9/21/2011

King Crimson - 'In the Wake of Poseidon'

Title: In the Wake of Poseidon
Artist: King Crimson
Date: 1970
Genre: Progressive Rock

Total length: 41 minutes / 8 tracks
Download link (mp3, CBR @ 192 kbps)


Personnel:
Robert Fripp - guitars, mellotron & devices
Peter Sinfield - lyrics
Greg Lake - vocals (except 3)
Mel Collins - flute & saxophones
Michael Giles - drums
Peter Giles - bass
Keith Tippett - piano



Rating: 10/10 - Practically perfect

I love this album. I love it so much I bought the vinyl version of this great album as soon as I saw it in a vinyl store. The price even became irrelevant; I just had to have it. Unfortunately it has two scratches that make the turntable loop and with hindsight it wasn't the best investment I ever made. Still worth it though.



The cover art
Let's start with the cover art of this album. It's worth mentioning since it's actually a piece of art on it's own. The front and back cover together form a beautiful painting. You'll understand my appreciation for it even more when you see the vinyl cover in the flesh. I don't know how this cover is related to the content of the album though.
The sound quality Normally I would discuss this as I go along, but in this case I feel the need to discuss it in slightly more detail. This is because this is one of the rare albums were there is a large difference between the different formats.
Let's list them: mp3, lossless and vinyl. First and foremost: the mp3 version sucks. Normally the difference between FLAC and mp3 is minimal if even audible at all. But in this case it's plainly audible, and here's why: the dynamic range (difference in volume between loud and soft parts) is so large that LAME (the compression algorithm most commonly used to transcode mp3's) adds a significant amount of noise to the softer parts.
This is most notable in the first track, where the noise is almost louder than the music. With FLAC and vinyl it's dead silent. So a word of advise: use the mp3 download link only if you have never listened to the album before, but once you can appreciate it download a proper FLAC version (or buy it, even better). You will hear the difference.
Then the difference between vinyl and FLAC: small. That is, the differences that I hear are probably called by the fact that my turntable is not exactly hi-fi. On the vinyl version I perceive a wider soundstage, and a slightly brighter sound. But this is most likely caused by stereo crosstalk, and would sound similar to adding a crossfeed DSP on the digital version.

Peace - A Beginning This is the first track of the album. They do the same nasty trick as on their first album (In the Court of the Crimson King) - they have their first track playing at very low volume so that the the impact of the song following that is greater. Another possibility is that they invite you to turn up the volume so that the first track is normal volume, however your drivers might blow when the next track comes up!
Enough ranting. This first song is basically a short poem about peace. Pretty low on content, and can be ignored. It's just there for structural reasons which I'll come to at the end.

Pictures of a City BLAM! Suddenly Mel Collins and Peter Giles hit you in the face with a loud drum and saxophone piece. Sounds heavenly, and that's what I love about prog rock really - the excellent saxophone and synthesizer (or Hammond organ) pieces.
The combination of saxophone, drums and guitar keep on going for about three minutes slowly building up. Occasionally they are interrupted by Greg Lakes weird vocals written by Sinfield. Lakes already formed Emmerson, Lake and Palmer during the recording of this album, but he was specially requested to do vocals on this album as well.
At about 3:00 the drums suddenly stop and you get this breathtaking guitar solo for a couple seconds. After that the other instruments join in again and go on at full steam for another two minutes. At 4:30 they create short bursts of energy, not unlike in their first album. I think the first five minutes are one of the most energetic pieces I have ever heard in music.
After the five minute mark it becomes slower and softer, creating a sort of sonic landscape. There are all kinds of sounds happening everywhere along with the baseline, as if small animals were treading around you. I then gets slowly more chaotic when the guitar comes in at about 6:15. It becomes more and more chaotic until Lakes suddenly starts to blurt again. After that, it gets more and more chaotic with the all the instruments just randomly playing together as loud as they can. After that - sudden silence as the next song pops up. I just love it when Fripp comes up with these kind of ingenious things.
One quick comment about the lyrics; They don't seem to make much sense at first but if you take the title of the song into consideration you can see that it's about some city. All these words paint a picture of a city. And I think the same goes for the chaos and energy in the song - they try to recreate that feeling of the busy and dangerous city this way. There might be some more to it, but give me a break - I'm neither studying music nor literature.

Cadence and Cascade This song is one that's pretty much based around its vocals. The guitar and piano give a nice effect to accompany the vocals, but they are definitely not the dominating instruments. The flute solo should not be ignored though. Mel Collins is an excellent flutist, and like most of his works it sounds sublime here. The lyrics are pure poetry, possible one of Sinfield's best lyrics among the King Crimson discography.
The lyrics (from my interpretation) are about a man named Jade who stands above other people. He is a noble or a king, someone that most people look up to in any case. But then he is uncovered. "Sliding mystified, on the wine of the tide. Stared pale-eyed as his veil fell aside". This is the moment when he is uncovered and when the people who normally look up to him 'find him just a man'. That is, they discover that he's a mere man no better than anyone else.
In the third stanza it becomes apparent that the was probably rich. "Where the sequin spell fell, custom of the game". 'Sequin' is related to money, the 'sequin spell' can be interpreted as the spell of money.
Then they are talking about Cadence and Cascade. We know from the first two lines that Cadence and Cascade are related to the man named Jade, probably in the form of being some kind of guardian. It is also apparent that Cadence and Cascade love Jade: "Cadence oiled in love, licked his gloved hand. Cascade kissed his name".
After that the verse "Sad paper courtesan, they knew him just a man" is repeated.
The sad paper courtesan they are referring to is probably the man named Jade, as 'paper courtesan' can be roughly paraphrased to 'money prostitute'. I.e. someone addicted to money, or at least someone to which money is his dearest possession.
Unfortunately I don't really understand the symbolic meaning of Cadence and Cascade. If I were to guess then I'd say they were referring to music. Cadence is the two or more chord conclusion of a song, or something related to a beat. Cascade is in most definitions a waterfall. It could therefore be interpreted as the ending of a song, but how this relates to the rest of the poem is something I do not know.

