(Lovely Sorts of Death, 2012)
Being intimately familiar with In the Court of the Crimson King, I was curious to hear this re-interpretation of the entire album by the Flaming Lips and their stable of bands (most recently seen covering Dark Side of the Moon), and delighted to see that this classic was still influencing and inspiring bands to this day. It’s a monster of an album to approach covering in its entirety, so the effort alone is admirable.
For the most part, I think the performances on this album have managed to capture the sense of shock and awe that King Crimson created initially with their debut album and when they left a crowd in stunned silence in Hyde Park after their performance of “21st Century Schizoid Man”. The squeals are noisier and numerous. This time around, feedback disintegrates into pixels and sharp bombs of clattering cymbals, guitar histrionics, and synth lines are chopped up and spread around the canvas available in bursts, wreaking havoc with the already tentative time signatures.
Having said all that, however, this is not an album that revels in the loose free-jazz excesses that the original album enjoyed – and if it is, the excesses are heaped on top of each other, rather than stringing the listener along with a handful of plucked notes at a time as in the original “Moonchild”. This one clocks in a little under the time of the original and maintains mostly just the nucleus of songs, with plenty of room to go madly off in all directions, should the mood strike them.
The sense of bombast is played with considerably on this version. “Epitaph” is covered in a thick layer of fuzz with a rather humble vocal, which sets the original on its head, and portrays well the sort of lost anguish evoked in the songs lyrics while – turning a grand declaration into a sort of meandering melancholy (though the crescendo towards the end still retains its noisy pomp); “Moonchild”, however, is given the full band treatment immediately, whereas the original sort of crept in on Fripp’s guitar strings and never got too high above a whisper.
My one major criticism of the album is that the vocals seem too familiar with the material and don’t deliver the kind of straight-faced earnestness that Greg Lake did – the melodies are batted around as if they had been heard a thousand times before. There’s kind of an “we all know how the album goes” sort of feel to it, which I think, to an extent, is true – those most interested in checking out the album with be those familiar with the original – but the vocals just seem like a rote addition to the chaos happening in the background. In “The Court of the Crimson King”, a large effort is made of subduing the melody to a static whisper, perhaps to contrast the huge backing track, but it isn’t quite pulled off – the lyrics are too fantastical to pull off such a deadening.
This is quite a fun excursion in re-imagination, especially considering it’s one of my favourite albums and I can see every divergence. The noisiness is great and in the spirit of the original, and it definitely works as an introduction either way – from King Crimson fans to the Lips and co. or vice versa – but it doesn’t quite stack up to the original for me.