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King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.63 | 4188 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars It would be difficult to fathom a genre that owes more to a single album than does prog rock towards In the Court of the Crimson King. It's not as if it's the best prog album ever or anything like that - honestly, it would be hardpressed to crack my top ten. It's not even really the first prog album - even if you distinguish between "art rock" and "prog rock" (and you SHOULD), that honor arguably falls to The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack by The Nice (and arguments could probably be made for albums even earlier). There can be little question, however, that it is the most important prog rock album ever released. It's been occasionally referred to as the Sgt. Pepper's of prog, and that analogy is apt in more than a few ways. Not only did this album firmly establish the rules and potential of the genre, it also managed to popularize the genre all by its lonesome to a greater degree than could ever have been expected.

Of course, one should note that its impact and importance wasn't completely for the better. On the one hand, its overnight success inspired many bands that might not have otherwise done so to take up the prog genre, and that wasn't (at least in the short term) necessarily a good thing. It's no concidence for me that the outpouring of terrific prog albums began not one year later, but two years later - 1970 is filled to the brim with clumsy transitional albums by talented bands that wanted to be prog but hadn't quite figured out the genre's finer points. There were some exceptions (Gentle Giant, though it's VERY much like this album, or H to He by Van Der Graff Generator, though even they put out their own mediocre prog album that year in The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other, or ELP, which is nearly as good as this one is), but they were just that, exceptions.

There's also the fact that, ultimately, this album, in my humble opinion, helped shorten the shelf-life of "quality" prog (in its purest form). Most genres have a lengthy "embryonic" stage, where the rules and boundaries and positive qualities of the genre are established. Then there's a "peak" period, where a slew of solid albums are released within the genre, and afterwards there's a decline, where high quality output gets harder and harder to find. In the Court of the Crimson King had the interesting effect of completely eliminating the "embryonic" stage in one fell swoop. Ultimately, 95% of all the further developments of the genre were embellishments of the ideas presented here, and while that allowed for greatness for a good while, the possibilities were capped simply by this fact.

Alright, enough of the peripheral impact of this album, let's talk about the music. The most important member of the band at this point, despite what "Fripp runs everything" proponents might believe, was mellotronist/saxophonist/flautist Ian McDonald, who also played the biggest role in the songwriting. The melodies are heavily based in a classical, operatic tradition (except for the opener, of course), with some connections to regular pop but much more bombastic. Still, the melodies are GOOD, so even somebody who might hate the idea of pretense in music might still get a kick out of the quality tunes found here. The arrangements tend to follow suit - the mellotrons create an overwhelming symphonic effect at times, while the drumming (courtesy of Michael Giles) is deep, echoey and, yup, bombastic. Fripp is mostly downplayed (except, again, on the first track), yet makes his presence felt with some brilliantly beautiful electric and acoustic lines.

The vocals and lyrics also fit firmly into the bombast motif. Pete Sinfield contributes the lyrics (though nothing else), and while they're as pretentious as all get-out, they're not imageless by any means. It actually helps to listen to the lyrics the way you'd listen to the lyrics of an opera - listen to the sounds of the words, occasionally pick up on a moving or repeated line here and there, and just let them blend into the instrumentation. Granted, Sinfield turned out to be a HORRID influence, provoking whomever to jot down the most pretentious yet meaningless stuff imaginable ("All we are is dust in the wind!" - I'm grumpy towards Kansas, what can I say), and even he himself wasn't so great all the time, but on this album, he's more or less ok. And besides, it helps that he has Greg Lake to sing his lines - of all the voices in rock, I can't think of anybody more suited to bombastic, near operatic-singing, and he allows all the lines, good and bad, to come alive.

Now, at this point, I should start talking about the actual songs. Problem is, this album has been reviewed a 100 zillion times by people like mine, and I'm not sure there's ANYTHING left to say about them that hasn't been said. So here's the general breakdown - if you want more details, just piece them together from the other reviews on the net (including on this site).

"21st Century Schizoid Man": Booming guitar-based rhythm track, distorted screaming vocals, beautifully apocalyptic lyrics, incredible mid-song sax-guitar jam, WILD Hendrix- style guitar soloing.

"I Talk to the Wind": Lovely melody, lots of flutes, ultra-pretentious lyrics, nice breather between epics.

"Epitaph": Brilliant melody, layers of well-constructed bombast, lots of mellotron and woodwinds, terrific lyrics, AWESOME vocals, beautiful guitar solo, lengthy but not overlong fadeout.

"Moonchild": Major mis-hit of the album, first two minutes are a decent ballad, next ten are quiet and incoherent rambling jamming on vibes and bits of percussion. Blargh.

"In the Court of the Crimson King": Ultra-bombastic, brilliant melody, TERRIFIC harmonies following the chorus, lots of mellotron, lots of variation on the main theme.

There you have it. Again, if you go to this album looking for the pinnacle of prog, you'll be disappointed, but if you come here looking for where it all began AND why anybody cared in the first place, you won't be let down.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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