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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 2111 ratings

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4 stars I usually get my source of music information from reading reviews from online nonprofessional web critics. In regards to Lizard, a good chunk of them who aren't based solely in a progressive rock site are not very fond of it, considering this to be one of the nadirs of King Crimson and the majority of the album being unlistenable or boring. After reading these reviews, I went to my local record store, bought the album, among others, and went home to play it. After the last notes faded into the ether, I kept asking myself: "Am I listening to the same record?" Rather than thinking of it as an unfocused pile of mush, I think of Lizard as a fine accomplishment of the early (i.e. 1969 - 1971) King Crimson

For this version of King Crimson, Gordon Haskell and Mel Collins, who contributed to the sessions for In The Wake Of Poseidon, make full time appearances on bass/vocals and sax/flutes respectively, with Andy McCulloch taking up the drums. Keith Tippet appears with his pianos and bringing some musicians from his group - Robin Miller on oboe and cor anglais, Mark Charig on trumpet and Nick Evans on trombone - and though only listed as a session musician, he plays such a key role that he could almost be a full member. Haskell's bass playing is decent and I have no problem with his vocals, but I admit this is probably the only album where his singing could have worked; I really can't see him singing '21st Century Schizoid Man', which was still a key number in their (then dormant) live set. McCulloch is probably the most fidgety of Crimson's drummers, and it fits with the material presented in the album.

With the above group, guitarist Robert Fripp (with lyricist Peter Sinfield still in tow) takes Crimson in a new direction, the first of many twists he would take the group. The album's first half is based on the jazzier elements developed on Poseidon and injected with a dose of weird, a trait immediately thrust upon with listener with the opening 'Cirkus', another Mellotron based tune with a simplistic horn line that brings forth Sinfield's whacked-out circus imagery and punctuated with Fripp's acoustic guitar - sometimes lovely, sometimes frantic - and organ. The aforementioned lyrics are just as weird as Poseidon's title track - in fact, had it appeared on that album, it could have been the sequel to 'The Court Of The Crimson King' - though they're much better this time around (the opening stanza alone beats out anything from 'Poseidon') and are complimented well with the various keyboards and Haskell's regal sounding vocals, with Fripp's aforementioned guitar and Collins' saxophone spicing things up a bit.

The slightly bluesy 'Indoor Games' harkens back to 'Cat Food' from the last album, as well as the material by Giles, Giles & Fripp and it's every bit as weird as those works. A lot of it has to do with Haskell; while his voice sounds perfectly at home on 'Cirkus', he sounds absolutely goofy on here (and 'Happy Family' for that matter). In fact, the entire song is goofy; a VCS3 synth whistles and hums throughout, Fripp's guitar is skipping along, Collins' sax lazily drifts along to the riff that lays the foundation for the song, and, of course, Sinfield's lyrics: 'Each afternoon you train baboons to sing / Or swim in purple Perspex water wings'. Wiggy. About the worst that can be said is that the synth and the more hyper section of Fripp's guitar should have been pushed a bit to the forefront, but other than that, a real delight.

The Beatles break-up tale 'Happy Family' is next and the only spot where I can understand where the album's detractors are coming from. The nursery-rhyme meets wacky free jazz recalls Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, so if you don't like that album, you're probably not going to like 'Happy Family'. I like the Led Zeppelin-ish riff that pops up now and then, and the main song portion is alright, though some might find Haskell's distorted voice a tad annoying. As for the jam section, Haskell and McCulloch manage to put a foundation on the jam, preventing it from flying into chaos, while Collins and Charig (or is it Evans? I'm not too sure) pull off some decent solos as Tippet and Fripp do some free-form playing in the background. Of the five tracks here, this is probably the one you might to approach with the most caution.

Things settle down a bit with 'Lady Of The Dancing Water', a lovely song based on acoustic guitar and electric piano that's in the same vein as the 'Peace' songs from Poseidon, but this one is actually fully built and succeeds where 'Peace' failed. Haskell's voice is back in his range, delivering a nice performance.

The entire second side of the album is occupied by the 23+ minute, four part title suite, the first and last time Crimson would attempt such a feat. Most of the track is heavily aided by Tippet and his crew and as a result, it's the only number off the album that probably could not have been done justice live had the main core of this line-up (i.e. Fripp, Sinfield, Haskell, Collins and McCulloch) ever had the chance.

The poppy 'Prince Rupert Awakes' kicks off the suite and it sounds like something Yes would have done at the time - they even brought in Jon Anderson to sing the part. Listening it sounds like you're entering a beautiful dream, especially in the chorus section with the backwards guitar and Anderson's vocals, though the occasional Mellotron scream and piano twangs in the verses suggest something wrong beneath the surface. Not helped by the whole 'Stake a lizard by the throat' thing.

Chraig's horn brings forth the second section, 'Bolero: The Peacock's Tale'. It takes some cues from Sketches Of Spain-era Miles Davis and Maurice Ravel's own 'Bolero', though unlike the latter, it's not a crescendo piece, just an instrumental with McCulloch forming the structure of the piece with a variation of the original 'Bolero' 's beat. The main theme is quite lovely, thanks in part to the piano, oboe and Mellotron. About halfway through the section, the band starts playing the verse section of 'Prince Rupert Awakes' as a Rat-Pack styled swing, of all things. I never saw that one coming and it's one of the hilarious things I've ever heard. Another moment I like is Tippet's Spanish flavored playing about two-thirds into the section, which is sadly pushed into the background by the horns and sax, though, fortunately, not enough to drown it out. I'm still puzzled about the complaints that it's boring or atonal. The main theme and the silly bits are enough to keep the listener satisfied and it lasts for a reasonable amount of time.

'Battle Of Glass Tears' starts out as a creepy piano/cor angais ballad (subtitled 'Dawn Song') sung by Haskell before shifting into an ominous Mellotron number that alternates between a heavier section (subtitled 'Last Skirmish') that loosely recalls 'Pictures Of A City'. The chaos that consumed 'Happy Family' is back again in full force and fits the whole battle vibe. Compared to 'Prince Rupert' and 'Peacock's Tale', this part is relatively simple, but it does its job and, as with 'Peacock', doesn't overstay it's welcome, though I have to admit, Crimson would greatly improve on the ideas presented on "Last Skirmish" during the 1972 - 1974 era. The section closes with a Fripp guitar solo (subtitled 'Prince Rupert's Lament'), backed with Haskell playing a one note bass line and McCulloch doing a funeral march; it's one of the more unnerving moments by Crimson. After scaring the pants off the listener for the past 11 or so minutes, Fripp and co. end the suite (and the album) with 'Big Top', a carousel flavored waltz that reprises the bridge to 'Cirkus', making the whole piece (if not the album) come across like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Overall, I think the suite is a success. The piece builds logically and encompasses the moods it wants to depicts quite well.

I think it's a masterpiece, but, as they say, taste is subjective. I enjoy the weirdness that flows through the album, but if you're still suspicious, I recommend borrowing it from a friend before making a purchase.

Edit (July 12, 2012): As much as I like this album, I've decided to lower its rating to a 4/5. It's still good, but,as mentioned before, King Crimson would greatly improve on some ideas presented in the second half of the "Lizard" suite. I'll explain when I get to reviewing Larks' Tongues In Aspic.

Final rating: 4/5

Personal favorites: "Cirkus", "Indoor Games", "Lady Of The Dancing Water", "Lizard" (specifically the "Prince Rupert Awakes" and "Bolero: The Peacock's Tale" sections)

Personal dislikes: None

KingCrInuYasha | 4/5 |


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