England - Full Moon 160 - 10/04/09
In The Court Of The Crimson King
Following up our retroscope series of 2006 and 2007 - here's the New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents
from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. This moonth we're setting the Lunar spotlight on a 40 year old - another dear old LK jukebox favourite. It's schizoid, man!
In The Court Of The Crimson King
Island Records / Atlantic Records / EG Records / DGM Records
If there was a contest for the most stunning debut album, In The Court... would've been a worthy contender and would certainly have received my vote. It starts with a fist straight between the eyes. The fist called "21st Century Schizoid Man" with barbed wire guitars and distorted vocals never heard on record
earlier, is a monster that slowly moves into jazzier terrain. It is abruptly followed by a tender hand, "I Talk To The Wind" that wipes away the tears and blood. Later we are served a couple of other-worldly songs, almost religious, symphonic and sad, and also a more laid-back effort that mingles into a haze of experimental sounds.
I started to write something that developed into an essay about the origins of King Crimson, from local Bornemouth bands like Johnny King And The Raiders to Trendsetters Ltd that recorded the last effort under the pseudonym The Brain, a psychedelic gem called "Nightmares In Red" in 1967. These bands included
the Giles brothers Michael and Peter who were looking for a vocalist that played the organ and instead found non-singing guitarist Robert Fripp at a local hotel and started the somewhat eccentric trio Giles, Giles & Fripp. I would've recommended the album of home recordings from 1968 by G,G&F released in the
late 1990s called The Brondesbury Tapes with some embryonic Crimson songs and instrumentals (not least due to the arrival of new fourth member of the trio Ian McDonald) rather than the original output by the trio from 1968 called The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp. I also would've gone through the
swift career moves of Crimson from the first rehearsal with Greg Lake in January 1969, live debut in April, Marquee Club residency from late May and first act at the huge open air concert in Hyde Park on 5 July headlined by The Rolling Stones only two days after Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.
And then the Crimson debut album on 10 October that made a profound impression on lots of bands that changed their musical agenda thereafter. The first line-up of King Crimson collapsed at the end of a tour of the USA in December 1969, the members went their separate ways, but most of them contribute to the successor
In The Wake Of Poseidon, a somewhat pale album compared to its predecessor. But Mr. Fripp moved on and kept the Crimson ship afloat until the second half of 1974, then a stint in the ealy 1980s and from the mid 1990s until today, always with more will of musical challenge than commercial considerations.
He and the band has been a huge inspiration for progressive, alternative and experimental musicians for 40 years by now.
But the issue at stake here is In The Court... It was parhaps the first and certainly the definitive progressive and symphonic rock album, pretentious and one of the first whatsoever with little or no basis in r'n'b. I guess it also was the first to be dominated by the mellotron to that extent. It was recorded relatively quickly, in ten days of August, produced by the band members themselves. Perhaps that's part of the reason why it still sounds so fresh and has obtained its classic status. Well, the latter experimental half of "Moonchild" is easily forgettable and might be looked upon as an effect of the arty trends of the time. But, it demonstrates the band's will to take chances that's still viable today.
The gloomy lyrics by Ian McDonald's partner Peter Sinfield who also contributed illumination to the album (no less!) are also central. What about:
Cat's foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
Twenty first century schizoid man
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools
Let's hope the politicians at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December will prove the latter wrong. I fear not...
The the cover paintings by Barry Godber is another intgral part with the screaming Schizoid Man at the front and the happy/sad Crimson King inside the
fold-out cover. It's the only known paintings by Godber. He died only a few months after the album had been released. There's no band name or album title on
the cover, quite unheard of for a debut album at the time.
My only objection is the running order of the tracks. Side one of the original LP is so strong. The last song of that side "Epitaph" is as beautiful and haunting and disillusioned as can be. It should've traded places with the title track at the end of side two to make the sides more balanced. Anyway, this
is a very minor complaint. The opening with some quiet noises that makes you turn up the volume control first time around before the howling riff of "21st Century Schizoid Man" tears you apart is ingenious. And all in all In The Court Of The Crimson King is a monster!
To coincide with the 40th anniversary Robert Fripp's label DGM will release three (!) new versions of the album with original mixes, new mixes, surround mixes, extra tracks and a little bit of video footage: a standard double CD album, a double CD/DVD-A version and a deluxe 5 CD/1 DVD-A boxed set. Available
from DGM in the US and Burning Shed in the UK. There's also an entire book about the album available: Andrew
Keeling's "Musical Guide to In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson". Happy happy birthday!
Copyright © 2009 JP