King Crimson (KC) are regarded to be prog legends like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis. They were the creators of a new musical style called progressive rock. Unlike Genesis, Pink Floyd or Yes, KC has always been characterized by a coming and going of band members. The only person involved in all KC-releases is the brilliant, but eccentric guitarist and composer Robert Fripp. Because of all these line-up changes, there are considerable musical differences, not only between separate eras but even within each single album. The debut album of KC was In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969). Whimsicality and overall excellence of the band is exuded by their first release which is considered to be one of the classic prog albums of all times. Of course the title track has been performed throughout the decades following its release by many, among others, Steve Hackett, John Wetton, 21st Century Schizoid Band, the American Michael Quatro and currently The Flaming Lips. The remastering by Steven Wilson and Fripp led to a release matching the current standards of sound quality and is a stunning piece of work. The latest release from 2009 does justice to the great compositions on this album with the line-up consisiting of Robert Fripp (guitar), Ian McDonald (woodwind, reeds, vibes, keyboards, Mellotron, vocals), Greg Lake (bass guitar, lead vocals), Michael Giles (drums, percussion, vocals) and Pete Sinfield (all lyrics, illumination). 21st Century Schizoid Man opens with a few strange sounds, uncommon, unique and in line with the total musical freedom. Most groups in the late sixties and early seventies had to establish their own musical identity. The band joins in and because of the saxophone played by McDonald and the somewhat harsh riff, the fusion between rock and jazz can be recognized here. The distorted voice of Lake sounds a bit awkward, but again highly original and unique for those days. This track must have been of some influence to Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music), who began to play in a similar style. The interlude is quite jazzy and leads to Fripp soloing in a way that is possibly adapted by Steve Howe (Yes) a few years later, while the solos by McDonald probably have been a guiding influence to Klaus Doldinger's Passport. The drumming of Michael Giles, with all those fills and subtle breaks, must have been a source of inspiration to Bill Bruford (Yes) who would join King Crimson at a later stage. I Talk To The Wind is totally different. It's a sweet flowing ballad, two-part sung and in the style of early Genesis. McDonald is the main composer and plays the flutes just like Gabriel did with Genesis, although McDonald is arguably much more skilled. The way Fripp plays the guitar resembles Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips. Alongside fellow artists like The Moody Blues, KC were one of the first bands to use the Mellotron - to its full extent I might add. Epitaph is a track featuring the Mellotron and it has a distinguished trademark of Greg Lake. This is understandable, since he is credited as a composer. Without the context of King Crimson, this could easily have been one of the melodic tracks on an early album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) just like his composition Lucky Man on the first ELP-album, to be released a year later. It's obvious that Fripp and Co. shared the same sources of inspiration as his contemporaries in Genesis in that same era.
The same musicians who are responsible for composing Epitaph, are credited as the composers of Moonchild, once again an entirely different track. Lake sounds like he's singing from a phone booth and at some point the music seems to be more of a jam than a documented composition. Essentially, the beginning of the track is a nice ballad with the same kind of chord sequence in the verses as, for example, in Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin. It features the keyboards by McDonald, some percussion by Giles, and the guitar by Fripp who's almost using his electric guitar as if it were an acoustic one. The whole second section sounds like an experimental piece of music that I would be inclined to call a jam session. Originally, this part was even longer and even more weird, but Fripp decided to cut a full three minutes for the reissue. To keep angry fans at bay, the original version has been included as a bonus track.
To me the title track is one of the best prog songs ever written. It was penned by McDonald and as usual the lyrics came from Sinfield. I can't imagine any prog fan who isn't familiar with this song. The majestic Mellotron rules in the choruses, which are sung by several members of the band, while the verses feature Lake's vocals, Fripp's guitar, Giles' subtle drumming and McDonald's flute & keyboards. In the first interlude, it's mainly McDonald's keyboards and Mellotron, in the second one mainly flute, bass and guitar followed by an instrumental version of the chorus. The track seems to have ended, but then McDonald continues the basic melody on a keyboard and fiddles around with it a bit, followed by the utterly bombastic instrumental outburst of the chorus with some harsh sounding keyboard sounds on top of the instrumentation used before. The song ends in an instrumental chaos, fortunately of a short duration and obviously it was planned to shock the listener. The ultimate contrast form perfect order to complete chaos. Apart from the original version of Moonchild, the bonus tracks are an instrumental version of Epitaph, an alternate version of I Talk To The Wind with different solos, a studio session with windy sounds and a conversation said to be the basis of the intro to 21st Century Schizoid Man. Listening carefully to the 5.1 surround sound DVD-audio, there can be no denying that the sound quality is incredible, very detailed and a stunning piece of craftsmanship. Personally I'm not fond of surround sound audio, because I always relate it to live concerts. Except for a few quadraphonic concerts, I can't think of any prog band performing live in surround sound. Therefore, it sounds unnatural to me and I definitely prefer a good remastering of the stereo sound.
KC has always been one of those bands I couldn't quite get into at a younger age just as was the case was with ELP, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd - before Dark Side Of The Moon - Frank Zappa and Soft Machine. The latter two I've still never fully appreciated. Most of those other bands, however, I began to appreciate at a later stage but still not in the same way as Yes, Kansas, Camel and Renaissance that I loved from the early days onwards. Today, I still have trouble to appreciate all of King Crimson's work but I absolutely love most of the music that's been recorded on this album, the title track being one of my all time favourites.