King Crimson

In The Court Of The Crimson King (Island, Atlantic '69) Rating: A
This legendary album is essentially the launching point for a whole subgenre of music: progressive rock. Although never popular with stuffy professional critics (like the ridiculous Robert Christgau who rated this album a D+), prog was and remains an important subgenre of rock music, making this an album of unquestionable importance. Regardless of that, In The Court Of The Crimson King is a classic album (one that I still listen to fairly often) because of its quality as well as its importance. The first of many King Crimson lineups consisted of guitarist/band leader Robert Fripp (the only mainstay throughout the band's long history), drummer Michael Giles, singer-bassist Greg Lake (later to find fame and fortune in Emerson, Lake & Palmer), multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald (sax, flute, clarinet, keyboards, mellotron, and so on!), and lyricist Peter Sinfeld. This was a formidable combination of people, as immediately evidenced on the band's most famous song, the explosive, dramatic "21st Century Schizoid Man." Prominently featuring sax, drums (which sound great throughout the album), and Lake's intensely shouted, distorted vocals, this thrilling yet challenging song, which owed as much to jazz as rock, was certainly different, and like any good prog song it features various solo sections, though it's the great group interplay that remains most impressive. "I Talk To The Wind," with McDonald leading the way on flute and mellotron, is much mellower and recalls folksy progsters like Renaissance or The Moody Blues. It's a lovely ballad on which the band's excellent musicianship is still apparent, and my favorite song here then commences, as the dramatic "Epitaph" is simply one of the all-time epic ballads, with its lush symphonic sound that's equal parts folk and classical, and featuring Lake's brilliantly sorrowful vocals that I reckon are his best ever. Alas, as everyone seems to note, the album's weak link, "Moonchild," then commences, and it's the albums longest song too at 12:13 (keeping in mind that the shortest song here is 6:04!). The actual song part of it, the first three minutes or so, is a slight fluff piece that's harmless enough, but the extended outro is pretty pointless and the fact that it goes on seemingly forever compounds the problem. Fortunately, the album ends with another epic symphonic prog masterpiece with the title track, making the weak indulgences of the prior track but a distant memory. All in all, with three fantastic epic-length songs, one really good one, and one that I tend to skip, this album is more than worthy of its classic status, as the majority of its music remains as unforgettable as its creepy, classic album cover.

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