In the Wake of Poseidon This song starts of with a short instrumental piece, almost classical if it weren't for the guitar. This is pretty much vocals accompanied by other instruments for the first three minutes. Then there is a slow music piece that continues for a minute or two. It's beautiful, you should listen to it. I'd comment on it more, but my knowledge of music terms is far too limited for that. Now comes the boring, but interesting part - the lyrics.
This is again one of Sinfields elegant poems. Since I'm not an expert on this kind of stuff I found it very difficult to make something sensible out of these lyrics. I think it's based around illusion and deception. Most of the first stanza describes how people are doing things which are mere illusions, but they interpret them as the real life. For example "Whilst dark in dream the midnight queen knows every human pain" could mean that the 'midnight queen' is dreaming, or rather having a nightmare, and interprets the pains she feels in this nightmare as being real. The same goes for the Harlequins performing and the two women weep because of a theatrical performance. The stuff about Plato might be referring to Plato deceiving others.
Then they are talking about the four elements and the world being on the scales. This could mean that there should be a balance between the four elements, where the four elements could refer to any four aspects of something, probably life.
After that they are talking about Bishops and Kings scratching "Faith" on nameless graves. This could mean that the authority figures are abusing their powers, and without purpose they try to enforce their religious faith on to others. Following that they mention harvest hags hoarding ash and sand. The harvest hags are probably the common people working hard without any specific purpose. The the verse ends with the madman not caring about anything that happens in the world - he created his own world of illusion.
The last verse of the poem is about heroes and magi fighting. Following the theme of illusion, it can only be guessed that there is no actual point in this fighting. They do it because they are led by an illusion that they perceive as true. "Their children kneel in Jesus till they learned the price of nail;" This is truly divine, I suddenly understood why people would dedicate their life to poetry.

Peace - A Theme This is an instrumental piece. It only contains an acoustic guitar, and it sounds pretty good. But nothing particularly notable, except that it shares the same melody as Peace - An End.

Cat Food This is one of my favorite all time songs. I just love the base line on this song. It starts of with a chaotic piano playing, and this piano keeps reappearing during the song. It almost seems like the piano is being played like a mad man - it seems to play something completely different from all the other instruments, but yet it accompanies them perfectly.
All the other instrumental pieces are beautiful, and somehow they can be so perfectly catchy: I have lost count of the times that this song was stuck in my head. Like many King Crimson pieces it's a that continual shifting between chaotic and calm, something I have yet to be done so well as this by other artists.
The lyrics are about gluttony, and how we don't appreciate the food we eat. All the people described in this song eat without caring about what they are eating. They just buy stuff from the supermarket and use it to 'whip up a chemical brew'. But in fact what they are eating has no taste what so ever and therefore it's not unlike just eating tins of cat food.

The Devil's Triangle On some releases this track is divided up into three parts. But I'll discuss it as if they were one. There are no lyrics in this track, which will ease it up a bit for me.
It starts of very softly with a military like drum playing just above the threshold of hearing. Then a soft violin comes in playing long high pitched chords. It gradually gets louder as more instruments join in, but none drowning out the others. About 2:20 into the song an organ joins in, after that a slightly louder and lower pitched violin. Eventually the two start to play together and it quickly gets louder until there is an explosion in which you only hear an organ.
It then continues on for several minutes with an ensemble of different instruments playing together with each other, gradually getting more complex and more dramatic.
At 7:00 there is another climax and then the instruments die of again in a sweeping wind with a clock ticking softly on the background. Then a few seconds of silence and two ticks of the clock, and the chaos restarts. This time the chaos is more rhythmic and energetic. Each instruments seems to play a different melody, yet they all seem in perfect synchronization. At 10:45 you suddenly hear an odd second of vocals, very similar to the chanting that often occurred on their first album. The chaos then quickly cools down and you hear an acoustic guitar playing two chords (a cadence?). The song is finished, the audience can take a breather and now all that remains is the last song. The conclusive poem about peace.

Peace - An End With a soothing silence we are recited a poem about peace. The first verse is a metaphorical description of peace, with each phrase make another definition of peace. The verse is about you searching for this peace, while in facts it's right in front of your nose and inside all of us. I think this could be a theme shared across the entire album. And thinking about it, together with Sinfields divine poetry could put a tear into the eye of a grown men.

The final conclusion This is exactly why I love this album. It's not only beautiful as in how good it sounds, as in how energetic the music makes you feel, or not even as in how technically impressive this album is. No, it's especially beautiful because it is pure art - it's literature. In fact someone actually did a literary analysis of this and the other first four King Crimson albums. That makes it official, Sinfield is on par with all the other great poets out there. But he's better, because he can get it turned into music. Especially when he teams up with the great Robert Fripp - a true musical genius when it comes to composing and a guitar virtuoso when it comes to playing.

I sincerely hope that whomever is crazy enough to read this will listen to this album. Especially because I wasted three hours of my quality time writing this. Word count: ~2500

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