title track, the second of the album's two Mellotron based epics. Sinfield's lyrics have been good up to this point - whether it be apocalyptic ("21st Century Schizoid Man"), introspective ("I Talk To The Wind"), mournful ("Epitaph"), or romantic ("Moonchild") - but here he hits his stride, crafting a colorful tale of intrigue in what appears to be people taking part in a willfully blind fantasy world. The music is lovingly crafted from the same cloth as "Epitaph" and fits the lyrics quite well, especially its haunting chorus. There's also a nice flue section between the third and fourth verses - if "Schizoid" was a blatant show of virtuosity, this part is more subtle, as the band weaves its way around the main melody - and a coda with a circus like organ, which leads back to the chorus which spirals slowly out of control and finishes with a wash of organ, abruptly ending the album.

Overall, a very impressive album, but, as mentioned before, a tad overrated. I find nearly a quarter of the album to be downright boring, not to mention Fripp would later assemble two other lineups (the Larks and Discipline bands) that were just as good. Still, it's not too shabby and probably the best starting point for those wanting to enter the court of the Crimson King.

Final rating: 4/5

Personal favorites: "21st Century Schizoid Man", "I Talk To The Wind", "Epitaph", "Moonchild" (song portion), "The Court Of The Crimson King"

Personal dislikes: "Moonchild" (jam portion)

KingCrInuYasha | 4/5 |


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