Throughout the 70’s and the 80’s, you could accuse or praise King Crimson for being anything – from geniuses to pretentious talentless hacks -but there is one certain quality that I think both the haters and the lovers can agree upon: unpredictability. When listening to King Crimson, be it either a song, an album or their career as a whole, one never knows what’s around the corner, what to expect. Questions like “What’s next?” become almost of rhetorical nature. Unfortunately, the band’s 2nd studio record called ‘In The Wake Of Poseidon’ is the major exception to that rule.
Riding on the wave of critical success caused by the all-time masterpiece that was ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’, the band had two options in 1970: they would either come up with something totally different, but equally revolutionary, or simply choose to make more albums in the vein of ‘In The Court’, with slight alterations and more accent put on their main strengths, perhaps. While the first option is obviously the more efficient one, the second could work as well in your average talented band. But, as I’m sure the members of the band would themselves admit, King Crimson is anything but your average talented band.
By choosing the second route, the band simply failed to me. It’s not because the album itself is bad (there’s actually plenty of essential stuff here), but it’s because it’s not an album that I would expect King Crimson to come up with. The best example I can give is the title track. The song works fine on its own, until you realize that it’s essentially ‘Epitaph’ from the previous album. Maybe some things differ structurally, but the nightmarish, mellotron-driven mood is the exact same and therefore, nowhere near as powerful. One of the main things that made me love King Crimson in the first place is missing. Likewise, with ‘Cadence and Cascade’ the band tries to continue the tradition of following (“calming down”, if you will) a bombastic, riff-driven monster of a song with a moody, dreamy, flute-dominated ballad. While the first time it worked amazingly, now it’s just predictable. To make the effect even more apparent, we get introduced to the band’s new lead singer, Gordon Haskell and it doesn’t take long for us to realize that he’s essentially a close-sounding, but lesser version of the imposing Greg Lake (who quit the band in order to create his very own progressive “supergroup”, Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
That’s not to say that the whole album is a carbon copy of its predecessor. There are certain moments where the band is seen as trying new things. It’s just that the results are mixed. On the good side, ‘Cat Food’ sounds unlike not only everything on ‘In The Court’, but also anything I’ve ever heard before – with those strident piano runs bouncing along in the background. It is an absolute winner, in all its absurdity. And so is ‘Pictures of a City’. Comparisons with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ from the previous record are inevitable (same structure, with 3 shouted strophes and an effective jamming section thrown in the middle), but its guitar/sax riff is altogether different – more jazzy, more sleazy, yet just as interesting. The rest of it I’m afraid, doesn’t manage to catch my attention at all. While it has got its fair share of good moments, the ‘Devil’s Triangle’ jam is too directionless and overlong as a whole (I’d take it over ‘Moonchild’ any day, but that doesn’t really say much now, does it?). And those peace snippets are so uninteresting and forgettable that I can’t believe I actually remembered to mention them.
All in all, the year 1970 sees King Crimson faced with the task of following an influential debut, while also losing some key members on its way. The band releases an album that’s quite good, but unfortunately doesn’t add much to their legacy, nor does it really justify their image and attitude towards music-making. Later that year, they would adopt a completely different approach, so my take is that old Fripp had finally realized that milking the same cow twice is not gonna do him any justice. But hey, that’s a story for another time.
Categories: Album Reviews