Review Summary: This represents the birth of prog rock. It’s one of the best prog albums ever.
“In The Court Of The Crimson King” is the self-titled debut studio album of King Crimson and was released in 1969. The line up on the album is Greg Lake, Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald, Michael Giles and Peter Sinfield.
No serious progressive rock fan can be without at least four or five King Crimson’s albums in his private collection. While their output not always was the most even one, they were undoubtedly one of the most important and influential progressive rock bands ever. So, if there’s one group that embodies progressive rock, it’s undoubtedly King Crimson. Led by guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp, during their first five years of existence the band stretched both the language and structure of rock into realms of jazz and classical music, all the while avoiding pop and psychedelic sensibilities. The absence of mainstream compromises and the lack of an overt sense of humour ultimately doomed the group to nothing more than a large cult following, but made their albums among the most enduring and respectable of the prog rock era.
The idea for King Crimson was conceived in 1968 by brothers Giles, Peter and Michael, and Robert Fripp. After they had working together in late 1967 and after playing in a variety of bands, they decided form a band named Giles, Giles & Fripp. In 1968 the band released an album, “The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp”. Meanwhile, the line up was changing. Peter Giles exited scene and Ian McDonald, Peter Sinfield and Greg Lake joined late in 1968. In the beginning of 1969, the band became King Crimson, deriving the name from Sinfield’s lyrics for the song “The Court Of The Crimson King”, and in the same year the band released their debut studio album, “In The Court Of The Crimson King”.
For many people, “In The Court Of The Crimson King” marked the true start of the progressive rock. In reality, in 1969, progressive rock hasn’t been invented yet. But, some early attempts had been made, mostly inspired by psychedelic hippie vibes. The Beach Boys had already started exploring the possibilities of multi-tracking, Jimmy Hendrix started combining R&B with psychedelic rock, the first so called “conceptual albums” were released by The Beatles and The Moody Blues, Procol Harum had already recorded “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, classical influences were also present on The Nice, but till “In The Court Of The Crimson King” has been released, no album could be considered a prog work.
So, then and suddenly, an album was released by a new band. It came in a strange and frightening cover, which seemed to fit the music quite well, actually. The music was something completely new and overwhelming, fragile, majestic and aggressive, with unusual sounds, changing time signatures, and complex arrangements. The legendary opener “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a heavy, complex, raw, angry and ultra energetic showcase of angry prog rock. Lake sings with a distorted effect on his voice to underline the aggression and anger in both the music and lyrics. The rest of the album is of a much mellower and symphonic kind, where the mellotron creates an often-sinister carpet of sound that perfectly fits the mood of the music and lyrics. “I Talk To The Wind” is actually one of the greatest moments here, with a pleasant and relaxed melody that is beautifully surrounded by the flute. “Epitaph” is far darker track and it features one of Sinfield’s best lyrics ever. Just the mellotron combined with Fripp’s mellow guitar tones, on the beginning, is enough to make me shiver. The two first minutes of “Moonchild” is some of the prettiest music King Crimson ever recorded, but the ten remaining minutes of it demonstrates one of the problems with King Crimson. Fripp had obviously a desire for on most King Crimson’s albums, including something experimental and weird, and the ten last minutes of “Moonchild” on this album is a perfect example of that. But it’s still bearable to listen through it, as you know you have the fantastic title track waiting for you afterwards. That song is simply so beautiful and majestic that it can’t be described in words. Nobody had until then used the mellotron in a better, more powerful and symphonic way than this. Everything goes straight to heaven each time the chorus appears. Symphonic progressive rock can impossibly get any better than this.
Conclusion: “In The Court Of The Crimson King” has long been considered the first ever prog rock album, one of the most beloved and legendary rock recordings that still stands the test of time fifty years after its release. Who can argue this isn’t one of prog rock’s legendary releases, especially with songs such as the hard rocking, complex wonder that is “21st Century Schizoid Man”, the dreamy, mellotron soaked title track, or the haunting, also mellotron drenched classic “Epitaph”? Lake gives one of his finest performances ever here and the band take the mellotron even further than The Moody Blues on a few of the songs. The frantic drum work of Michael Giles and the guitar lines from Fripp on “21st Century Schizoid Man” simply marvel, and the soothing woodwinds from Ian McDonald on “I Talk To The Wind” and the mysterious “Moonchild” add a wonderful jazzy element to this otherwise adventurous and groundbreaking prog album.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)