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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 2114 ratings

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4 stars King Crimson was the second progressive band I'd discovered, and, since then, I had broadened my horizons in the progressive music discography with such bands as Genesis, Yes, ELP, Carmen and Gentle Giant. So, for a long time now, King Crimson was no longer the focus of my ear's attention; I've found that, compared to many progressive bands, King Crimson was the most unbalanced band; their discography is very uneven and many of their albums were very flawed in many aspects. As for Robert as a musician, he could be an amazing guitar player and a proficient composer when he wanted to, but most of the time he wanted to experiment, and most of the time he didn't pull it off too well (a very good example of this: Starless and Bible Black and Islands).

Some call it "for die-hard fans only", but I'd dare to state another argument: since King Crimson fans had always been divided between the "Court" lovers, the "Bruford- Wetton-Fripp" or the "Belew-Fripp" admirers , this album (along with Islands) seems to be lost in a transition. I'm not a big fan of King Crimson, yet I found it to be their best and most eclectic work ever. Uneven? sure, but the epic title track manages to take most of the rating. It doesn't deserve the 5-star because some songs were very unnecessary and range from weird to completely ridiculous. But the title track alone has the merit of, at least, a 4.5 rating; maybe a half star less due to some minor flaws that I'll discuss further below. Here are the ups and downs:

- Mel Collins can play some beautiful flute sometimes, but he gets carried away too often. I never thought he was able to make a decent improvisation with it; and most of the time he sounds like trying to get the high notes off instead of focusing on harmonizing along the music (the best example of this on "Happy Family and "The Battle Of Glass Tears"). I'm not against the off-key notes, but this playing mode shouldn't be so persistent; once in a good while he should feed the music with notes on the intervals and here he just sounds like throwing random notes in a hit and miss attempt: most of the time he MISSES. However, his work on "Lady Of The Dancing Water" demonstrates how fluent and mellow he could sound. He's much better when he plays on obbligato rather than ad libitum.

- I don't like Gordon Haskell on this record; his voice is less fluent than on the "Cadance and Cascade" song, and he has led a bad reputation after the parts he played here. It's a shame because he wasn't a bad vocalist.

- As for Keith Tippett, I found out he was a great pianist on this record. I didn't like his work on "Cat Food" much, mostly due to it's intro.

- Indoor Games would have been a decent jazzy-rock song, were it not for the cheesy background synths. As for Happy Family, it was a simple rock song with a jazzy style that came out a bit flawed due to the aforementioned Mel Collins' flute, alongside the ridiculous synthetizers that only made it more unlistenable.

-"Cirkus" and "Lady Of The Dancing Water" are the highlights of Side A: I found the mellotron lines on "Cirkus" very interestesting in the harmony created along with the basslines and the acoustic guitar noodling by Fripp, and there were some nice feeds by Mel Collins on Alto Sax; Haskell also contributes greatly with the vocals, especially in the song's introduction. Lady Of The Dancing Water features the most beautiful flute display by Mel Collins and it's an oasis to rest your ears in after the horrible aftertaste left by "Happy Family".

- "Lizard" it's not a conventional prog rock epic. I wouldn't even consider it progressive ROCK, but opts more for a "progressive jazz" tag; that is, classical-oriented jazz music. The best example of this amalgam is present in the "Peacock's Tale": certainly has a classical bolero format "a la ravell" with free-form jazz style improvisations; it's the most sentimental segment, in my opinion, and the oboe lines (at least I think it's an oboe; I get confused with the woodwinds sometimes) brings this sentimentalism to a more acute level; so acute that your eyes will feel a bit wet after a while. "The Battle Of Glass Tears" offers an aggressive free-form jazz soaked in mellotrons to give it a classical enviroment; and, although it's a bit flawed by the random flute gibberish of Mel Collins, it doesn't manage to spoil it (Mel should put some low key notes every now and then, though). Plus, Sinfield felt like taking a rest after "Happy Family", so most of the synths are as great as absent on the 23-mintute long song (I think Sinfield was also in charge of the synthetizers, although I'm not really sure). Jon Anderson (of YES fame) sings on "Prince Rupert Awakes", the most rock-oriented part of the suite, and does it magnificently; I have no objections with his singing.

I think "Lizard" (the song) is one of the best episodal "epics" made in prog music, in competition with "Supper's Ready" (Genesis), "Close To The Edge" (Yes), "Thick As A Brick" and "A Passion Play" (Jethro Tull). Maybe it's the most original "progressive jazz" epic made by a progressive rock band, as it's not like the rest of the epics that would dominate the 70's prog outputs, starting with the dismissal of many indications of rock music in the arrangements. Fripp demonstrates that Ian McDonald's absence had no effect on the songwriting, creating one of the most beautiful and complex pieces ever made by King Crimson. Neither "Epitaph", nor "Court Of The Crimson King", nor "I Talk To The Wind" could hold a candle to this masterpiece, often dismissing the former pieces as practically "just a bunch of songs".

I think many Gentle Giant fans would appreciate this album better than many "die-hard" Crimson fans, because, as I mentioned above, the Crimson fandom is divided; and this period of King Crimson is the least considered, judging from what I've seen.

It's a shame that I'd have to rate this album lower than the title track merits. So a 3.5 star rating. although I'll round it to 4... The title track is really nothing short of breathtaking.

Chus | 4/5 |


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