By David Chiu
While made by King Crimson in name only, both their studio albums, Lizard and Red (which have been recently reissued as part of the band’s 40th anniversary), are dissimilar stylistically. That’s the one thing that’s great about King Crimson and its founder Robert Fripp: each subsequent album seems to be a stylistic, forward-thinking progression to the next.
Of the two aforementioned albums, Lizard is clearly a product of the art /progressive rock movement of the early ‘70s. It’s a distant cousin to the band’s first incarnation from In The Court of the Crimson King, with its dominant Mellotron sound, jazzy flourishes and the imaginative and poetic lyrics of Peter Sinfield. “Cirkus” is a melting pot of folk/art rock/ and fusion echoed by Gordon Haskell’s charismatic singing; “Indoor Games” has this almost quasi funky/ethereal sound highlighted by Mel Collin’s wailing sax. and there’s also a lovely ballad “Lady of the Dancing Water.” The main centerpiece of Lizard is the epic title track, which features a lead vocal by Yes’ Jon Anderson—its noteworthy section is the “Bolero” part. Lizard may not be the most popular Crimson album in the catalog, a point that’s even hinted in the liner notes of the reissue, but it’s still better than most of what was coming from the band’s art rock peers. (This new edition features three bonus tracks, including alternate versions of “Lady of the Dancing Water” and “Cirkus”).
But there is no dispute with Red—it’s an absolute masterpiece. By this time, Crimson has been reduced to the power trio of guitarist Fripp, bassist/vocalist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. With the exception of the horns, the music on Red is very stripped down, lean, muscular and heavy on the rock. The title track still electrifies showcasing Fripp’s riffs; “One More Red Nightmare” is uncharacteristically funky and poppy; the avant-garde “Providence” showcases former member David Cross’ graceful yet experimental violin playing; and “Starless” begins with a subdued melancholy air before morphing into this chaotic rocker towards the end. Unfortunately this Crimson broke up soon afterwards until Fripp revived the band seven years later with a new lineup. If you had to rank the greatest Crimson albums, Red would no doubt be in the top three. (This reissue features live video from that era and three bonus tracks, including the entire performance of “Providence”).