This is arguably the first ‘progressive rock’ album, even though King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King came along before the term progressive rock even existed. At the time it was considered psychedelic music. Whatever you may wish to call it, one thing is certain, it’s excellent- an incredibly strong piece of work from a debut band. They had a vision and it emerged fully formed, sending a shock wave through the music community at the time. “An uncanny masterpiece”, declared Pete Townshend. Jimi Hendrix called Crimson, “the finest band ever”. Maybe The Beatles were amazed as well...
The “They” in question where Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake on bass and lead vocals, Ian McDonald on reeds, woodwinds, vibes, keyboards, mellotron and vocals, Michael Giles on drums and vocals. Crimson emerged out of the ashes of the Giles, Giles and Fripp group in mid 1968. The only difference lineup wise is that Lake replaced bassist Peter Giles. Peter Sinfield penned the lyrics for this album and is almost the extra band member in a sense. His lyrics were integral to the sound of the original Crimson.
From a musical standpoint this was a new sound that took it’s audience by surprise. Apart from the bombastic “21st Century Schizoid Man”, ITCOTCK has a grand, symphonic sound. The lush mix of instrumentation (winds, mellotron, etc.) gave Crimson a sound that was bigger than any ‘rock’ band. They took the symphonic sound of the Moody Blues and injected it with a dose of sinister realism. Live they gave their audiences no quarter. Word spread fast.
"Schizoid Man” opens the LP with a bang. What may sound a little tame now must have been downright scary to listeners when it came out. Crimson has always been known for muscular numbers, ones that require pristine chops to execute. This is where it all started, the template for Crimson’s heaviness is “Schizoid Man”. This song has more in common with the dissonant workouts of Larks era Crimson than anything else on ITCOTCK. Fripp’s alternate picking is highly evolved for 1969. No wonder many considered him the finest guitarist of the time. Most of his contemporaries were picking their jaws off the floor when they heard this tune.
The rest of the LP is very symphonic, a sound that would continue through the next 3 Crimson albums. ITCOTCK is about creating a mood more than hitting the listener over the head with chops. Greg Lake turns in some of the best vocals of his career on ITCOTCK. He’s downright angelic sounding, a choirboy fronting a monster.
“I Talk To The Wind” is an old Giles, Giles and Fripp song. Here it’s redone by Crimson. There is a strong Beatle infulence here. Given the time, it’s no shock. Some say the original version of this song is better. What do you think? I think it’s a real beaut.
“Epitaph” is a mellotron drenched minor key feast for the ears. A strong expression of longing is shared with the listener. Lake sounds as if he’s on the edge of something very deep.
“Moonchild” is another mid tempo, minor key tune, one that doesn’t reach it’s full potential. After the first 3 minutes or so it just meanders on and on. Not my fave track on this LP.
“In The Court Of The Crimson King” is another Mellotron driven number. As grandiose as the name implies, ITCOTCK has a bit of everything that came earlier on this album.
Overall this album starts out very aggressive and then settles into a mid tempo vibe that is more ethereal. Personally, I think the bands second album is a more rounded affair. One thing that’s absent here is the bands sense of humor, this is a very serious album. Bold, somber and fit for royalty. If you are interested in the roots of prog rock start here and work your way forward, it will be quite an amazing journey.
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Most point to In the Court of the Crimson King as the first "prog" album. I would offer several selections from The Beatles or Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention myself, but I won't deny the importance and the impact this album had and continues to have on the rock music scene.
This review will not be on the music, as such, but rather on this latest remastering, the "Original Master Edition".
I have owned and loved the original vinyl version since 1972. I bought the first CD version sometime in the late 80s. Like many hastily released "Redbook" CDs of that era, I found the sound to be lacking. Although it was nice to not hear the clicks and pops of my overplayed vinyl, it was missing more than a little something. I never got around to getting another CD copy.
Robert Fripp must not have liked any of these early CD issues of any of the Crimson albums either. It seems that when he wasn't recording or touring, he was "remastering" the albums for re-release. I've lost track of how many versions of each album there are now.
There were the first remasters, then the "Definitive Edition" remasters, then the "Okay, I really mean it this time" reremasters, then the "30th Anniversary Edition" rereremasters...I'm sure I'm missing a couple in between. Maybe a true Crimhead will remind me exactly how many there are.
In 2004, someone actually found the original master tapes for this album and thus the "Original Master Edition" was made. Okay, so what was the source for the previous rerereremasters? Some 2nd generation 2-track copy? Unbelievable!
That said, and I've never bought any of the previous remasters, this is a glorious piece of plastic that sounds (gasp) better than the original vinyl. I'm hearing things (mostly in the quiet parts) that I'd never heard before. Procrastination pays off sometimes.
Simon Heyworth is the person who did the actual remastering job. His years spent as an engineer and producer include many, many proggy artists on the Virgin label and elsewhere. He's the real deal, and he did an excellent job on this one. I think it's a safe bet that even if you have a previous edition of this, you need to get this one. It's the Definitive Original Master No Doubt About It We're Not Kidding Edition.
The packaging itself, if I understand correctly, mimics the 30th Anniversary Edition in that it's a mini-LP gatefold with photos, press clippings and other memorabilia. Fun stuff! Sure beats some lame bonus track.
In closing, here's something about the album in Fripp's own words that I got from his website. Enjoy.
The impact of this group in England, from its first performance on April 9th. 1969 at the Speakeasy in London, is difficult to convey 25 years afterwards unless one were part of it: something like the explosive impact of punk seven years later. A considerable influence on the musicians and groups of its generation, it is also the only Crimson which could have been a massive commercial success. Inevitably, it drew as much hostility as support.
The only record from this period - "In The Court Of The Crimson King" - failed to convey the power of its live performance but hints at the intensity which characterises classic Crimson of any period. Contemporary ears might find the music part of another era unless they drop listening at the music and listen through it. The sonic landscape remains as bleak an authentic Crimscape as it gets. Neither heavy metal nor hard rock have been able to blow me away since I spent 1969 playing "Schizoid Man" and a mellotronic stroboscopic "Mars" throughout England and the US.
My own perspective on Crimson is obviously rather different from the other founder members of the 1969 band. My impression is that they consider their Crimson to be the only real Crimson, a view with which I have sympathy but disagree. We would probably agree that this founding Crimson was charmed. There was something completely other which touched this group and which we called our "good fairy". After reflecting on how we went from abject failure to global commercial and musical success in nine months, I concluded after several years of reflection that sometimes music leans over and takes us into its confidence. This was one of those times.
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