“Cat’s foot Iron claw/Neuro surgeons scream for more/at paranoia’s poison door/21st Century Schizoid Man!” The moment you hear a line like that from the opening track of King Crimson’s debut release in 1969, it sounds almost like a cannon blast that was waiting to happen at the right moment, at the right time. For me, that’s how I felt when I first heard this album nearly 20 years ago.
Since 2000, In The Court of the Crimson King was a complete game changer for me when I first bought this album back at Soundwaves in the Montrose area here in Houston while delving my toes into the water hearing the music of King Crimson when I was 15 years old. During the beginning of the 21st century, parts of the music scene with both the Nu-Metal and Boy Band genre was nothing but more but a bunch of absolute pretentious horseshit.
It was dreadful to hear that pillocky crap from bands/artists like Britney Spears, Korn, Limp Bizkit, N’Sync, Staind, Christina Aguilera, and all that Backstreet Boys/Godsmack nonsense. Would make want to vomit hearing that shitty music. Not to mention the dreadful TV show of MTV’s TRL hosted by that smiley-face, scum-sucking moron, Carson Daly. As I’ve mentioned, hearing that god-awful fucking horseshit made me want to vomit.
But it wasn’t until after hearing King Crimson’s debut, In The Court of the Crimson King made me understand that this was real good music right here from start to finish. It was almost as if they blew the doors down to destroy both the genres of Nu-Metal and Boy Band music with a gigantic battering ram that needed to put them away for good. For 50 years and despite the various line-up changes, King Crimson are still growing stronger than ever.
Now in a 3-CD/1 Blu-Ray set with a 2019 updated mix by Steven Wilson, who originally started the remix back 10 years ago with the 40th anniversary releases, you know that it’s time to get the grinding wheels turned again once more. Originally released on Chris Blackwell’s label of Island Records, In The Court of the Crimson King features the sounds of; Hard Rock, Jazz, Classical, storytelling lyrics, Avant-Garde, and Folk rolled into one.
It is all here and it just goes to show that this music will never, ever go away for a long, long time. Greg Lake’s moving vocals along with his incredible bass playing, Pete Sinfield’s lyrical structures, Michael Giles’ intensive drum work, Ian McDonald’s usage of woodwind that have a militant and jazz background along with the usage of the Mellotron, and Robert Fripp’s challenging structures on his guitar, they were a perfect combination, and a perfect team.
And back to where it all started from the cramped basements of the Fulham Palace Café which would become their operation base for the next two and a half years. And in the words of Robert Fripp from the Morgan Studio Recording sessions, “Let’s make a hit waxing….”
Originally the album was going to be recording in that same studio that in June of 1969 with Moody Blues producer Tony Clarke and engineer Andy Johns (Glyns brother). Listening to those two tracks on disc 2 (21st Century Schizoid Man and The Court of the Crimson King) was quite an ear-listening experience. The second track on the second disc is raw, snarling, intensive, and energetic.
From Giles’ rapid gunfire introduction on his drum kit, you could tell that despite the aborted attempt to record the album, they were running the gauntlet with a sonic-like structure that pulls no punches. Now what I found out was that the Morgan version of 21st Century Schizoid Man originally appeared on the 2002 release for the King Crimson Collectors Club series on their performance in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969.
But hearing the overdubs between Mel Collins’ sax and Jakko Jakszyk’s guitar along with the Wessex version of Greg Lake’s vocals, it really kicks plenty of ass around that track. Now one of the reasons why the Morgan Studio sessions were aborted because Andy Johns was so exhausted during the recordings, he collapsed. Tony and the band knew that the sessions weren’t going to work, so they abandoned the recordings.
This along with the raw version of The Court of the Crimson King in which they used an acoustic guitar, drums, and bass, are worth exploring. You also have instrumental mixes, alternate versions, Greg Lake’s isolated vocals on Epitaph that will send a shiver down my spine, a heavier trio version of 21st Century Schizoid Man, the original master edition of the album, and a 2-part mono single version release of the A & B side of The Court of the Crimson King.
Now onto the 2019 updated mix of the album on disc one. Hearing Steven’s mix on what he’s done to the album, there aren’t any echoing reverb effects from Greg’s dalek-like voice from the 2009 version of the opening song. But there are some incredible drums that come to the front of the stage as Giles pounds those kits in the midsection like a grenade that is about to go off at any second.
The mellotron shines brightly throughout Fripp’s electric and acoustic guitar intro on Epitaph. But when you listen to the instrumental mixes from disc one, you can hear the bass, mellotron, pounding piano chords, and the haunting organ sounds very clearly that works brilliantly. But the lyrical structures that Sinfield writes, details of the nightmare that is about to come with the dangers of nuclear war that is about to happen at any second.
The closing title-track still sounds fresh as the keyboards come right in my earbuds to reveal the master himself while Greg’s haunting vocalization fills up the sounds between the mellotron, Ian McDonald’s flute, and the midsection between the two of them and Fripp’s clean jazzy guitar improvisation before the grey clouds come in to fill up the halls of the dancing puppets to the court of the Crimson King.
Now with this set, it contains two different forms of artwork. The first set contains the original gatefold sleeve by the late Barry Godber featuring the 2019 and Alternate album mixes. And the second set features the image of the original multi-track tapes from Wessex sound studios. The blu-ray itself features the 5.1 mix along with the footage of the band performing at Hyde Park doing 21st Century Schizoid Man as they were the opening act for the Rolling Stones on July 5th.
The 24-page booklet contains never before seen photos of the band recording their debut album, an image of a 1968 recording from Bel Cleer that contains Giles, Giles, Fripp, McDonald, and Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention. Managers John Gaydon and David Enthoven on their motorbikes, and pictures of King Crimson’s performance between Hyde Park and at the Marquee.
Featuring Sid Smith’s incredible liner notes that details the history about the band and the making of the album, it just goes to show you how much this album was ahead of its time. Now when you think of 1969, you think of Woodstock, The Beatles Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin’s first two studio albums, The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed, and The Who’s landmark rock opera, Tommy. But for King Crimson’s debut, which Pete Townshend described it as “an uncanny masterpiece”, is the flaming fire that will never, ever burn out.