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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

4.62 | 3995 ratings

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Frankingsteins
5 stars The groundbreaking debut record of progressive rock continues to be of interest to music historians. 1969 was the year of the first moon landings, the first gay rights, the final Beatles performance, Woodstock, continuing conflict in Vietnam and Northern Ireland, the first ATM machine and, of course, the withdrawal of the halfpenny as legal tender in the UK. What influence, if any, did this incredible year have on guitarist Robert Fripp and the musicians he assembled under the provisional name of Giles, Giles and Fripp?

None at all, evidently. 'In the Court of the Crimson King,' a surprising success, seems to have come out of nowhere. While the Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper' is rightly acclaimed for its experimentation and the young Pink Floyd's albums were becoming increasingly complex, King Crimson were the first to produce, however unintentionally, the record that defined and kick-started the prog movement, with its textured atmospheres, crazy structures and darkly poetic lyrics from non-musician Peter Sinfield.

ITCOTCK, to use its even more confusing abbreviation, is lauded by many as one of the greatest and most important albums of all time, but it isn't without its weaknesses. Some of the experiments aren't entirely successful, and there's a tendency for songs to outstay their welcome, but on the whole this is an amazing independent work by some excellent musicians:

Robert Fripp, the band's founder, guitarist and a man who has repeatedly found himself the only remaining band member over King Crimson's long and turbulent existence, alternates between the loud and distorted heavy-metal-inspiring riffs that would dominate the band's seventies output, and calmer, subdued acoustics for the softer songs.

Greg Lake, departing after this album to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer, is responsible for the great melodic driving bass line that holds the insanity of the famous first track together, and handles vocal duties competently and clearly on all tracks, achieving his best performance on the haunting 'Epitaph.'

Drummer Michael Giles, like Fripp, adapts seamlessly between manic and peaceful songs, but his greatest feat here is the wild jazzy drumming of '21st Schizoid Man.' Ian McDonald handles all keyboard duties, including the roaring mellotron that dominates the title track. He also adds the exotic woodwind and flute sounds that enchance the album's distinctive and much-imitated atmosphere.

1. 21st Century Schizoid Man . (including Mirrors)

2. I Talk to the Wind

3. Epitaph . a) March for No Reason . b) Tomorrow and Tomorrow

4. Moonchild . a) The Dream . b) The Illusion

5. The Court of the Crimson King . a) The Return of the Fire Witch . b) The Dance of the Puppets

The five songs on this album have become legendary in prog rock, and are superbly varied in style. After thirty seconds of quiet, distant background noise, '21st Century Schizoid Man' explodes with its sax-and-guitar combo riff and leads into Lake's distorted, angry, staccato screams. The song speeds all over the place during its seven minutes, but stays coherent and impressive, building up anticipation for the final reprise. Surely the most covered prog rock song outside of Pink Floyd, I've even heard an Ozzy Osbourne cover that is predictably irritating and rubbish.

It would be hard to top the madness and volume of the first track, and the music becomes far more subdued for most of the album as a result. This may disappoint some listeners, but the songs work so well (on the whole) that the album remains consistent and impressive. 'I Talk to the Wind' is the yin to Schizoid Man's yang (or whichever one is the good, friendly half of the balance), dreamy and ethereal. McDonald's flutes combine perfectly with the other instruments, this focus on coherence marking the song out from most other ballads.

'Epitaph' is an incredible song, another led by acoustic guitar but enhanced with the ever-popular mellotron, making this disillusioned epitaph sound like a bleaker equivalent of something like 'Trespass' by Genesis (released the following year). As mentioned earlier, Lake's vocals are at their most powerful and effective here, especially in the chorus, blending perfectly against the backdrop, whether that's a mellotron overload or simply a muted drum beat.

'Moonchild' is undoubtedly the weak point of the album, an overlong and frankly boring song. It's pleasant enough for the first three minutes, if a little too quiet and similar to 'I Talk to the Wind,' but then tails off for ten minutes of more or less nothingness. Fans of soundscapes may find something to like in this sparse instrumental, but it's even been admitted since that this section was created (probably improvised) because the album was too short. Moonchild serves only to lead into the epic conclusion.

With 'The Court of the Crimson King,' the band arguably saved the best song till last. Not as immediately impressive as 'Schizoid Man,' and lacking the depth of 'Epitaph,' the simple melodies and exaggerated chorus point this song in a hit single direction, perhaps hindered by the changes in instruments and the breaks taken in-between sections. The dominating mellotron somehow bridges the gap between the classical past and (at the time) ultra-modern period in creating a real courtly mood, aided greatly by Sinfield's fantastical and memorable lyrics. The woodwind interlude and final reprise are a little unnecessary, but it's a brilliant conclusion to the album that combines most of the best elements from the earlier songs and creates one of the earliest prog classics.

ITCOTCK is a necessary album for all prog rock fans, and despite its reliance on some distinctly 1969 traits, its lack of clear influences and contemporaries means it will never really sound dated. The studio production is crystal clear, as are the vocals, and there's enough diversity in the song structures to keep fans listening to the album throughout their lives. It's debatable whether the band succeeded in their goal to Anglicise rock, especially considering the obvious jazz influence, but their efforts are far more exciting and commendable than the romanticised pastoral sound of their far more successful contemporaries like Genesis and Yes.

A sixth song would have benefited this album greatly, avoiding the waste of time that is 'Moonchild.' Other tracks can seem too drawn-out sometimes, depending on the listener's mood, especially 'Schizoid Man' and the final track, but based on the next album, the King Crimson of this era had used up their four brilliant song ideas already.

The song formula of aggression, calm, darkness, fusion and epic is completely successful. So successful, in fact, that King Crimson would accidentally repeat it entirely on 1970's 'In the Wake of Poseidon,' at the same time forgetting to come up with another amazing and iconic album cover.

Frankingsteins | 5/5 |

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