In The Court Of The Crimson King

King Crimson

Atlantic Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Robert Fripp is considered one of the world's best guitarists. His lightning-fast riffing has made him one of the best-kept secrets among the field of guitar gods.

But Fripp is also one of rock music's strangest birds. He has shunned conventional wisdom and steered his band King Crimson into some very bizarre waters. This is not a band you can appreciate through one cursory listening.

That brings us to today's subject, King Crimson's 1969 debut In The Court Of The Crimson King. One of the earliest art-rock releases of its time, it is a very different -- and, at times, difficult -- listen.

You know you're in for an experience when you first look at the album cover painted by Barry Godber -- I don't think there has ever been a cover as bizarre or frightening as this one. One look at this, and you may think you're in for an evening of brain-melt music.

Instead, you're, at first, treated to what sounds like a jazz band strapped into electric chairs, and the juice is running full steam. "21st Century Schizoid Man" is a track that defies categorization, and is, at times, a very difficult piece to get through. At just over seven minutes in length, it sometimes feels like an eternity.

But for the remainder of the first side, King Crimson seems to return to some sort of normalcy, partly thanks to woodwind player Ian McDonald. "I Talk To the Wind" is a gentle piece featuring his flute work; though not the first band to feature the flute in a rock piece (Jethro Tull, I think, was the first to do so one year previous), it complements the rest of the band's performance. With lyricist Peter Sinfield (who is also credited with "illumination" -- whatever the hell that means), McDonald paints King Crimson as an entirely different group than "21st Century Schizoid Man" shows them to be.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Thanks is also due to bassist/vocalist Greg Lake, who also creates a mellow (and more somber) mood on "Epitaph." Once again, control is the name of the game, where Fripp's guitar, Lake's bass work and vocals and Michael Giles's trap work combine to create the magic that King Crimson could not have created had all four musicians been working to create their own individual sounds.They do so, but by working as a true band. (Kind of ironic that King Crimson would experience more lineup changes than Spinal Tap had vacancies in the drummer's seat.)

But King Crimson has always been partially about weirdness, and "Moonchild" doesn't disappoint in that field. What starts off as another controlled, somewhat beautiful song is messed up by -- you can probably fill in the blanks here -- each musician trying to create their own sound. While this worked on good nights for jamming bands like the Grateful Dead, it sounds more like a piss-poor hodge-podge in the hands of King Crimson. The longest track on the whole album (which only has five songs on it, for Jah's sake), at 12:15, it's about a good seven minutes too long. (While we're at it, this idea of each song "including" other tracks is really annoying - you want to break up the song into two or three distinct pieces, do it! This gets really old really quick.)

Fortunately, King Crimson is able to combat this track with the album's closer, "The Court Of The Crimson King." Again working as a band, Fripp et al. create a mood that has a touch of a medieval sound to it -- and the effect works. It is a fitting way to close the album.

Greg Lake left the band soon after this one to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer, just one of many musicians who would earn their stripes as a member of Kind Crimson. Others included Bill Bruford (who cut his teeth with another art-rock group, Yes) and Adrian Belew (who had first made a name for himself as part of Frank Zappa's band).

While In The Court Of The Crimson King is probably the best-known album by King Crimson, I would dare to say that this doesn't even represent their best work, which would come in the early '80s. But as difficult as this album can be at times, it is worth the effort to search out and listen to. It's a great place to start when learning about Robert Fripp or King Crimson.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-


© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.