King Crimson


In The Wake Of Poseidon

King Crimson - In The Wake Of Poseidon ©1970 EG Records
1. Peace- A Beginning
2. Picture Of A City
3. Cadence And Cascade
4. In The Wake Of Poseidon
5. Peace- A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle
8. Peace- An End

The second album in King Crimson's ever extending discography, In the Wake of Poseidon represents a refinement and advancement of the "symphonic" sound found on their debut In the Court of the Crimson King. The "symphonic" sound refers to advanced, extended compositions and intensified use of the Mellotron. The mellotron is used here to create vaguely string-like effects and lends the music some low-end ambience; in many parts it creates an (early) Moody Blues-like resonance. The early King Crimson albums tend to highlight main man Fripp's compositional skill, whereas the later material tends to emphasize improvisation and pure sonic invention. Here Fripp is exposed as a brilliant composer/arranger; his guitar lines are not nearly as inventive as they would be in the Red era, but the ideas are defiantly flowing.

The music on this album varies greatly. Whether it's the jazzy rhythmic intensity and sax braying of "Pictures of a City" or the sonorous and bittersweet "In the Wake of Poseidon", the music possesses an immense scope. The songs are well developed and complex; the complexity is both subtle and heavy handed, but never pretentious or flashy. Signs of Fripp's later guitar experimentation also surface in isolated spots throughout the record. "Pictures of the City" contains some really disjointed phrasing, for example. The lyrics are beautifully rendered, written by Peter Sinfield and sung with vigor by Greg Lake. The lyrics (colorful and often bitingly satirical) perfectly compliment the music, which rages as much as it subdues.

The album is a fine example of early progressive rock, with its assortment of jazz and classical influences, and warm mellotron textures. While not as inventive or as original as later King Crimson works, In the Wake of Poseidon certainly stands the test of time, and is fundamentally important in the overall development of King Crimson's sound and prog rock in general. The material does sound slightly dated in light of later developments, but it still retains much of its edge. This album is essential to the new-fangled or veteran King Crimson junky.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 03/2000

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Lizard

King Crimson - Lizard ©1971 Virgin
1. Cirkus
2. Indoor Games
3. Happy Family
4. Lady Of The Dancing Water
5. Lizard (Prince Rupert Awakes/Bolero: The Peacocks Tale/The Battle Of Glass

"Cirkus", the opening track on King Crimson's third album Lizard, begins with gentle keyboards and a soft subdued voice, builds in momentum, and suddenly bursts forth with a highly distorted, nearly metallic guitar riff, intricate and complex acoustic guitar lines, and a rhythm section rivaling fusion in its technical dimension. By the time the listener is introduced to the playful sax line bouncing on a mellotron's ethereal haze, they've either decided they really dislike (not mildly dislike mind you) the album or are ready to confess their full commitment to it. The album is very fusiony, with advanced polyrhythms, long and difficult chord progressions, and busy percussion and bass lines; it contains much of the band's jazzier material. It is also an album of extraordinary variation.

The music is much more developed than that found on In the Wake of Poseidon; more refined and polished. Song lengths vary greatly, with the longest clocking in at twenty plus minutes and the shortest under five. The songs often start with simple, humable themes, and build up to ridiculously complex, fully realized art compositions; some of the songs seem impossibly involved, with numerous thematic components and what sounds like non-stop improvisation. Jazz freely mingles with Western art music and good ol' fashioned rock and roll, nearly free form rhythmic bliss slamming headfirst into symphonic refinery. The vocals are provided by the uneven Gordon Haskell, who brays as much as he sings. But given King Crimson's tendencies towards emphasizing music over vocals, who really cares about Haskell's occasionally cracking voice?

If there's a single problem with the album, it's that there are many moments when you want the band to just go for it, to just revel in excess and explore insane instrumental bliss like that found on Yes's Relayer. But Fripp and Crimson also write songs, and occasionally you just want them to forego the pretensions of being a rock and roll band and just fly off into full fledged explorative terrain. The last thing I want in the middle of an extended rhythmic exploration is a sappy ballad that just seems tagged on. Despite my conceited reservations, it really is a great album and a wonderful segue into the superior Islands.

* Buy the remastered anniversary edition if you find it; the sound quality is impeccable and the vinyl style layout is really quite nice. Same goes for the other four original KC albums.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 08/2000

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Islands

King Crimson - Islands ©1971 Virgin
1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
4. Prelude: Song Of The Gulls
5. The Letters
6. Islands

Islands is not only a great progressive rock album, it is also a brilliant fusion work. Like most jazz influenced prog rock bands, King Crimson always had a little less jazz than conventional fusion acts. But Islands is simply overflowing with jazz, with hints of John Coltrane, fusion meisters Weather Report and earlier swing greats like Duke Ellington playing prolific roles. There are a good deal of other influences as well. The first song "Formentera Lady" has a very impressionistic vibe, recalling residual traces of Claude Debussy's "La Mer" to mind; it's never implicitly an imitation of Debussy, but it's harmonic layering and melodic fragments will seem instantly familiar in a disjointed sort of way to Debussy listeners.

That's what makes early KC so exciting. So many elements are compiled in single compositions that any given section will seem hazily, ambiguously familiar, but never so specifically as to be a simple knock-off. Islands is an intensely interesting album, an almost perfect infusion of jazz, rock and so called art music. Whether it's the harmonic complexity and Coltranish rhythmic pulse of "Formentera Lady" or "Sailor's Tale"'s spacy fusion trip and raw guitar soloing, the album just floats above the prog rock competitors of the era, and of today. Islands takes the appeal of Lizard and simply magnifies it, while cutting the excess fat that tends to bog that release down. Islands is a space trip definitely worth taking. In short, it's a great album.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 08/2000

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