Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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King Crimson

  • In the Court of the Crimson King [Atlantic, 1969] D+
  • In the Wake of Poseidon [Atlantic, 1970] C+
  • Lizard [Atlantic, 1971] B-
  • Islands [Atlantic, 1972] C
  • Lark's Tongues in Aspic [Atlantic, 1973] B-
  • Red [Atlantic, 1974] A-
  • Starless and Bible Black [Atlantic, 1974] B
  • USA [Atlantic, 1975] B+
  • Discipline [Warner Bros./E.G., 1981] B
  • Three of a Perfect Pair [Warner Bros., 1984] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

In the Court of the Crimson King [Atlantic, 1969]
The plus is because Peter Townshend likes it. This can also be said of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Beware the forthcoming hype--this is ersatz shit. D+

In the Wake of Poseidon [Atlantic, 1970]
For a long time I thought this was the worst rock band in history simply because it was the most pretentious, but sometimes pretensions are (at least partially) earned. Their second album is more muddled conceptually than In the Court of the Crimson King, quite a feat. But they're not afraid to be harsh, they command a range of styles, and their dynamics jolt rather than sledgehammer (properly electric, that). Also, they can play: kudos to drummer Michael Giles and guitarist Robert Fripp, who also illustrates the old adage, "Better a Mellotron than real strings." C+

Lizard [Atlantic, 1971]
To call this progressive rock is only to prove the term an oxymoron. But if you don't insist on snappy tunes with a good beat there are quite a few textural and technical attractions here, and the cold (not cool) jazziness of their compositions does project a certain cerebral majesty--third stream that deigns (rather than fails) to swing. Unfortunately, neither Gordon Haskell nor (keep off the weeds) Jon Anderson delivers Pete Sinfield's overwrought lyrics with the sarcasm they deserve. B-

Islands [Atlantic, 1972]
Just as I was learning to hear past the bullshit they upped the ante, so fuck 'em. When I feel the need for contemporary chamber music or sexist japes, jazz libre or vers ordinaire, I'll go to the source(s). C

Lark's Tongues in Aspic [Atlantic, 1973]
More appetizing than you'd expect--new lyricist Robert W. Palmer-Jones and new vocalist John Wetton add roughage to the recipe. But it's still the instrumental stuff that's worth savoring, and not only doesn't it cook, which figures, it doesn't quite jell either. B-

Red [Atlantic, 1974]
Grand, powerful, grating, and surprisingly lyrical, with words that cast aspersions on NYC (violence you know) and make me like it, or at least not hate it (virtually a first for the Crims), this does for classical-rock fusion what John McLaughlin's Devotion did for jazz-rock fusion. The secret as usual is that Robert Fripp is playing more--he does remind me of McLaughlin, too, though he prefers to glide where McLaughlin beats his wings. In compensation, Bill Bruford supplies more action than Buddy Miles. Less soul, though--which is why the jazz-rock fusion is more exciting. A-

Starless and Bible Black [Atlantic, 1974]
This is as close as this chronically interesting group has ever come to a good album, or maybe it's as close as Robert Fripp has ever come to dominating this chronically interesting group. As usual, things improve markedly when nobody's singing. The lyrics are relatively sharp, but there must be better ways of proving you're not a wimp than casting invective at a "health-food faggot." Unless you are a wimp, that is. B

USA [Atlantic, 1975]
Since the nearness of death was good for this band, I figured a posthumous live album might be even better, and though lyrics and vocals are still pompous annoyances, these musical themes (including the off-the-cuff "Asbury Park") are among their best. In Central Park they have no choice but to skip the subtlety and turn it up. The excitement thus generated is more Wagner than Little Richard--this record is a case study in the Europeanness of English heavy metal. But that doesn't mean it's not classic. B+

Discipline [Warner Bros./E.G., 1981]
It's amazing how somebody who gabs as much as Robert Fripp gets fucked up by words. Maybe he's afraid to take on a real singer because he knows singers take over bands. So he hires Adrian Belew, who between his David Byrne impressions and his John Wetton impressions and his man-in-the-studio candid-microphone shtick damn near takes over anyway. Musically, not bad--the Heads meet the League of Gentlemen, although I wish the valiant Bill Bruford knew as much about rhythm as John Chernoff. But throw away that thesaurus. B

Three of a Perfect Pair [Warner Bros., 1984]
Unburdened by any natural predisposition to play it again, I'm an unusually unbiased judge: side two again demonstrates Robert Fripp's rare if impractical gift for sustained instrumental composition in a rock context. Having expended many fruitless hours trying to appreciate Adrian Belew's two solo albums, I'm an unusually qualified judge: side one again demonstrates that the guy neither sings nor writes like a frontman. B-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]