Wednesday, June 13, 2012

King Crimson 3: Lizard

Despite an unsteady lineup, Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield went back to work on the third King Crimson album. Lizard tries to get away from the formula of the first two, toning down the Mellotron a tad and beefing up the horns and experimenting, but still stuck in pseudo-Arthurian fantasy. The guy who sang “Cadence And Cascade” on the last album was promoted to full-time vocalist and bass player. It’s just a shame that his voice isn’t that good, or even comparable to Greg Lake’s.
“Cirkus” goes right to the “Epitaph” mode with Mellotron strings (and Mellotron horns from “The Devil’s Triangle”) but includes some truly masterful acoustic guitar soloing. It even has a fake ending. “Indoor Games” has a nearly traditional structure, expect for the band’s penchant for odd meters and free jazz. “Happy Family” is a commentary on the Beatles’ breakup—lest there be any doubt, there they are on the front cover, which is just plain gorgeous—veiled about as thin as a Kleenex, but only if you read the lyrics. The music is set to a jazz jam not unlike “Cat Food”, with processed, tuneless vocals. It’s not until the end of the side that any dynamics arrive in the way of “Lady Of The Dancing Water”, in which Gordon Haskell’s throaty voice is pitted against acoustic guitar, flute and trombone.
Side two is given over to the multi-part title suite, though we’ve yet to figure out what a medieval battle has to do with a lizard. “Prince Rupert Awakes”, sung by Jon Anderson of Yes, for crying out loud, alternates between ominous whispers over keyboard bleats and truly melodic chorus, complete with handclaps. “Bolero—The Peacock’s Tale” begins with a very MOR trumpet solo, followed by a processed oboe. Just when you think they’re getting too soft, the trombone and a sax join in, and everyone starts soloing at once. Things eventually coalesce nicely while the snare attempts a bolero beat. The section called “The Battle Of Glass Tears” has its own sub-sections, confusingly starting with “Dawn Song” and going right to “Last Skirmish”, which doesn’t explain what happened at any previous skirmishes. There’s an ominous sax-driven riff while a flute flutters wildly about and the Mellotron paints a picture of tragedy. It’s not clear who wins, but since the last section is called “Prince Rupert’s Lament”, maybe it wasn’t him. (Or maybe it expresses the sorrow at Jon Anderson going back to record The Yes Album, which is much more consistent than this album.) Fripp’s heavy-sustain tone gets a lot of use here. A minute-long section titled “Big Top” skitters across the stereo landscape to suggest a nightmarish carnival. (Kinda like the opening track.) It’s actually pleasant, in a way.
Even diehard Frippheads hate Lizard, and truly, it’s not easy to like. Several of its ideas would eventually be used in much better frames; Fripp just needed to learn how to wait until the songs finished writing themselves. And find a better vocalist. (The 40th Anniversary Edition of the album added some alternate mixes from the sessions, plus an altered version of “Bolero” with a new bass part overdubbed by Tony Levin 20 years after the fact, along with a DVD including a new surround mix by Steven Wilson that even Fripp appreciated. Arguably the best way to hear the album now is as part of the massive Sailors’ Tales box, which included vastly upgraded mixes of this album, as well as the ones immediately before and after, along with ten live shows, four Blu-ray discs, two DVDs, and three CDs’ worth of “auditions” and “rehearsals”. And the usual ephemera.)

King Crimson Lizard (1970)—2
2009 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1970, plus 3 extra tracks (plus DVD)

2 comments:

  1. No one commented on this yet so I'll just write in to say I think you're dead wrong on this one. The recent Steven Wilson remaster COMPLETELY changes what this album is about - the songs themselves are still messy as hell, but the powerful moments really show themselves and if anything, it gets even more chaotic. I mean, this is not an easy album to like by any stretch, but after a zillion listens and the remaster, I have grown to really love it (unlike, say, Starless and Bible Black, which I still find kind of dull). There really aren't albums like this anywhere else!!

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  2. I 100% agree with Nick on this, the Steven Wilson remix of this album is now my favorite King Crimson album.

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