Sunday, 31 January 2021

King Crimson














In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)



21st Century Schizoid Man/I Talk To The Wind/Epitaph/Moonchild/The Court Of The Crimson King


This 1969 offering, with its grotesque, instantly recognisable cover, was King Crimson’s first album and has long been considered to be one of the first trail blazers of the progressive rock genre. It has only five tracks and they are all lengthy but, as with quite a few of the early prog rock outings, it sounds a lot more “rock” in its sound than prog. It is just extended rock, building on the psychedelia of the previous two years. For me, it is more post-psychedelic, experimental rock than progressive rock. Maybe the former sub-genre eventually morphed into the bigger beast, though.  


21st Century Schizoid Man is a delightfully heavy thrash, with powerful guitar passages, insane scratchy vocals, big rumbling bass, industrial strength drums and some punchy, madcap brass too. Although it is lengthy and experimental, it sounds more heavy to my ears than it does prog. It is by far the album’s chunkiest cut and easily my favourite.


I Talk To The Wind slows the whole thing down considerably on an ethereal, gentle number, full of “chilled out” ambience. It has some nice bass sounds in it, some appealing flute along with some subtly attractive drum and cymbal work. It has a subtle appeal to it and a lovely, warm sound quality as well. Actually, I’ll instantly change my choice of favourite and go for this one. I’d forgotten that Greg Lake was in the group at this time and this bears many similarities to the best tracks on later ELP albums (I prefer Lake’s stuff to Emerson’s). 


Epitaph is a bit more robust, but also has a slow, grinding tempo.   I can really make a case for this one too. I am sure the passage around five minutes in will have influenced early Roxy Music - the bass lines, the drums - just something about it that reminds me of the middle section of If There Is Something. Anyway, this was rock music going as big and drawn-out as it had done thus far (although we still had the twenty minute tracks of Yes and ELP to come).


The ghostly Moonchild is also very ambient and sonically low-key and has lots of proggy lyrical conceits. It is almost sleepy at times with a sort of jazzy vibe to it. Despite some good parts at the beginning, it is all a little bit to experimental from the mid-point on for my liking, its innovative sounds going on and on, without much to captivate. It just doesn’t make for riveting listening as far as I am concerned. This was prog rock’s problem - far too much noodling and indulgence. Yes, it intrigues me, but it doesn’t grab me by the balls. Bizarrely, though, it grows on me, so there you go,


Not before time, the grandiose The Court Of The Crimson King sees the return of solid, punchy, heavy drums (check them out right at the end, after the Beatles-esque pipe organ bit), although its classically-influenced orchestration is a bit overbearing, as too are its somewhat pretentious lyrics about black queens and jugglers. As is my experience with a lot of prog rock, I find myself liking various bits of it but overall it still remains a little indigestible in places too. As I am someone who has never been into prog, this is not really surprising. The album is not without its merits, however, and it definitely pulled up trees. There had really not been anything like it before. 


In considering prog rock as a genre, I much prefer this to ELP and Yes but Jethro Tull, Focus, Wishbone Ash and Atomic Rooster are a bit more to my taste.

















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7 comments:

  1. I gotta listen to Court of the Crimson King again. It never did anything for me before. But all of a sudden it's become one of the greatest albums of all time according to all the hipsters. I don't know how that happened all of the sudden. The only song I kind of liked was the title track, and only the part where that big mellotron thing comes in after they say "In the court of the Crimson King..." and it sounds like Nights in White Satin for a minute. That's the only part of the whole album that I liked. I'm going to listen to it again today. I got plenty of time because I injured myself playing hockey yesterday. I twisted and sprained my ankle because I'm a very bad skater. My skating hasn't improved at all since I was little. Even though I can kind of skate backwards now. But I'm not good enough to keep up with everybody else. That's why I hurt myself.

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  2. Hope you are ok, that sounds nasty. I am aged 62 and my knees are completely fucked from lots of football (soccer) and tennis from years before. A short period on my running machine does me in.

    As with all the prog rock stuff there are some really good bits in amongst the indulgence. I have to say that I prefer a three minute single where it's all good.

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    1. I always thought that British sports are more dangerous because the players wear no equipment whatsoever. Soccer players must get their legs so f***** up. And rugby players just get demolished. Like in that movie This Sporting Life where Richard Harris just gets brutalized playing rugby. In American sports you have all kinds of protective equipment. You gotta be brave to play British sports. lol

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    2. I was lucky enough to get away without serious injuries other than long term crumbling knees. I never played rugby, thankfully.

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  3. Yes, I know the bit you mean on Crimson King. It is a good one.

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  4. King Crimson are all over the place, but it's worth checking out some later records. I like the John Wetton lineup in the mid-1970s, like Red, and 1981's Discipline is a good record with more of a new wave feel.

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    1. I must get round to it - so much stuff to listen to.

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