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Music Review: King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition)

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For better or for worse, a pretty decent argument can be mounted that progressive rock — or "prog" as we know it today — was born with the 1969 release of King Crimson's first album, In The Court Of The Crimson King.

The British band's early fans included Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix, and it only took one listen for legendary music-exec Ahmet Ertegun to sign them to his Atlantic Records on the spot.

Now, forty years later, another of King Crimson's fans, Porcupine Tree's studio wizard and resident genius Steven Wilson has overseen a 40th Anniversary deluxe edition of this landmark album, working alongside founding member Robert Fripp. Wilson is said to have revered the album as a teenager, and is also managing the analog-to-digital transfer of a number of other nuggets from the Crimson catalogue.

But back to this one.

In The Court Of The Crimson King made its impact way back in 1969, by breaking the blues-rock mold of British rock at the time. Crimson instead stretched those boundaries to include much longer arrangements, where the guitar was not always the most prominent instrument. The original album has only five tracks, and there is not a guitar solo amongst them (even though Robert Fripp was and remains one of rock's most inventive guitarists).

The album's five songs vary from the studio-treated vocals and jazz-rock-fusion freak out of "21st Century Schizoid Man," to the mellotron-laced symphonic rock of "Epitaph" and the lilting woodwinds of "I Talk To The Wind." Prog-rock bands from Genesis to Rush to Wilson's own Porcupine Tree all adopted Crimson's blueprint in one form or another over the decades to come.

Amazingly, the group's original incarnation only produced this single album and broke up less than a year later (although Fripp kept the name, and fronted several subsequent lineups of the band through the seventies, eighties, and beyond).

For the 40th Anniversary edition of In The Court Of The Crimson King, Wilson has transferred the original five tracks to digital, and remastered them in MLPS lossless format, including a 5.1 sen-surround mix that is included on the DVD. There is also a 2009 stereo mix on the CD.

The bonus material includes alternate mixes of each track (on both the CD and the DVD), as well an alternate version of the entire album on the DVD built from alternate takes and, in the case of "I Talk To The Wind," a practice run at the song in the studio. None of these have been previously released.

Wilson's remix of the original album is the real prize here though. The album sounds just as revolutionary now as it did then, and Wilson does a fine job with the remastering. Greg Lake's vocals (and yes, that is the same Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame), reveal a rather underrated vocalist equally at home with the frenzied jazz-rock-fusion of "Schizoid Man" and the introspective fantasy-laced lyrics of the title track.

Elsewhere, the audio separation is flawless (especially on the 5.1 mixes). The drums are crisp and clear; the woodwinds, flutes, and mellotrons float like butterflies; and the guitars sting like bees.

The bonus material is noteworthy mainly for the fact that it appears here for the first time ever, but is otherwise nothing you'd miss (unless you are a hardcore fan of course). If anything, the alternate versions of these songs just confirm that the final selections made were the correct ones.

Likewise with the restored DVD footage of King Crimson performing "Schizoid Man" at London's Hyde Park (opening for the Stones). The mono mix isn't unlistenable, but hearing the rest in 5.1 does tend to spoil you a bit. The black and white video is likewise grainy, and features as many shots of dancing hippies and flower children as there are of the band.

All in all though, Wilson and Fripp have done a fabulous job here. If you don't already own this progressive rock landmark, I can't think of a better introduction. Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp have breathed new life into a Crimson classic.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    looking forward to hearing this. don’t care much about 5.1 (don’t care at all, really) but the remastering should be cool.

  • zingzing

    it’s funny how i’ve always loved everything that fripp touches (that i’ve heard), but can’t fuggin stand crimson.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    not even the poppier Belew-era stuff?

  • zingzing

    i haven’t heard that stuff in years, but while i remember liking it better than the 70s stuff, it seemed pretty empty at its core. like talking heads backing tracks without much of a song.

    i dunno, i’ll have to check it out again. i love intricate stuff… but there has to be something real to latch onto, not just a bunch of highly skilled instrumentalists playing technique over substance.

    i’ve never liked fripp as a songwriter, nor belew as a vocalist, although i love fripp as a producer/sideman and both as guitarists.

    my brother had discipline and beat back in the day, and while i did find some stuff on both that i enjoyed, i’d have to say that neither album really gels for me.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    my favorite is still Three Of A Perfect Pair.

  • http://blogdoricardo.blog.terra.com.br ricardo moraes

    and about the Sinfield’s lyrics I rather liked the Islands’ days…

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    I listen to In the Court of the Crimson King regularly, like monthly. I’m anxious to lay my hands on the remastered version!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanks everyone. I should have a review of the deluxe edition of KC’s Red up later this week. Forgot how good that one was…

    -Glen

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    I just saw some pictures of the 5-CD/1-DVD box. Just gorgeous, it actually exceeds my expectations. Looks to be a 12″ square box with four jewelcases inside, the iconic artwork split over the four covers of those, plus a large book with lots of tiny writing, and a gate-fold full-size cover poster-type thing. Beautiful job on this one. Mine’s on the way, in fact I should have it in the next couple of days.

    Red and Lizard have been great, too. Lizard is a huge improvement over the original. It’s still a weird, goofy, very 70s album, but the improved sound helps immensely. I wish Red had actually been remixed for the CD, but the amusing video on that one is enough to justify the price.

  • m.k. smith

    how anyone could not care about these 5.1 surround sound mixes has strange judgment, and/or has a crappy sound (& sight) system. i have a DVD-Audio copy of ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery in 5.1, and it sounds magnificent. it breathed vibrant, new life in a record i haven’t cared about in years. when it is done right (w/ the operative right!), how anyone could prefer stereo to being in the middle of the music, perplexes me. well mixed surround sound, w/ emphasis on where and when to put the instruments and singing, makes one feel like a participant in the music, not just a listener. the main reason i am buying these all over again, for the THIRD time (or fourth time; i’ve lost track), is because i want that surround, instead of an implacable wall of sound in front of me!

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    It’s really easy to not care, MK: just don’t own a 5.1 surround system.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    how anyone could not care about these 5.1 surround sound mixes has strange judgment, and/or has a crappy sound (& sight) system.

    what tom said.

    i have a low-powered, single-ended triode amplifier, Rotel cd player, and extremely efficient, single-driver speakers. exquisite for most of the music i listen too. just not interested in surround sound. oh, also have a VPI Hr-19jr turntable, which pretty much blows the shorts off of most digital front ends.

  • Frank Lauria

    I’m looking forward to “Red” and “Lark’s Tongues…” Anxious to hear what Steven does with them.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Nobody ever mentions Beat, from 1982. I know it is not “classic” Crimson, but sheesh, what a great record!

    The whole concept is Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and future Merry Prankster Neal Cassady in the Fifties. It is very different from the 70’s prog Crimson, but an excellent album regardless.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Having said all that about Beat though, In The Court is my all time favorite King Crimson record by a mile. IMHO they did it first, and they did it best with this one.