Graded on a Curve:
King Crimson,
In the Wake of Poseidon

I’ve spent years trying to winnow my horror of progressive rock down to a simple formula. Little did I know the enemy (in the form of progrocker Dave Stewart of Egg and National Health non-fame) had already done it for me. In Stewart’s words progressive rock was “hard to learn, hard to play, and probably hard to listen to.” Take away that “probably” and I’d say he had it spot on.

Amongst the early progrock progenitors stand King Crimson and their overrated 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King. Aside from “21st Century Schizoid Man” the LP is both overblown and overwrought, but that hasn’t stopped seemingly intelligent listeners everywhere from venerating it like a splinter from the holy rood. Me, I’m with The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, who upon its release labeled it “ersatz shit.” And the band’s follow-up, 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon, is worse, if only because its pretentious levels remain in the red zone and it doesn’t have a “21st Century Schizoid Man” on it.

Despite the excellence of Robert Fripp’s guitar and Keith Tippett’s piano, the LP’s problems are your typical progressive rock problems–this ain’t rock’n’roll, this is genrecide. Pomposity is the order of the day, as is what I can only call the bucolic plague. England’s green and pleasant land is a breeding ground for such pastoral nonsense as “Peace–A Beginning,” ”Peace–A Theme,” and ”Peace–An End,” on the last of which Greg Lake sings like he’s being castrated in Winchester Cathedral. The same goes for the sylvan “Cadence and Cascade,” which should give even the staunchest ecologist pause to consider the positive aspects of urban blight. And to punch Mel Collins’ flute solo in the mouth.

The title track’s only plus is that King Crimson keep things relatively simple. Sure, Lake’s vocal interpretation of Peter Sinfield’s lyrics–which are godawful throughout–belongs at a Renaissance Faire, but you get no 19/8 rhythms, poly-tonality or other high crimes and misdemeanors of the progressive rock genre. The jazzy “Cat Food”is the only number on In the Wake of Poseidon that doesn’t make me puke pomp, thanks primarily to Tippett’s dissonant piano going-ons.

The Zappaesque “Pictures of a City” falls victim to its own twists and turns, but its chaotic end is as close to exciting as the album gets. Why Fripp declined to freak out on the guitar more often on In the Wake of Poseidon is beyond me; could be he was too busy wrestling with Greg Lake’s elephantine self-esteem. “Greg was a great big ego,” said one insider, “a big penis on legs.”

The 3-headed instrumental “The Devil’s Triangle” is Karn evil incarnate. Both “Mersday Morn” and “Hand of Sceiron” are ho-hum martial music, and give Tippett the opportunity to flaunt his keyboard chops. “Garden of Worm” features a herky-jerky rhythm before lapsing into anarchy, which proves yet again that had they begun their songs as well as they ended them they might have had a bona fide intriguing avant garde LP on their hands. Alas they spent more time regurgitating the past than exploring the future, and in so doing proved they had more in common with Rick Wakeman than with, say, Brian Eno.

King Crimson are an anomaly–a progressive rock band whose fans include people who loathe progressive rock bands. Beyond the brilliance of “21st Century Schizoid Man” I’ve never been able to understand their appeal; King Crimson had the same artistic ills as their precious English brethren. Like them, King Crimson admired their classical forbears–they wanted to include Gustav Hulst’s “Mars” on In the Wake of Poseidon–and shared in their cult of instrumental virtuosity. They also had a fondness for esoteric lyrics sure to make any person with a modicum of intelligence blanch.

Yet I have friends–and punk friends no less–who’ve been known to pull In the Wake of Poseidon off the shelves with every intention of slapping it on their turntable. “Are you mad?” I scream. “That shit will kill you!” Occasionally they ignore my advice and I’m forced to jump out a window. Some people are too dumb to live.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • B C

    Fripp does these weekly cover songs on Youtube with his wife.
    Its over the top and hilarious in a WFT? way.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text