Here it is! Just in time to bring Replicant Ears’ King Crimson Week to a close, I’ve put together a list of my five favourite studio albums from the band. Sporadically active from 1969 to current, King Crimson have delivered no less than thirteen great studio albums (fourteen if you ask me on a regular day, but to keep things orderly, I’ve opted to consider A Scarcity of Miracles a spin-off record for this week), and have had twenty-one legendary artists in official membership positions, including members of other successful outfits such as Yes, Asia, Bad Company, Peter Gabriel, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the list goes on… For your consideration, Replicant Ears’ top five King Crimson albums.
5. The Power To Believe (2003)
Produced by the brilliant Machine and including, in places, a more fierce, industrial element, The Power To Believe kicks some heads and takes names. With the Belew/Fripp/Gunn/Mastelotto line-up now on their second record as a quartet, there is a beautiful lucidity to the record as it segues from energised instrumentals (“Level Five”) to beautiful atmospheric pieces (“Eyes Wide Open”) and into snappy, punchy tunes (“Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With”) that display a relevance that would normally be out of reach for a band this age. The title piece, broken up into different sections spread throughout the album’s length, is especially stunning.
Highlights: “The Power To Believe,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With,” “Level Five”
4. Beat (1982)
In this second release from King Crimson’s eighties revival line-up, the band delivered a sound that demonstrated that they had learned to play together at peak efficiency. On Beat, when compared to the previous album, Discipline, there is definitely a more lucid feel to the arrangements. Pieces like “Sartori In Tangier” demonstrate Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford’s ability to capture that raw instrumental energy, and “Heartbeat” and “Waiting Man” prove the band capable of beautifully plaintive lyrical pieces. While I believe the next album, Three of a Perfect Pair, was slightly more adventurous and groundbreaking, I enjoy Beat more, to the point where that gives it the leg up.
Highlights: “Heartbeat,” “Waiting Man,” “Neal and Jack and Me,” “Sartori In Tangier”
3. In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
It might seem a little blasphemous to put the band’s groundbreaking debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, in only the third spot in a top five of the band’s discography, but what can I say? I’m fiendish like that. The record features stellar, mind-blowing arrangements that are presented by a line-up (Greg Lake, Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Ian McDonald, and Pete Sinfield) with the maturity of a band twice their age. The recording quality is especially notable for a debut from this time, putting both Genesis and Yes’ debuts from the same year to shame many times over. The artwork is legendary and is associated more with Crim than any other logo or emblem could ever be. There is so much going for this record, it is frightening. To have been alive and to have witnessed this line-up playing live in their prime would have been an experience for the ages. Had I been alive for this record’s release, I believe maybe this list would have been a lot different, with this one in the top place and the number one somewhere else entirely, but because I’ve had to look at the record as merely a starting point for the legendary band, it occupies the third rung down. In the Court is still one of the most brilliant discs ever released, however.
Highlights: “Epitaph,” “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “In the Court of the Crimson King”
2. Red (1975)
Released after the band’s first official disbanding, Red is the most beautiful swan song for a band I think I’ve ever heard. It sees John Wetton, Robert Fripp, and Bill Bruford firing on all cylinders, and features guest spots from founding member Ian McDonald, pillars from the band’s classic era, Mel Collins and Mark Charig, and even David Cross reappears despite having left the band after Starless and Bible Black. There is a savage energy to all of the tunes, and a dark, dystopian honesty to the lyrics. The ultimate gem on the record is the closer, Starless, which not only includes the band’s best all-time performance (in my opinion), but also sees McDonald and Collins playing together… yeah… holy crap… The song provides the absolute perfect exit theme for what could very well have been the band’s final outing.
Highlights: “Starless,” “One More Red Nightmare,” “Fallen Angel,” “Red,” “Providence” … oh dear, that’s all of them…
1. Lizard (1970)
This was the first record I ever heard by King Crimson, and as such, has a special place in my heart. I am grateful that I started with the one with the hardest learning curve. Getting past the nostalgia part of my infatuation with Lizard, I find that the record is by far the band’s most adventurous outing. Recorded with the first permanent line-up since the breaking of the original founders, Lizard saw the band go off on one heck of a tangent. Replacing Greg Lake as vocalist and bassist, Gordon Haskell provides my favourite performance by a Crimson singer. His warm, round voice and classical annunciation lent the odd music a massive dose of medieval melodrama. Being primarily inspired by folk and soul ballads, Haskell also had the delivery of a soul man that gave songs like “Lady of the Dancing Water” and the final lyrical moments of the album’s title track a very soothing, emotional feel. As Lizard is definitely the jazziest of Crim’s albums, Mel Collins shines like never before. Backed by the ridiculously capable drumming of Andy McCulloch (I rank him among the very best drummers I’ve heard), avant-garde jazz pianist Keith Tippett added his tremendous talents, and members of his own troupe, to the mix. The sprawling title track is extremely notable for being the band’s only forray into the side-long track field that was popular in the era of progressive rock bands. It features a spirited and powerful appearance by then Yes vocalist Jon Anderson. From start to finish, this album is a full-blown adventure and is a great challenge to listen to. Notably, the newly remixed 40th anniversary version of the album brings out things that went almost unheard in the original mix, presenting an alternate view (this version does not replace the original mix, that one should still be listened to first) that is an extremely exciting experience for a fan like myself.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.