I’ve been wondering for some time what I could say about one of the pivotal albums of the progressive rock canon. It is an album which many consider to be the genesis of the genre – especially given its musical complexity and the virtuosity of its players. To give it its full title, it is In The Court Of The Crimson King: An Observation By King Crimson.
Originally released in 1969 In The Court Of The Crimson King has now passed its 40th anniversary. To mark this occasion the album was remixed by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree who has done an incredible job of enhancing a classic. From the opening clamour of 21st Century Schizoid Man to the final fade of The Court Of The Crimson King, fresh details have been exposed and unheard sounds given life. Yet even without this latest update this is an album that ought to be heard by everyone – if your worried doing so might be uncool, check out the Wikipedia list of cultural references that mention 21st Century Schizoid Man (it includes Kanye West – not that I necessarily consider him cool).
Blood rack, barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man
The album is a mix of political comment, ethereal musing, driving rhythm, intense textures, raw power and incredible musicianship. In fact, the standard of musicianship within King Crimson was so high that Bill Bruford had this to say on seeing King Crimson perform (when interviewed for the BBC4 documentary Prog Rock Britannia):
Unbelievable. We were scared to death. Nobody knew that rock musicians could play like that.
Which is quite something given Bill Bruford’s own musical pedigree. At the time, he was a member of Yes who were (and are) not lacking in the musical talent stakes and later went on to join King Crimson – not once, but twice! You can watch a clip featuring that quote on YouTube – where you should also note narrator Nigel Planer’s use of the word “intimidating” and the emphasis placed on rehearsal by lyricist Peter Sinfield.
The high regard this album is held in is illustrated by the high number of 5 star ratings it has received over on its ProgArchives page. Indeed at the time of writing this post it sits at number 6 in the ProgArchives Top Prog Rock Music Albums List. Part of a top 1o that currently includes Close To The Edge by Yes, Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull, Selling England By The Pound and Foxtrot by Genesis, Red by King Crimson, Godbluff by Van Der Graaf Generator and three Pink Floyd albums – Wish You Were Here, Dark Side Of The Moon and Animals. I reckon that makes for very illustrious company indeed.
In The Court Of The Crimson King is one of my favourite albums and I have no doubt that it deserves the acclaim it has received. As such it is one that should be found somewhere in every serious music collection.
21st Century Schizoid Man
I Talk To The Wind
The Court Of The Crimson King
Robert Fripp – Guitar
Ian McDonald – Reeds, Woodwind, Vibes, Keyboards, Mellotron, Vocals
Greg Lake – Bass Guitar, Lead Vocals
Michal Giles – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Peter Sinfield – Words and Illumination