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Music Review: King Crimson – Lizard (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

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I have to be honest here and say that when King Crimson's third album Lizard was originally released back in 1970, I was for the most part pretty underwhelmed by it.

What I remember most about it — and to put things in their proper perspective, I was about fourteen years old at the time — was just how foreign and just plain weird it sounded to me. In fairness, the albums two predecessors were pretty different sounding at the time as well.

But KC's debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King also really grabbed you by the throat from the get-go with the fuzzed-out guitar, treated vocals, and off-kilter sax of "21st Century Schizoid Man." Even after the initial blast of that great opener, it managed to hold you in its grip through the mellower, but gorgeous textures of the title track and "I Talk To The Wind." It was different for sure, but definitely in a good way.

Lizard on the other hand? Well, Lizard just sounded plain weird.

On this latest installment of Crimson's ongoing 40th Anniversary series of deluxe remasters, Lizard still sounds pretty out there. What becomes clear in hindsight forty years after the fact however, is that King Crimson were actually blazing some pretty amazing new musical territory at the time with this album.

Like the other albums in this series, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson has once again overseen the remastered version (with the blessing of Crimson's Robert Fripp). And once again, Wilson has done an amazing job on the new 2009 stereo mix.

The music itself is still as curious sounding as ever. The saxes blare and the flutes drift in and out of the same songs, and are played in the same strange time signatures. Even now, all these years later, they also often echo every excess and cliche' that could ever be leveled against the seventies prog-rock of the time.

What's different here though is the absolutely stunning sonic clarity of it all. On the opening track "Cirkus," Fripp's flamenco flavored acoustic guitar flourishes in particular really stand out in contrast to the otherwise busy sound of Mel Collins' saxophones and Andy McCullough's drums. Even if the odd time signature shifts and abrupt starts and stops sound as confusing as ever, the fact that Fripp's tasty licks rise to the surface here more than makes up for it. Like I said, Wilson's mix really clears up a lot of the muck here.

Speaking of stops and starts though, "Indoor Games" is still, for better or for worse, the blueprint for every bad Gentle Giant album which followed. The point at the time seemed to be to cram every musical trick in the book into the song but the kitchen sink itself.

As clever as all the backwards-masked vocals and odd time signatures may have sounded then, it likewise reeks of prog-rock cliche' today. Sorry guys, but tech-prowess and musical chops aside, there is still something to be said for the art of simple, but effective songcraft. Sometimes less really is more.

The separation in Wilson's remix still makes this track something of a wet dream for guys who make their living selling stereo systems though. Even if the song itself still makes little sense, the recording is pretty amazing. I guess it comes down to whether you prefer the song or the sound.

The title track is likewise kind of all over the place just as I remember it was back then. Jon Anderson's vocal still gives it that sort of mystical Yes quality though. Audiophiles, and David Byrne/Peter Gabriel fans, take note.

So now to the bonus features. No video on the DVD here, but there are high resolution stereo mixes in both lossless surround sound and DTS 5.1 surround. If you happen to own one of those window-rattling high-end home theatre systems, and are dying to wake the neighbors up, then this is the disc for you. Both the DVD and CD also include bonus tracks and alternate mixes.

As a stand alone album, I would still judge Lizard as one of the lesser works in the King Crimson canon.

But that's probably just me. The 40th Anniversary deluxe edition of Lizard hits stores January 19.

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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.
  • JANK

    It’s still a great album. Fripp’s guitar at the battle scene in the title track is worth the price of admission. Beautiful.

    JANK

  • Elliott Peters

    As wonderful as the new remix of this album is, I still cannot warm to this album at all. I admire it’s ambition but it just never quite gels for me. The remix does bring out the finer details neatly and is sonically impressive but it still can’t alter the timidity in Gordon Haskell’s vocals… and to be fair to Haskell, he was most uncomfortable in Crimson… and that comes across. But, it is still well worth getting purely for the track I think Jank above is referring to – the haunting “Prince Rupert Laments” which is a truly extraordinary piece of playing by Fripp that never fails to shiver the spine.

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

    I have had pretty much the same feelings you did, Glen – a weird album that never jelled for me. I’m much, much more intrigued with this remixed version. I can’t believe a remix would do that, but that’s the magic of music, I suppose. I really hope that Wilson continues remixing, and not merely remastering (as he did for Red,) the rest of the albums he’s doing (which is up through Three Of A Perfect Pair. Jakko Jakzyk (sp?) will be handling the next 3.)

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

    The sound is really something here. Technical flash aside, what’s still missing are songs that stick with you. But Wilson really is doing a nice job with the new mixes on these albums.

    -Glen

  • Andy

    I think Lizard of all the Crimson archive still reveals little jewels probably due to it’s complexity, Bolero is still a stunning piece and it’s mournful woodwinds are simply sublime

  • Loren

    A little FYI from DGMLive, Steve Wilson insisted that Lizard be part of the first batch of remasters, being one of his favorites. Lizard is anomalous if only because Fripp has expressed his dislike for the album, and, reading between the lines, it is likely his difficulty with Gordon Haskell and having Jon Anderson as a hired gun on vocals as well. Odd also is that side one is composed of relatively short songs, with side two containing the more typical suite. Gordon Haskell provides some rather nasal vocals, which takes some getting used to, but his voice and the lyrics somehow go together, with the just as oddly compelling music. The suite on side two similarly pairs music and vocals, in a contrast to the first, being sweet to the first’s somewhat sour. All in all, Lizard is unique in the King Crimson canon, and is one of the most spun of the King Crimsons in my collection.