Review Summary: A risky departure and progression from KC's first 2 albums which worked out well. Please note that this is about as much a commentary as a review, hence the length. If you're after a brief album review, well there are hundreds of those on the net.
After In the Court of the Crimson King and the roughly congruous In the Wake of Poseidon, King Crimson couldn't stay in one place for too long, whether because of the fact that they're a constantly evolving band, or because of drastic lineup changes... the Giles brothers departed along with Greg Lake who went on to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Gordon Haskell (from Cadence and Cascade) came in on vocals/bass and Andy McCulloch assumed the drumming role. Furthermore, Fripp broadened the band's range by adding three musicians to play oboe, cor anglais, cornet and trombone. Lizard is a different creature altogether in comparison to King Crimson's first two albums - it builds on them by adding many jazz influences (particularly free jazz). Lizard is the first true reinvention of their sound... jazzier, denser and more complex than their previous works.
01 - Cirkus:
Cirkus is yet another strong King Crimson opener - it certainly exudes as much energy and chaos as their previous ones. A delicate spidery piano intro begins the album and, coupled with vocals, cascades and peaks until the opposingly ominous brusque brass enters. Fripp's acoustic guitar soon arrives over the top and it weaves in and out of the foreground throughout the whole song. Even as the verse progresses, the acoustic becomes more and more fractured and culminates in a choppy arpeggiated solo. Later on there is a splendidly jazzy alto sax solo backed by a signature King Crimson anguished mellotron melody. After the last verse, the songs starts to grow a little more wild and at 4:51 it's as if the piano, brass and acoustic are all vying for attention. The outro is rather intense with a climactic ascending tritone melody painted over by saxophone.
02 - Indoor Games:
With its highlight goofy sounding sax riff and groovy off-kilter beat propelled by drumming which Bruford would be proud of, Indoor Games is the fun song of the album... lyrically I understand it to be Sinfield taking a vitriolic stab at wealthy people who are utterly bored in life. Indoor Games is certainly less intensely focused than any the rest of the album. And as if to attest to this, upon reaching the fourth verse, everything goes spacey and it becomes a bit of a free jazz jam session. Fripp's riffs are funky in a strange edgy kind of way, and his leads are very fusionesque. The song returns to its main theme and finishes with a charmingly raucous laugh from Haskell.
03 - Happy Family:
Happy Family, which is a story about the Beatles, has just about everything in it. If King Crimson have ever done a truly avant-garde track in the spirit of free jazz, this is it. Haskell's vocals are beyond distorted and Tippett again exhibits more of the Cat Food piano style, a mixture of inaccessible insane syncopated choppy sections with a dash of blues swagger. While we have some vigorous flute attacks, Fripp's guitar in the background, some brass and even some synths, this track is predominantly Cat Food Part II with piano at the forefront.
04 - Lady of the Dancing Water:
Lady of the Dancing Water acts as the mandatory chaser following the madness, which we've come to expect from King Crimson... it is a placid pretty love song featuring Mel Collins' flutework, an acoustic rhythm and even trombone in the middle. It is slightly disappointing because it isn't as strong as I Talk to the Wind, the Dream (first section of Moonchild) or Cadence and Cascade, and is a comparatively unadventurous song when wedged in an album full of experimentation. But it is undoubtedly valuable as a refreshingly pleasant change of pace for 2 minutes.
05 - Lizard:
Here we are presented with King Crimson's majestic sprawling 23 minute track, Lizard - this is the first suite they ever wrote. It is divided into 4 parts with the 3rd divided into 3 subparts, and tells the story of Prince Rupert in battle.
Prince Rupert Awakes: The introduction to the suite features Jon Anderson - despite liking Yes, I don't particularly like the vocal style he employs with them, but on Lizard, he tones it down and sings beautifully and passionately. This section switches between sincere solemn verses and folky optimistic sounding verses with handclaps and Frippisms floating over the top. All in all, this is a pretty epic way to begin the suite.
Bolero: The Peacock's Tale: The previous section segues into Bolero which is bookmarked by oboe sections. The second section maintains the mood with some engaging lush melodies played over the top of bolero drumming until some funky piano encroaches and the song moves into a swinging jazz territory somewhat reminiscent of Charles Mingus.
The Battle of Glass Tears: The 2 minute Dawn Song is the first subsection of the Battle of Glass Tears, and it is suitably led by an ominous but enticing cor anglais section. Haskell describes in words the breaking of dawn and the moment just before battle ensues, as the soldiers are forming their lines.
Last Skirmish begins with McCulloch's articulate drumming, a rather deranged sounding bassline and mellotron echoing the cor anglais melody which is by now sounding anguished rather than hypnotic. Brass and flute enter the fray, then everything grows more and more wild in the chaos and confusion of the battle, most markedly the raucous saxophone. Things slow down for a bit (not sure what this is meant to represent) and then rage with twice the intensity until we reach an abrupt stop signalled by a bum note, at which point Rupert is struck down.
Prince Rupert's Lament begins with a plodding funereal bassline overlayed by nothing but Robert Fripp's downright dolorous eerie electric mourning... it reeks of wretched pain and bleak misery.
Big Top is the peculiar circus-like outro to the album. It seems almost a parody when preceded by Prince Rupert's Lament.
Lizard was a risky departure and progression from Crimson's first two albums, and I consider it a complete success and a masterpiece. King Crimson prove here that they can reinvent themselves, and not only survive but innovate in the prog world. Lizard maintains a dark edgy experimental vibe throughout and the only weak point is Lady of the Dancing Water. I feel Tippett truly shines on this album, the brass/woodwind instruments add a lot and McCulloch did a pretty nice job on drums. While I think Haskell's vocals are a bit substandard next to Greg Lake, his basswork is decent and unfairly criticised. Lizard is quite overlooked in general, and misunderstood by many King Crimson fans. Even Robert Fripp himself ignores its existence.