10/14/2011

King Crimson - 'Lizard'

Title: Lizard
Artist: King Crimson
Date: 1970
Genre: Progressive rock

Total length: 42 minutes / 5 tracks
Download link: MP3 (CBR 320)

Main personnel:
Robert Fripp: Guitar, mellotron, synthesiser, organ, composition
Peter Sinfield: lyrics
Mel Collins: Saxophone, flute
Gordon Haskell: Bass guitar, vocals
Andy McCulloch: Drums





Rating 10/10 - Practically perfect
A second King Crimson reviewed. Not really a surprise considering the fact that King Crimson is my favorite artist as of now. The Beatles come in at a close second, but I feel as if nothing, not even the Beatles, can defeat King Crimson.
This album is just inexplicably beautiful; I am unable to say a single bad thing about it. Fripp is just about the best composer I have listened to, while Sinfield is just about the best lyricist I have ever heard of. A perfect duo, especially when aided by Collins' divine saxophone skills.



01 - Cirkus An excellent opening song. The song starts with a busy acoustic guitar playing alongside Haskell's gradually increasing vocals. Then suddenly an instrumental piece pops up beautifully with a hypnotic Mellotron. Fripp then plays his acoustic guitar as the vocals come in a second time. Followed by these vocals is another short instrumental interlude. The vocals come in again as you can hear a beautiful soundscape created by the Mellotron and the guitar.
Following this is a fairly long saxophone solo accompanied by drum and bass guitar with a piano softly playing in the back on the right channel. The piece then suddenly descents into the final stanza of the staggering lyrics. The Mellotron starts again with a piercing tune that shortly after dies into a very soft and elegant piece. The chaos is then restored as all the instruments then join up ensemble to play the last part of the song. What especially pops out in this last instrumental are the saxophone and other horn instrument pieces. (oboe?).

Now on to the lyrics. As expected with Sinfields lyrics they are beautiful poems that could stand on their own. I think this is one of the harder poems to find a meaning, if there is one. It's never good to over analyze something and 'force' a meaning out of a poem, so I won't go much further than the following:
The narrator is told by some lady to travel east towards the Cirkus. We can assume that the narrator is someone special, although I don't know what his status exactly is. After going to there he is invited to the Cirkus in almost forceful manner, and when he gets in he notices the lunacy of the ones inside. He tries to get out as soon as possible when it gets even worse and violence is even present. As he runs for the door the ring master shouts "All the fun of the Cirkus!".
I think this is a cynical poem, possibly referring to the direction that society is going in. Being a circus it seems very impressive from the outside, but once you dig into it a little more you notice how messed up the reality is. It might be that such a circus is a metaphor for the status of society, but without further literary skills or knowledge about the society of the 70's I can't be sure.

02 - Indoor Games This song directly starts out with a peculiar saxophone duet. Although the second instrument might be oboe or Mellotron as well. The vocals come in nicely after the duet with a guitar playing chaotically on the left channel and a piano on the right. The vocals continue to be a central part of the music and about a third way in the sound level suddenly drops with the vocals still continuing. Following this is a couple minute instrumental piece portraying Fripp's magnificent composing skills. Each instrument seems to play a different part, yet they blend together so well that you would almost call it a perfect harmony.
Following this instrumental piece is the concluding last stanza of the vocals. This long instrumental piece separates the vocals, emphasizing the power of the lyrics.
The lyrics are about a rich person who does nothing good at all, but people still have to cope up with him. "One string puppet shows amuse your sycophantic friends who cheer your rancid recipes in fear they might offend". Interestingly enough Haskell thought these lyrics were ridiculous, and they are indeed a bit humorous. He laughed uncontrollably when he had to sing the lyrics 'Hey ho' and they kept his laughing in the recording.

03 - Happy Family The song opens with a very dramatic instrumental part. Then come in Haskall's heavily distorted vocals featuring a continuous transition between the left and right channel. After the lyrics are over, a peculiar and chaotic flute solo comes up. When you will first hear this you might think it's abominable, but as you get more intimate with the piece you will find beauty in Fripp's chaos. Concluding the chaotic instrumental piece are the final vocals which provide a conclusion to the lyrics.
Apparently this song is about the Beatles, who disbanded in the same year. The lyrics describe how they went on as a happy family of four, but in the end none came back. I don't know whether they try to shed the Beatles in a positive or negative light, but it's interesting to note nonetheless.

04 - Lady of the Dancing Water This is a tranquil piece used as an interlude between the first three songs and the 23 minute long Lizard that is the final song. It's a soft vocal piece accompanied by a flute in a medieval style. It think this is a love poem about a lady of the dancing water who left him for some reason or another.
Other than noting that the flute pieces are beautiful, there is not much to this song in my opinion. This is not a bad thing, as it allows the listener to relax before the next song.

05 - Lizard The title song of the album. It starts with another vocalist (Jon Anderson of Yes). The vocals are accompanied by piano on the right channel. After the first vocals the chorus kicks in and is sung by the good old Haskell again.(yes, this song actually has a chorus). Suddenly the ensemble becomes much louder but quickly fades out into the second stanza of the verse, once again accompanied by piano and other minor instruments playing on the background.
After this the chorus once again kicks in this time with a reverted guitar (recorded and played backwards). At the end there is a short folk like lyric-less vocal piece featuring hand claps, which is once again followed by Andersons verse vocals. This switching between Haskell' and Anderson happens throughout the entire first part of Lizard, which is titled "Prince Rupert Awakes". This first part is ended with a loud composition typical to Fripp.
For two minutes or so a more classical piece is played called "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale". It starts of with a stunning saxophone solo followed by another stunning flute solo. Piano, drums and bass guitar are still softly playing on the background while the flute fades out into the oboe. This beautiful classic composition continues on from about 4:30 until 6:40, after which the style changes into the more jazzy ensemble, getting more busy and heavy along the way. This pictures a marching army that increases in sound intensity and speed the closer it comes to its target. This can also be heard in the military style drums.
At about 11:05 the jazzy part suddenly drops into a melancholic wind solo. After which the gentle vocals sung by Haskell join in. This time the lyrics describe an army preparing for battle and at the end they march forward by even yards. I can't help but shiver during this part, especially when after that the piece gentle fades out with a wind instrument.
After that it suddenly explodes with a heavy bass. Excellent drumming in this part, as well as the organ that plays the main tune. During this instrumental piece a lightly, but chaotically, played flute duets with a heavy and slowly played saxophone. After which there is a short break and another explosion, this time with a guitar and second saxophone. More and more instrument keep joining in the perfect chaos as it periodically evolves and crashes.
At the end the piece crashes entirely and become soft and gentle for a minute or so, before suddenly exploding into the highest chaos yet. Then another crash, then more chaos and then another crash.
After this last crash all you hear is a bass line with a periodical drumming. Then a very slowly played electric guitar joins in to slowly build up the tension to an almost heart-breaking degree. The music doesn't become chaotic, but it does get very tense. Having reached a climax it slowly descends into silence after which the final part is played: a very humorous and odd piece that is not unlike the tunes you hear from a tune box that some small children have, except for the fact that it gets very loud. It then increases in tempo as it's fading out and the album has ended.

The Verdict I honestly think this is one of the best albums ever made. Again this is because the perfect mixture between Sinfield's divine lyrics and Fripp's unparalleled typical dramatic instrumental compositions. Additionally it's one of the few albums I have heard that adapt a style so unique as this album, not including some other King Crimson albums.
I would describe this album as a 'perfect harmony created by dramatic chaos'.

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