King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
Released October, 1969

Album not available on spotify or grooveshark. Sorry about that!

1. 21st Century Schizoid Man (including Mirrors) – 0.00
2. I Talk to the Wind – 07.16
3. Epitaph (including ‘March for No Reason’ and ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’) – 13.22
4. Moonchild (including ‘The Dream’ and ‘The Illusion’) – 21.52
5. The Court of the Crimson King (including ‘The Return of the Fire Witch’ and ‘The Dance of the Puppets’) – 34.00

This week’s main review is brought to you by all round good guy Gavin. You can find him on twitter here.

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from this album – I’ve heard endless name dropping of King Crimson from your Tools, Rollins’ and Maidens et al in terms of inspiration and it’s practically impossible to read a best guitarist ever list without seeing Robert Fripp mentioned somewhere. “In the Court of the Crimson King” was the first album release by King Crimson in 1969, who went through a ridiculous amount of band members until their somewhat hiatus in 2009.  Robert Fripp was the only consistent member of the band – allegedly, Robert is a bit of a difficult chap to work with.

When I first listened to the album, I’ll admit I was blindly off my chops on a good bottle of red, and my mind was blown away by the sounds coming out of my headphones.  The sounds of the first track ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ came at me like some bizarre jam session between Sabbath and Coltrane in his later years – I was pretty impressed and couldn’t wait for the rest of the album with this cracker of a beginning.  However, when the track ‘I Talk To The Wind’ started, I did a very quick about face. Completely different to the first track, very heavy on the flute and I got a very Cat Stevens vibe off this – and this I did not like.  The lyrics sound a bit too freeform poetry for me, as if they were recorded on the spot –  maybe that’s too be expected for a progressive album but overall, they bored me and this track is my 2nd least favourite on the album.

‘Epitaph’ is the next track and my favourite by far – while not as frantic as the first track, I love the lyrics “Confusion will be my epitaph” – a tad wanky but I love ’em – the flow of the song is great too – very theatrical and it builds up great and finishes on a rather epic ending.  Maybe the most accessible track on the album –  the if the album had one more track like this, I would have put the album into the recommended category.

Unfortunately, the album slams back to – or more appropriately, limps back to – ‘Moonchild’.  I found it very hard not to skip this track each time I listened to the album.  The longest track of the album at twelve minutes and I found it a chore to get through.  Like the second track, I was not impressed by the lyrics, which sounded too much like open night poetry but thankfully these end after a few minutes.  However, after this is where it really goes downhill – 8 or so minutes of freeform improvisation between the band, with a very much call and response vibe to it – minimalist guitar notes, followed by short bursts on the keyboards  and so on.  While I love experimental music as much as the next guy, and it’s probably a bit rich to say this – I wasn’t impressed.  Feel free to say “oh yeah, you inspire thousands of bands then” – but this really didn’t gel with me.  It really sounded like record was pressed and the band just had a bit of a jam.  Sure, that is the whole point of the album – and the band, in general  – but it came off as dull.

Like the overall theme of the record, my responses to the tracks are all over the shop, and I liked the final track, ‘The Court of The Crimson King’.  Similar to ‘Epitaph’ – awesome imagery generated from the lyrics and big, produced sound – my only complaint was it got very samey quickly and by the end of the fourth verse, I was kind of glad it was over.

Maybe I had too high hopes for this album after all the accolades I’ve heard or hearing bands I admire wistfully talking about King Crimson but overall, I didn’t enjoy this – the brilliance was rare and there was a lot of filler to get through to find it.  Maybe I just don’t “get it” but I felt this album too often crossed the boundary between out there and too far.

I floved the hell out of this album. I flove Prog Rock in all its forms and “In The Court Of The Crimson King” is no exception. I love progressive rock for its lack of boundaries and rules, it’s freedom and its scope for the players to really do what they like. And it starts instantly with ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’. The crazy timings when the drums, bass and horns team up four minutes in, the bass player just playing his own song, and the very cool distorted vocals are a perfect example of why I love this genre so much. ‘I Talk to the Wind’ is much more mellow, but it features the clarinet and flute quite prominently, instruments I reckon are totally underrated. Unfortunately, it’s not super dynamic, and feels like is been going on for hours, when really, the track only goes for six minutes. It does pick up with a rad flute solo in the last minute. The ‘Epitaph’ medley strips everything right back, to the bass and drums, building to rhythmic crescendos. It’s got enough happening in it to justify the eight minute track length. Track length is a major feature of Prog Rock, and it’s one of the best things about it. I love when bands like King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Rush get their tracks going so beautifully that you can just sit and listen to it for ages. Speaking of Floyd, the “The Court Of The Crimson King’ medley reminds me a LOT of ‘Eclipse’, the last track on “Dark Side Of The Moon”. “Crimson King” came out four years before “Dark Side”, and we thought Pink Floyd were ahead of their time. I have only love for this album. As the hipsters would say, “Give me ALL THE PROG ROCKS!”

