Review Summary: Prog 'N Jazz.
The Crimson Experience is ever so different, and especially the early 70’s were an unstable period for the now-veteran proggies, who faced personnel change after personnel change. The transition between their second and third album In the Wake of Poseidon
, respectively, was no exception. In an unfortunate move, the very capable Giles brothers, responsible for the strong rhythm section since Poseidon, left. Gordon Haskell, who had previously sung on Cadence and Cascade
, took over not only lead singing, but also bass duties, and Andy McCulloch was brought in behind the kit. A new Crimson recorded a new album: Lizard
Now, while In the Wake
bore (too) much similarity to In the Court
was nothing like the group had done so far; this third effort often dabbles in jazz. While Fripp had, from the beginning, shown a strong jazz influence in his playing as opposed to the blues-rooted playing of his contemporaries, he had yet to take the entire sound along with him. Lizard
is Crimson’s jazziest dive by far, and is more consistent, enduring and surprising than their second record. It was exactly what move was needed after the truthfully disappointing Poseidon
The album is very clearly divided into two halves: the first four, short (in terms of prog) songs, and the sprawling epic title track on the opposite side. Opener Cirkus
very effectively combines old and new elements: It moves from the soft, piano –and saxophone-led parts that introduce the very jazzy edge to the recurring dark, aggressive feel of 21st Century Schizoid Man
and Pictures of a City
, and back again between the two. Nevertheless, it becomes already quite clear that Fripp’s otherwise quite dominant guitar position takes a major step back, which remains so throughout the entire running length. It is something that works considerably well considering the shift in style.
I can already say in advance to the conclusion that Lizard
is a better Crimson album than Poseidon
. Despite that, the line-up is actually less of a dazzle. Haskell is miles away from the awe-inspiring performances Lake gave us on In the Court of the Crimson King
, and yet, he suits better on Lizard
than his predecessor would have. His somewhat shaky voice blends well with the free-flowing jazzy tunes. The same goes for his bass performance and McCulloch’s drumming. Both Lake and Peter Giles had been very capable bassists, and Michael Giles was an excellent drummer with a tremendous feel of pace. Now, the traditional rock rhythm section is hardly noticeable, but it all doesn’t seem to matter here. The prominence of the piano and saxophone even manages to outrun Fripp, so who gives a damn if bass and drums aren’t as outstanding as they used to be"
The first half remains greatly consistent. Both Indoor Games
and Happy Family
provide more Crimson jazz fun, and Lady of the Dancing Water
is a fitting, short, soft flute-led tune that closes off Lizard
’s first chapter accordingly. What this record is all about, however, is the title track: a sprawling epic longer than any of Crimson’s before (and after) it. Compare it to Genesis
’ Supper’s Ready
if you will. The first chapter: Prince Rupert Awakes
, is especially interesting because it features Jon Anderson of other prog giants Yes
on vocals; a performance that contributes highly. There is however an even more important reason for the track’s success when looking at Crimson’s early history. The group’s longest tunes thus far were Moonchild
and The Devil’s Triangle
, and both did not quite succeed in keeping up momentum for their entire length. Lizard
, however, benefits from a structured approach, where its foregoers relied much on improvisation, especially Moonchild
. It keeps interesting for most of its 20 minutes, and is not only an accomplishment in that sense, but also the best track on this third record.
It is understandable if the conclusion that Lizard
is an excellent addition into King Crimson’s legacy does not immediately come to you. Their third record is not particularly easy to get into at first, but when given time, it will open up to you, certainly if you have enjoyed the group’s other works. It’s different than those, it’s far jazzier, and that gives it its unique position in the discography. Of the works that Fripp & company have put out in the unstable 70’s, this ranks among the best of them.
Lizard’s King Crimson was:
- Robert Fripp ~ Guitars, Mellotron, Electronic Keyboards, Devices
- Peter John Sinfield ~ Words and Illumination
- Melvynd Desmond Collins ~ Saxophone, Flute
- Gordon Hionides ~ Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar
- Andrew McCulloch ~ Drums
- Keith Graham Tippetts ~ Piano
- Robin Miller ~ Oboe, Cor Anglais
- Mark Charig ~ Cornet
- Nicholas Evans ~ Trombone
- John Roy Anderson ~ Lead Vocals on 'Prince Rupert Awakes'