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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon 30 May 2003
Time and time again we are confronted with artists who put out a great debut album and never climb that high ever again. When it comes to talking about the paradigmatic example of such a phenomenon my choice would be King Crimson and their debut album "In the Court of the Crimson King." Released in 1969 with its distinctive cover art, this was the album that set the standard for progressive/psychedelic rock for the next decade. Except for the title track the songs are ensemble efforts by guitarist Robert Fripp, drummer Michael Giles, bass player and lead vocalist Greg Lake, keyboard player Ian McDonald, and lyricist Peter Sinfield.
The best track on the album is the first, "21st Century Schizoid Man," with its big main riff and jazz-rock middle section ("Mirrors"). The music is somewhat distorted at times, but that does not stop the group's musical virtuosity from coming through. As you would expect from the title, the song paints a picture of dystopian future that embodies the worst tendencies of the late 1960s, and remains the standard by which other progressive rock epics are judged. In terms of political sensibilities nothing comes close. The song also stands out because the following track, "I Talk to the Wind," is more folk-rock and constitutes a sort of cleansing of the palate before proceeding to the rest of the album (it is actually a song members of the group had played on earlier efforts).
The title track is not the best King Crimson song, but it is probably their best known one (and the one song that was written just by McDonald and Sinfeld). The conceit is of a medieval court afflicted by a black queen, fire witch, and other equally dark images heading for total destruction. It is a daring finality, teetering on the brink of the sort of bombastic pomposity that often afflicted progressive rock (Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Tarkus Suite," with its synthesizer excess is the obviously example that comes to my mind). Musically on this album as a whole it is McDonald who makes the biggest mark on the album, playing mellotron and assorted other instruments like saxophones, although Fripp's guitar is also prominent. When I was growing up the singing voice I most wanted to have was Greg Lake's, and this is the album when he sounds the best. The result is that "In the Court of the Crimson King" is one of the albums that has to be considered when you are making a list of top albums from the Sixites or in the history of progressive rock music. It does not matter that King Crimson had a revolving door lineup and that it would take them years to come up with anything close to this classic album.
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4.7 out of 5 stars