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In The Court Of The Crimson King (King Crimson, 1969) 3 May 2006

Posted by Basilios in King Crimson, Music Reviews.
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King Crimson! One of the most important groups in progressive rock, and one of the most long-lived ones in the music industry, through a long list of dissolutions and resurrections, but always characterized by guitarist Robert Fripp. He maintains that he is not the band leader, but I feel his presence is definitely fundamental for the group’s identity.

A bit of background: King Crimson was born out of the ashes of another group, Giles Giles and Fripp (and doesn’t this remind me of a solicitors’ study), that had precious little notoriety in its short lifetime – just over a year, and with just one album released (anyone want to send me a copy?). The group acquired some members, lost some, evolved musically a lot in a short time, and hey presto, they were King Crimson, and they were completely different. This album, released in 1969, is their first one. It made quite an impression, and was successful not only in sales, but also in influence over other artist. Suddenly progressive rock became the flavour of the day. Even the cover was an influence! But most influential of all was the quality and the prominence of the Mellotron playing. Other rock groups used this instrument first, such as the Moody Blues and the ever present Beatles, but because of this album the Mellotron became the signature instrument of prog rock during the Seventies.

There are only five songs on this CD. The first song is 21st Century Schizoid Man. This song is considered one of the best efforts of the group in all of its 35 and more years of history, and, let me tell you, it deserves to be. This song is a portrait of an apocalyptic 21st century, and not an unfair one: war, suffering, greed, death. Musically, it is edgy and powerful, often disorienting, with its compulsive rhythm changes and harsh instrument mix. Greg Lake’s voice is excellent, and, distorted with some electronic gadget, really sounds like the voice of a man driven to madness by his world. This is a bitter and dark song, and a great piece of music. Not all songs can be Penny Lane.

The second song is completely different: I Talk To The Wind is a gentle, sad song on incommunicability:

“I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear”.

Sad and expressive. A recorder solo by Ian McDonald adds to the ethereal character of this song.

Epitaph is the third song. It speaks of lost hopes, of a world drowning in chaos and close to self destruction. Once again, great singing by Greg Lake, and incredible Mellotron by Ian McDonald. You might be interested to know that one of the Mellotron crescendos in this song (or one so much like it to confuse me) has been used in a beer advertisement on Italian TV many years ago. What a strange choice!

Following we find Moonchild. This is definitely the weakest song on this album. It starts pretty and slow, a love song to a fairy-like Moon child, and a bit repetitive. But then the very, very long extended coda kicks in, and it’s atonal jamming for more than ten minutes! Good grief, it’s the longest song! It’s not terribly bad, but there, it is only tinkering with musical instrument. It can work as background music, and an unusual one, but honestly there is not much to actually listen to if you sit down with a pair of earphones. That’s filler, what do you think?

Closing the album we find In The Court Of The Crimson King. Another extended song with plenty of excellent singing and Mellotron playing, it sounds sharper than Epitaph but mellower than 21st Century Schizoid Man, less dissonant and aggressive and more majestic, in a cold and creepy way. I’d like to know exactly what lyricist Peter Sinfield was thinking about when he was writing this song; it seems to be the description of the court of a mysterious Crimson King that actually never appears. We see black queens, fire witches, spectral orchestras and devilish jesters, with Greg Lake sounding more and more pompous and forlorn. Odd song, in its way, but wonderful.

With four excellent songs (and a weak one), with lots of skilled musicianship, this is arguably the best album King Crimson ever made. Unfortunately the band would collapse while touring, so there were no more albums by this particular line-up. What a pity!

Final Grade: 29/30

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Comments»

1. Ian Harvey - 6 February 2007

Agreed! This is a superb album. Have you seen the recent film “Children of Men”? There is a great scene in that that uses “In The Court Of The Crimson King” to accompany the main character approaching the Battersea Power Station, with a giant inflatable pig outside 🙂 Great album, and a great film.

2. basilios - 23 April 2007

No, I haven’t seen it. I didn’t expect KC music to be used in films, what with Robert Fripp being so protective of it; I heard he doesn’t allow its use in advertisement either.

3. Mark - 14 October 2007

Nice review! I’d have to say that I don’t think “Moonchild” is weak by any means. It’s not meant to be something you sit down and listen to necessarily, but it’s more about a feeling and effect. The sort of mysteric lyrics set you up for the “coda” that you speak of. I think they were really getting into something that hadn’t been touched by too many (if any) rock bands. I think the sounds that are created really set a landscape… we’ve just heard about the moonchild, and now we get to experience what it’s like to be her.
“Dreaming in the shadow of the willow… Sleeping on the steps of a fountain… Dropping circle stones on a sun dial…” and mostly “Drifting on the echoes of the hours…” are all things I feel from the sounds presented in this piece. I think this is an abstract concept to grasp and I have to displace myself from the knowledge that I’m listening to a progresive rock band.. of course… that might be what the whole idea behind progressive rock is… expression!

If you’re a classical junkie like me, and you know the suite by Gustov Holst “The Planets,” you can find the same sort of ideas. I think it’s a bit about creating landscape and scenery through music… if you just listen and let your mind go, you can immerse yourself in an atmosphere.

Maybe I’m way off, I’ve never really expresed what I thought about this song to anyone before.. what do you think?


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