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King Crimson - Lizard CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 2114 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
1 stars WARNING: If you like this album, run away now.

While it's good that Robert Fripp was so intent on avoiding a second 'clone' of Court, this is a clear example of my belief that change is only for the better if, well, it's for the better. Except for Fripp and Sinfield, all remnants of the Court lineup had been swept away by this time, and it's obvious that Robert wanted to make a clean break from the stylistics of the first two albums and establish his own identity. There are some people who played on Wake - Gordon Haskell is now the bassist and lead vocalist, Mel Collins is the fulltime woodwinds player, as well as a couple of others - but the sound couldn't possibly be more different from that on those albums.

The problem, though, isn't that the album is different. The problem is that the album sucks. Fripp may have had to assume the songwriting duties on Wake, but much of that merely constituted of slight tinkering with ideas from the first album (with a bit of structured avantgarde here and there). On Lizard, however, Fripp had to assume control of both the songwriting and the artistic direction, and it seems to me that shouldering both proved too much for him. With only a very small number of exceptions, Fripp's goal seemed not to lean towards any kind of memorability or even sense, but rather trying to be as complex and grandiose and epic and avantgarde as he could without considering whether or not these qualities served any purpose. For a hardcore prog fan, Lizard might seem fine for just those reasons; however, as much as I love my Close to the Edge and Foxtrot and Octopus, I require that complexity and its cousins in some way entertain me. Simply put, Lizard doesn't.

Fripp's songwriting, however, does not get full blame for how much I dislike this album. Gordon Haskell was an alright vocalist on "Cadence and Cascade," but this album is a whole other story. Basically, he's an incredibly mediocre tenor that sounds like he has a frog in his throat at all times. It's not just that he's worse than Lake - it's that he's worse than almost EVERY SINGLE VOCALIST I'VE EVER HEARD. However, in the area of the vocals, Haskell isn't even the biggest problem - rather, that honor goes to what he's singing. On this album, Sinfield simply went berzerk with his lyrics, penning such brilliancies as "Stake a lizard by the throat" (and that's a lyric from the best part of the album!). In short, awful vocals + awful lyrics + incredibly mediocre vocal melodies = bad music made worse.

So what about the songs? I can find some good things here and there, but wow I have to reach. The opening "Cirkus" is more or less tolerable - everything associated with the vocals is dumb (including the instrumentation under the vocal parts), but the mellotron- guitar breaks between verses are rather interesting, and some of the "soaring" mellotron parts provide a slight return to the well-done epic vibe of the first two albums. I also more or less enjoy the first section of side-two's sidelong title track, as it's basically just a nice pop song with guest vocals from Yes' Jon Anderson (hey, did you know there was a rumor of Robert Fripp joining Yes as Peter Banks' replacement? Imagine how THAT would have turned out...). The lyrics are of course utterly abominable, but I'm able to lose myself in the neat pop chorus and even in the more atmospheric parts of the verse melody. So yeah, there's some good stuff on the album after all.

However, that's more or less it as far as really good music goes. The rest of the first side is practically worthless - "Lady of the Dancing Water" is the best of these, and that's only because it does nothing instead of actively offend. And offend the others do. "Indoor Games" is a 4th-rate "Pictures of a City," with a laaaaazy saxophone riff that hasn't 1/100 of the intensity of that near masterpiece, nor a single decent hook throughout. Bear in mind, that's before the last chunk of the song, when we're greeted with the DUMBEST SOUNDING SYNTH EVER, and a fadeout with Gordon laughing "menacingly" for no apparent reason. This in turn leads to "Happy Family," one of the most abominable songs I've ever heard. The instrumental parts are just about the very definition of mindless, directionless jamming, with seemingly random piano and synth and guitar noise and whatever for some of the worst four minutes of my life. This is compounded by the fact that Fripp found the one way to make Haskell's voice more unbearable - he encoded it in distortion, and suddenly Haskell's obnoxious human voice became an obnoxious android voice.

Now the second side (after "Prince Rupert Awakes") is a bit strange for me. I like PARTS of it (at least, after many many listens), but as a whole, I consider the track a failure. "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale" is an attempt to fuse jazz ideas with modern classical ripoffs, and while it mostly bores me, it does have a reeeeally pretty mellotron line that pops up a couple of times. During the next part, the ten-minute "The Battle of Glass Tears" (with three parts of its own), the music just kinda goes and goes, though there is a reasonably interesting theme that parts of it seem to be based on. I also kinda like "Prince Rupert's Lament," the only time of the album where Fripp's guitar is prominent (not in shred mode at all, but the tone and note choices are quintessential Fripp), and the ending "Big Top" is amusing in a kitcsh sort of way. Again, though, a couple of decent moments in a track this long just doesn't cut it for me.

In short, this album is, in my mind, one of the great failures of British progressive rock. This is the sort of album that gives a bad name to prog rock, one filled with pretense and poorly executed ambition, hoping to get by on bombast and weirdness with no substance. There's some good material, but not even enough to get it up to **.

tarkus1980 | 1/5 |


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