- Vancouver, British Columbia - The 70s have arrived and the future of King Crimson has been called into question. At this point Michael Giles and Ian McDonald have left the band. Greg Lake has not departed just yet. The time line between Lake's departure and their second album is a little sketchy as I read conflicting articles, but what I do know is that he did record the songs, but left the band before the album was released. Without a proper band, King Crimson would be unable to tour, but Robert Fripp was determined to keep the band active in some form or another. He had tested out multiple drummers to replace Giles, but none of them seemed suitable. Fripp did the only thing he could do to get the needed songs recorded in time, which was hire Giles as a studio musician to complete the album and then depart again. Similarly, he brought in his old band mate from Giles, Giles and Fripp, Peter Giles to take over Greg Lake's job as bassist. Why Lake stayed to record vocals but not bass is unknown to me.
Meanwhile, other musicians had joined the new line-up. They were joined by Jazz pianist Keith Tippet and an already established flautist Mel Collins, who played for a band called Circus. Before the completion of their next album, they released a single called "Cat Food/Groon."
The single was unlike In the Court of the Crimson King is many ways. The two songs were both under 4 minutes for one. “Cat Food” was a very different track, leaping out of the symphonic sounding grand pieces, and diving into some quick, chaotic jazz. I can imagine it being a bit of a shock for those who wanted something similar to their sound from their debut album... not that its sound was something that was easy to peg anyway. More on that song later.
“Groon” was a high tempo, percussion heavy, instrumental track. It is primarily performed by Fripp, and the Giles brothers and almost entirely improvised. This is a shining moment for Michael Giles, and his distinctive drum sound gets the spotlight for most of the song. It is unlike any other King Crimson song I know of from their extensive career and was likely a prized rare track until it was released with the 30th anniversary edition of the album.
In the Wake of Poseidon – 1970
Robert Fripp – Guitar, Mellotron
Greg Lake – vocals
Michael Giles – Drums
Peter Giles – Bass
Keith Tippet – Piano
Mel Collins – Strings, Flute
Gordon Haskell – Guest vocals on “Cadence and Cascade”
Peter Sinfield - Lyrics
Their follow-up to In the Court of the Crimson King had to be a very well calculated one. Fans can be easily disappointed by sophomore albums and the reasons can vary, or even directly conflict with one another. If a band were to repeat themselves, then they are considered unoriginal. Yet, if they are to take too radical a turn, they can leave fans alienated or be dismissed as pretentious. If a band can successfully dance this line, keeping true to their established sound while remaining innovative, then you have it made and hopefully take their music in whatever direction they choose to from there.
There are some significant structural differences that make In the Wake of Poseidon unique from its predecessor. First, there are three short songs that separate the album. There is “Peace – A Beginning,” which opens the album, “Peace – A Theme,” which starts side 2 (remember, these were vinyl days) and then “Peace – An End,” which brings the album to a close. I appreciate these songs as they unify the album and give moments of calm (or peace, I suppose) between louder and emotionally driven tracks.
“Pictures of a City” is not unlike “21st Century Schizoid Man” from the last album. It follows a similar pattern of aggressive, staccato lyrics, followed by long chaotic instrumental portions. It is a complex, and compelling song, but does ring a few too many familiar bells. It feels a little more controlled than its counterpart though, which I find neither a strength or weakness.
It is followed by the quiet, gentle “Cadence and Cascade,” which is not sung by Greg Lake, but rather Gordon Haskell, who was an old school friend and band mate of Fripp's when they were younger. The song is reminiscent of “I Talk to the Wind” from the previous album in mood and instrumentation, though it has a different structure. It isn't a replica, but there are some very clear similarities. Similarly, the song, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” bears a striking resemblance to “Epitaph” from In the Court of the Crimson King. It has booming mellotron and is dark and emotionally driven, and it goes through some of the same movements.
Were I a fan at this point in time, I might start to get worried. Could this seemingly innovative band be a one trick pony? At this point of the album, each song seems like a counterpart to a previous track and they don't seem as fresh and exciting when they've been done before. Not that the songs are of lower quality, if anything they are tighter compositions, each of them being shorter than the ones off of the first album, but accomplishing just as much musically. However, on the second side of the album, In The Wake of Poseidon starts to find its own voice and does some new things musically.
The promotional single “Cat Food” makes its appearance on the album, but is longer than the single version by about two minutes. It feels much more complete as the other one ended kind of abruptly. The track is classy, jazzy and very unique. This is where Keith Tippet gets his chance to shine as his jazz piano skills are put to great use. It is often fast, chaotic and winds up being the main body of the song, though there is a great guitar solo from Fripp halfway through also. I also find it worth noting that is has a bizarre 19/8 time signature. The lyrics are quirky and fairly comical as they talk about processed foods and ponder the repercussions of such a diet. The light tone of the song keeps it from feeling preachy. This is one of my favorite King Crimson tracks and it really helps make the album something of a unique vision.
The other gem on the album is the eleven and half minute long epic, “The Devil's Triangle.” This song was a popular live tune in the early days of King Crimson but didn't make it onto their last album. The song was called “Mars” while touring, but they were unable to use that name legally due to the music referencing and building around “Mars: Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst from his The Planets suite. I am unfamiliar with this piece of music, so I can't compare the two. “The Devil's Triangle” is not for everyone, but those who like King Crimson and Progressive Rock in general will likely be enthralled by it. It's almost entirely build up and requires a certain amount of patience. I feel it is well worth it. The music is so dramatic that it's almost theatrical. What might be off putting to some is that there are a lot of layers to the song and a lot of them don't mesh together perfectly. It seems very chaotic, but is very much under control. Near the end, when it sounds like the soundtrack to a nut house, there is a short clip of the vocal chants from the song “In the Court of the Crimson King.” It's a nice throwback and, to me, feels like it really unites the first two albums.
By the time the album was released, Greg Lake had left the band to be the singer and bass player of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. There was a parting gift though. Lake and Keith Emerson recommended a drummer to Fripp. Thus, Andy McCulloch joined King Crimson taking over Michael Giles role in the band. Gordon Haskell would stay with them also and contribute as lead singer in their next album. Robert Fripp still intended to release material at a consistent rate, despite the band's transition. He also intended to get them touring again as the songs from In the Wake of Poseidon had not yet been played for a live audience.
King Crimson made a worthy sophomore release with In the Wake of Poseidon. It would be their highest charting record, opening at #4 behind The Beatles' Let it Be, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Paul McCartney's McCartney. Not bad for a band that was in a time of complete transition. The album at first seems to play it too safe, but thankfully the second half is what makes it work. The repetition was a criticism at the time, and it can be a legitimate concern. After all, Prog fans don't tend to be the kind of folks who want to listen to the same thing over and over again. I think it would have been the doom of the band if it was consistent, however, after this point their music remains fresh. Of course, those reviews are still to come.
Rating: 4.5/5 Sour Grapes
Next time... Lizard