KING CRIMSON — Lizard (review)

KING CRIMSON — Lizard album cover Album · 1970 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
- Sang Froid Reptile With Overlapping Scales -

After the very lackluster 'In the Wake of Poseidon', this offering from the Crims was something of a return to form.

Given Fripp's penchant for a revolving door recruitment policy at this time, it is remarkable that any of these early recordings possess as much coherence as they do. Lake's absence is not particularly glaring, as Haskell serves up some very inventive and perhaps 'earthier' grooves on the bass and his singing is a real highlight of the album. A childhood buddy of Fripp, we have anecdotal evidence that he found the material here daunting and did not relish the whole undertaking one bit. Regardless of Gordon's misgivings, his vocals lend an interesting texture and counter balance to some of Fripp's epic designs.

I fear the sedentary axe hero overreached himself here with an unwieldy idea for a very ornate but ultimately unsuccessful concept album i.e the side-long 'Lizard' totally outstays its welcome and seems to take an inordinate length of time to explore then squeeze the life out of the musical materials presented.

The playing throughout is quite brilliant and the attention to detail is exemplary, but Fripp has never been shy of squarebashing his very illustrious troops into line, so why does he let Collins, Miller, Charig, Evans and Tippett noodle away just filling up space?

This is a great pity as the lyrical opening section with Jon Anderson's vocal is quite brilliant, managing to encompass groundbreaking structural and key change elements topped off by an exquisite and unforgettable chorus. Thereafter things degenerate into a lengthy and painstaking transition from straight to swung time with the music becoming progressively jazzier but increasingly ragged.

Fripp seems hell-bent on showing off this house to would be investors, but I for one, would keep my money in my pocket if all I am shown is the basement and a meticulous plan of the foundations.

Towards the end we do get some respite courtesy of a gorgeous bagpipe drone sound from Fripp's elegiac and wailing solitary guitar before..... Whoops...they've done it again. We end on a rather predictable note with some speeded up fairground music, a device they should have got out of their systems long after its deployment on previous releases.

Side one of 'Lizard' is much, much better as the shorter song based formats force Fripp and Co into an economy of style woefully absent on most of side two.

'Cirkus' - Haskell's voice lends this a spooky air and the dynamic development is beautifully executed with a sublime police siren riff at the climactic moments. Listen to Fripp's bizarre broken arpeggios on acoustic guitar during the verses and just marvel at how he makes such angular accompaniment work so well. One of Crimson's most underrated songs.

'Indoor Games' - A tune that extra terrestrial female infants practice skipping to in the playgrounds of Pluto? The quiet section in the middle is sublime but what sort of lollies were these guys sucking on?:

'Each afternoon you train baboons to sing on perspex coloured waterwings'

Wonderful acoustic guitar strumming from Fripp on the chorus and fantastic horn arrangement lending the piece a jazzy improvised feel (although its composed down to the very last detail - that's the trick)

'Happy Family' - almost like a nursery rhyme sung by Darth Vader with Haskell's voice twisted beyond all human recognition into a gleeful robotic snarl. Very beguiling little melody that is at once innocent and sinister, framed in a very inventive arrangement with suitably languid flourishes from Robert.

Someone told me once that this song might be about the Beatles but I can't discern any obvious reference to the fab four ?.

'Lady of the Dancing Water' - pretty, as in 'I Talk to the Wind' (slight return), but saved by some beautiful flute and that caramel texture that Haskell's voice lends to proceedings. In contrast with what comes before and after, this song seems like an afterthought. Not strictly filler, but out of context with the thematic feel of the album.

This record does have significant depth and detail so it rewards repeated listens but I fear that the following analogy may help summarize its flaws:

'They were arguing over which brand of camera to use to take pictures of the crash site, all the while oblivious to what caused the accident in the first place'
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