‘I talk to the wind, my words are all carried away, the wind does not hear, the wind cannot hear.’
Years ago when I was deep into discovering all of the musical gems of the 1960s, this album came up. In the Court of the Crimson King has an iconic cover, with its grotesquely disproportionate facial features. The face shows the look of fear and terror as there’s a ripple in the side of the face as it fades into a cosmic void – a fitting artwork for the content within. Guitarist Robert Fripp is probably the biggest export of the band, playing experimental music with Brian Eno (of course!) at times and even David Bowie (especially on the Berlin albums like Heroes). The album was voted #2 behind Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in the top 50 Progressive Rock albums of all time by Rolling Stone*. Dealing with similar themes of isolation, war and paranoia, In the Court of the Crimson King dives deeper into existential angst and nihilism than Pink Floyd did with DSOTM. I recently acquired it on vinyl (for cheap as reissue) as it wasn’t available on Spotify. It sounded delicious.
Side A of the album opens with what sounds like a train and the epic ’20th Century Schizoid Man’ opens with huge guitars. After a few verses and choruses, the song shifts into a crazy 5/4 jazzy jam. The songs content interpreted as commenting on the Vietnam war: ‘Blood rack/barbed wire/Politician’s funeral pyre/Innocents raped with napalm fire/Twenty-first Century Schizoid man’ – possible comment on the future of mankind after such a war, especially the detached nature of politicians in conflict. A detachment referenced here to Schizoid personality Disorder which is defined as detachment from social activity, a coldness towards others*.
The album breaks off into the melancholic I talk to the wind which discusses time and the hopeless state of affairs. Opening with the lines ‘Said the straight man to the late man/Where have you been?’ the reply is simply ‘I’ve been here and I’ve been there and I’ve been in between.’ At the end of the day he has just been places. The illusion here of a ‘Straight man’ is presumably someone who is on time, who does things correctly. The ‘Late man’ is one who needs an excuse, but he has no real excuse, just that he’s been around. ‘I’m on the outside looking inside/What do I see/Much confusion, disillusion/All around me’ – the current state of affairs is one that finds the world confused and tired of life in its current state. The chorus of the song seems to suggest that the author prays to nothing: ‘I talk to the wind/My words are all carried away/I talk to the wind/The wind does not gear/The wind cannot hear.’ The author emphasising the fact that the wind doesn’t and cannot hear, the only response it has is that it carries his words into nothingness. The song carries a jazz feel with flute solos and the like. It is a lovely song but are you despairing yet?
Following I talk to the wind is Epitaph, another melancholic song. Now the author discusses how foundations have been broken and those that rule are destructive and foolish: ‘The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams…The fate of all mankind I see is in the hands of fools.’ The chorus portrays a hopeful yet confused resolution to follow a path that, unfortunately, may lead nowhere:
Confusion will be my epitaph/As I crawl a cracked and broken path/If we make it we can all sit back and laugh/But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying/Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.
The discovery that beaten paths may lead nowhere can lead to despair and grief. The next track, Moonchild, is a cosmic track about a, well, Moonchild. It is my least favourite track as it doesn’t develop into much, apart from a lengthy doodling section, before storming into the mellotron-heavy The Court of the Crimson King (a song that can be heard in Alfonso Cuaron’s amazing 2006 film, Children of Men). Here we hear a very medieval/baroque influence that the album hints at at times with big choral vocals, flutes and harpsichord. The drumming is also pretty interesting and feels like it some of the big fills in the chorus almost don’t quite work. I love some of the lyrics in this song such as: ‘The gardener plants an evergreen/Whilst trampling on a flower.’ I am guessing here that this is more reference to the paradoxes that the album inhabits relating to the Vietnam war.
At times somewhat Jethro Tullian in the use of medieval modes and sometimes epic like The Moody Blues can be (is it the mellotron?), In the Court of the Crimson King is a really good album, but I have never found it to be a great album as some seem to feel it is. It bears all of the evidence of development in Progressive Rock music and I enjoy listening to it, but it doesn’t bear the same level of pleasure for me as Dark Side of the Moon. That may seem like an unfair comparison as King Crimson and Pink Floyd are totally different bands. However, there’s something about the album that leaves me wanting, even after having heard it again many years later and appreciating more of its jazz sensibilities. It might be that reminder of Jethro Tull as I was exposed to them earlier than King Crimson. But at the end of the day I would recommend it heartily if you want an album that will make you think and appreciate just how innovative the late-1960’s was with musical exploration.
Definitely worth a listen.