Review Summary: The original and the quintessential prog rock piece, encapturing the soul of the genre, and expanding its boundaries.
Many rock fans and critics would argue that today, in the 21st century rock scene, as schizoid as it may be, progressive music is as good as dead. But, if we were to spin the clock backwards and jump through a couple decades, all the way to the late Sixties, we'd witness it's very conception. Bands like The Moody Blues and Genesis were experimenting with new instruments, sounds and new approaches to songwriting, drawing from earlier hints by The Beatles or The Mothers of Invention; Pink Floyd were still more psychedelic and spacey than progressive at the time.
Then, in October of 1969, a group called King Crimson emerged, fronted by the flamboyant guitarist Robert Fripp. Coming from the instrumental pop background of Giles, Giles & Fripp, and adding some new members in Greg Lake, Ian McDonald and, crucially, Peter Sinfield; they turned the corner with a vastly experimental way of composing songs, while keeping their habit of mostly improvized playing.
The result was none other than In the Court of the Crimson King, a record that, as time would later have it, made history. Fiercely opening with the hard rock riff of Schizoid, the band travel over a multitude of sonic landscapes, mellotron-induced eerieness and strangely structured passages. The music is diverse, never giving you what you expected, but boggling your mind with its twisting and whirling – sometimes orchestral and ambiental, other times bizarre and challenging. Surprisingly or not, always with perfect attacca.
The guitar is mostly melded with the mellotron, daring in the solos and elegiac in the leads, thus evoking both strong and tender emotions, respectfully, from the listener. This ability to connect to the listener on many levels is surely helped by the implementation of a rich instrumentarium and a wide range of influences, including Fripp's ever so dear jazz fusion; instead of draining everything they can from blues rock like most of their contemporaries.
A careful listener's highlight of the record would be the lyrics, or more appropriately said - poetry, courtesy of Peter Sinfield. Brought in solely as a lyricist, he gave his vivid imagination the reins and charted colourful territoria. His strophes are canny and curious, inviting the listener to pay closer attention, creating abstract imagery in their mind.
History would dub In the Court the original and the quintessential prog rock piece, and rightfully so. Even though it was released in the genre's toddler years, it encaptures the soul of prog like no other record, while at the same time expanding, or rather erasing its boundaries. It set the bar so high that not even King Crimson were able to reach it ever again.