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Friday, January 30, 2009

29 in 2009 - King Crimson: "In the Court of the Crimson King"

King Crimson:  In the Court of the Crimson King
Originally Released:  October 10, 1969
Genre:  Progressive Rock
Rating:  9 out of 10 Stars

Whoever left the comment about my 29 in 2009 series going the Sufjan Stevens "50 states" route gets mad props from me.  That's actually a pretty clever comment.  However, unlike Sufjan Stevens, I have a day job and responsibilities that need to be attended to.  How I wish I could just sit in my Brooklyn apartment all day in my vintage clothes and play on my banjo!  Alas, that is not my life.  Not now at least.

As it turns out, I still have a very keen interest in current indie music and so balancing my listening with that and these classic records that I have devoted myself too can be quite tough.  As many of my long time readers know, one of my favorite indie bands is The Mars Volta, currently one of the few bands still doing the whole progressive rock thing.  My interaction with the genre has been minimal to say the least.  I am pretty familiar with Rush, and I went through a Dream Theater phase at one point; but for the most part, me and prog rock have never been best friends.

It is with this minimal knowledge that I made the judgement in 2003 that The Mars Volta was one of the most original bands in existence.  However, at just a few minutes into In the Court of the Crimson King, I was made to realize something:  The Mars Volta totally ganked their sound, their style, many of the cool things that they do from King Crimson.  The leadoff track, "21st Century Schizoid Man" is very reminiscent of Amputecture-era Mars Volta; bearing a striking resemblance to "Tetragrammaton."  The difference, however, is clear:  King Crimson did it much better back in 1969 than The Mars Volta ever could have hoped.  "21st Century Schizoid Man" is an amazing piece of rock music, and I am blown away that I have never heard of it up until this point in my life.  How could this not have been an American radio hit, especially considering its many Vietnam War metaphors?

"I Talk to the Wind" is equally as impressive, but the band shows that they are capable of much more than turning the amp up to 11 and rocking out.  This is a much more mellow song entirely, using flutes and clarinets prominently throughout the track.  It's peaceful, moving, and calming.  "Epitaph" is an epic track as well, and though it maintains a relatively slow tempo, the instrumentation and Greg Lake's commanding vocals bring about a wave of excitement every time I listen to it.

I have mixed feelings for "Moonchild."  While I love the "proper" part of the song, the 8-minute free-form section that follows is one of the things that I've always sort of despised about the prog-rock genre.  I'm a fan of melody and form, and the two are sworn enemies of free-form music.  When I heard this song for the first time, it sounded really familiar and I had no idea where I had heard it before.  My answer came after a quick visit to Wikipedia when I found that the indie rock band, Doves, had covered it in their song "M62 Song."  It was always my favorite track from The Last Broadcast, and here I never even knew that it was a cover song!  Once again, my lack of knowledge does me in.

"In the Court of the Crimson King" is probably the band's only song, and the only one I knew that I was familiar with before tackling this album (not counting "M62 Song" of course).  It was the only song to ever be really popular in the United States, and I've heard it on classic rock stations maybe once or twice in my life.  Honestly, it's not their strongest song, though it's easily their most accessible rock song on this record.  It feels like it drags on far beyond its reasonable conclusion, though honestly, which progressive rock song doesn't?  I've found it to be a much better listen when it's experienced on its own, not simply as the conclusion to an intense, long album.

To be honest, I really love this album!  A lot of the time when I should have been listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I was listening to this one instead.  When I tried to skip ahead and listen to Tommy, I just wanted to hear "21st Century Schizoid Man" again.  I am kind of appalled that I'm just now hearing this record for the first time; not just at myself, but at the American music media for not instantly mentioning in their relentless lists of "greatest albums."  It's more than just entertaining or powerful; it's incredibly influential and potentially life-changing music!  Obviously, I'm a fan.  I can't wait to hear what else this band has to offer!

Verdict: Classic


Double Hawk said...

'Court of The Crimson King' I only heard from Children of Men and I absolutely loved it! When you listen to Tommy, make sure you know what the story's about, given that it's a rock opera, and the album will come together a lot better.

kmoe said...

It's sad that most of the youth of today are not aware of this albums existence. (including myself, being 21)

I cannot express how awesome I think this project of yours is.

unrelated question...

What's your favorite bright eyes album?

Cale said...

Toss up between Cassadaga and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning.

Cassadaga a is a pretty well-rounded album, and he seems to have matured greatly on it. There's not a lot of self-pity/loathing as there was on previous albums, and I like that a lot.

IWA,IM is just classic Bright Eyes, though, and you simply can't deny the power of songs like "First Day of My Life" or "Land-Locked Blues." I think if you were to put me on the spot and say "pick one or die," I'd say I'm Wide Awake, simply because I think it stands the test of time better than Cassadaga.

Matthew Drake said...

The Mars Volta are a definite favorite of mine too. I thought you might like this album. Glad that I could share it with you.