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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover

LIZARD

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 2112 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
3 stars A number of reviewers have described Lizard as 'challenging,' 'difficult to get into,' 'not easy to master,' and requiring 'an open mind' to appreciate. Of course, while that's said of many albums - - and certainly of many King Crimson albums - - it's almost as if there's something defective about those of us who don't recognize it as a masterpiece: we haven't yet mastered it, or perhaps we haven't approached it with an open mind. Perhaps we're not up to the challenge.

Who knows? Maybe a personal shortcoming prevents me from recognizing Lizard as a four- or five-star album. On the other hand, perhaps this LP is only a good album. King Crimson leader Robert Fripp, who co-wrote and co-produced the album, has judged it quite harshly for years (e.g., "I am unable to recommend that anyone part with their hard-earned pay for this one'). It's true that a post on the band's website says Fripp 'was finally reconciled with the album,' though that's hardly a glowing endorsement. The opinion of Lizard lead vocalist and bassist Gordon Haskell has been no kinder.

During its first phase (1969 to 1972), King Crimson seems to have been an emperor in continuous search of not just new clothes, but of whatever garments are the least like whatever he wore yesterday - - and as different as possible from anyone else's. For King Crimson enthusiasts, this shape-shifting is confirmation of the band's eminence. Indeed, this is in part what drove Bill Bruford, one of the greatest prog-rock drummers ever, to quit Yes immediately after Close to the Edge, one of the greatest prog-rock albums ever. King Crimson's risk-taking and innovation were too much for him to resist.

As good as the drumming on Lizard is, I get the sense that Andy McCulloch's playing wasn't quite up to the vision Fripp had for the album. McCulloch was let go after the album, and his replacement appeared on only one studio LP (though he lasted fifteen months, compared to McCulloch's two). It seems like these guys were keeping the drum stool warm for Bruford's eventual induction into the group. When Bruford and bassist-vocalist John Wetton joined in 1972, Fripp fired the entire band - - even the lyricist was given a pink slip. After four albums with three different bassist-vocalists and three different drummers, the Fripp/Bruford/Wetton troika produced three consecutive albums (with percussionist Jamie Muir on one and violinist-keyboardist David Cross on two). The quality and consistency of these three albums - - Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974), and Red (1974) - - surpasses most of the band's first four LPs.

But back in 1971, the emperor was several years away from finding a comfortable clothing style. Accordingly, Lizard is a mixture of experiments, both fruitful and futile. Most of the less successful material comprises Side One, which hits a low point on the second track, the inane 'Indoor Games.' It's not funny-inane, or even amusing-inane, and not even tolerable-inane. Haskell has claimed that his laughter at the end of the song was a reflection of the ridiculousness: 'the truth of the matter is, it was a lousy song, the lyrics were ludicrous and my singing was atrocious so I just burst out laughing.' Apparently, in an effort to continue to evolve, the band (or, perhaps more correctly, Fripp) seems to have jettisoned the relative cohesiveness of In the Court of the Crimson King, especially on Side One.

Side Two, which is taken by the suite 'Lizard,' is substantially better. Like Side One, 'Lizard' is comprised four songs, but these four make much more sense. In a sense, Side One is a rough draft of the twenty-three-minute title track. Most of the ingredients of 'Lizard' are exercised on the first side: the dramatic syncopated vamps, the odd rhythms of the vocals, the free guitar and (especially) sax solos, and the overdriven studio effects. In selecting and sequencing the recording for the album, Fripp and his co- producer Peter Sinfield may have been observing the maxim which begins 'if at first you don't succeed' - - or maybe they were challenging the listener, intentionally making the album 'difficult to master.'

Whatever the case, King Crimson would undergo two more costume changes over the next two years before finding a more comfortable wardrobe. Maybe, to drag the metaphor out just a bit more, Lizard is a document of an emperor at the mirror, trying on one outfit after another. The final result is good, though not as good as his subjects contend.

patrickq | 3/5 |

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