In my opinion, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, is a 5-track personification of 60’s music.  There’s a bit from every 60’s genre in here; psychedelia, elements of jazz and folk-rock, hard rock, prog rock and more. The opener, ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, refuses to stand upon ceremony, thrusting the unassuming listener straight into waves of psychedelic guitar, distorted vocals and trumpet, and all at a ridiculously fast tempo.  It gave the impression that the album would be a meaningless and O.T.T assortment of D.F.N.  But don’t be fooled, track 2 – ‘I Talk to the Wind’, is a beguiling and ethereal folk-rock dream and the perfect antidote to track 1, in fact, I was surprised to find that ‘I Talk to the Wind’ quickly became one of my favourite discoveries of the afyccim project so far. Equally as great was track 3, ‘Epitaph’, a mournful ballad dripping with regret and sadness. ‘Moonchild’ started off nicely with ambient guitar work and lovely soft touches of xylophone, but then almost exactly half way through, started sounding more like an orchestra tuning up than an actual song. I didn’t really get it.  But then, and not a moment too soon, in bursts the title track and the perfect album closer, ‘The Court of the Crimson King’, featuring just the right amount of organ, licks of flute, and flourishes of snare drums. There’s just something about this album that is really special. Every instrument in the orchestration is treated respectfully and tastefully. The blend of classical elements, with rock, jazz and folk is cohesive and works so well.  I challenge you to try listening to “In the Court of the Crimson King” and not see how this band and it’s many members have influenced the development of progressive rock, and rock as we know it today.

This album has quickly become one of my favourites that we’ve reviewed this year. From the opening track ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ I was hooked. I loved those terrific brass lines, the fab breakdowns and Robert Fripp’s wonderful guitar soloing. Its anthemic pomp just grabbed me and didn’t let go; great use of volume too. The next three songs are quite mellow, which surprised me, because I was expecting a much heavier album. The beautiful ballad ‘I Talk to the Wind’ features deceivingly difficult drum work from Michael Giles and is blessed by some lovely splashes of flute and clarinet, courtesy of the song’s co-writer Ian McDonald. ‘Epitaph’ stands as the record’s elegiac centrepiece with bassist Greg Lake’s vocals soaring effortlessly through the haunting lyrics: “Confusion will be my epitaph/As I crawl a cracked and broken path”. Coming in it over twelve minutes is the sprawling epic, ‘Moonchild’, which could be the hardest stumbling block for some. As Spinal Tap famously said, there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever, and in this album’s case it comes down to the ears of the listener. I can understand why some people wouldn’t dig this as much as me. There is a lot of space in these songs that could be construed as musical wankery, but I find it transcendent. It’s so rare, particular nowadays, to hear a band take time to present its vision without succumbing to the magic three and a half minute hit single. King Crimson save the best for last though; the closing track ‘The Court of The Crimson King’ being my favourite on the album. Used to excellent effect in the 2006 movie Children of Men, the lyrics conjure up vivid imagery of a fantastical court, if somewhat unsettling. This album is fully deserving of its classic status.

I really don’t know how to review this week’s album, so instead I’m giving you a glimpse into my thought process as I listened to “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson. Track 1 – Holy crap, what a piece of epic epicness! It’s hard hitting and in your face, melding together all kinds of jazzy goodness. Nothing like I’ve heard yet in the 60s. There is hope for this album. Track 2 – Flute intro… this doesn’t bode well. The lyrics to this are Drug Fuelled Nonsense at its best with a good licking of really bad High School Poetry. It was the 60s I guess. Track 3 – Ugh. “Confusion will be my epitaph / As I crawl a cracked and broken path / If we make it we can all sit back/ And laugh / But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying / Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.” Really? At least this track is better musically than the last.  Track 4 – Moonchild? What kind of name is that? (Track starts) Oh, now I get it. 2 minutes 30 seconds? Bit of a short song then. Hang on, it’s still going? What is this crap? Sits through 10 minutes of pretentious twaddle and douchebaggeryness like I’ve never heard before. Why King Crimson? WHY!? Track 5 – Eh, I no longer care. I’m still angry at the last track. I seethe for the first 2 minutes. By the end of 4 minutes I’m nearly back on board… and then extended flute solo. And I’m done. King Crimson, I love you for your crazy album art and an opening track that is one of my favourites thus far in afyccim. I hate you for everything else. So in conclusion, first song awesome, rest of the album a bit shit.
I’d just like to add, the MS Paint cover for this album may very well be the greatest thing I’ll ever do with my life. The hand cramps were worth it!

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