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Thursday, January 18, 2018

King Crimson: In The Wake Of Poseidon


1) Peace – A Beginning; 2) Pictures Of A City; 3) Cadence And Cascade; 4) In The Wake Of Poseidon; 5) Peace – A Theme; 6) Cat Food; 7) The Devil's Triangle; 8) Peace – An End.

General verdict: This one is more of a "Prince Pink" album, if you ask me.

This is a tough album to rate. It is understandable that the state of King Crimson in early 1970 was pretty shaky: with Lake departing to assume his new role in ELP, and McDonald and Giles splitting off to form... McDonald and Giles, Fripp once again found himself on his own: the base lineup for In The Wake Of Poseidon lists only himself and Sinfield as permanent members, while everybody else, old or new, are formally guest stars. On the other hand, it is impossible to surmise that this, and nothing else, is responsible for the fact that essentially, In The Wake Of Poseidon is an inferior carbon copy of its predecessor.

Admittedly, for all his genius and inventiveness, Fripp was never above repeating himself. You will find stylistically, structurally, and atmospherically similar, if not nearly identical, creations all over King Crimson's career — in the 1973-75 period as well as in the «New Wave trilogy» of the early Eighties albums. It was not a crime — he simply liked to milk a new groove to exhaus­tion every time he'd settled on one. But this, I believe, is the only time in King Crimson history where the formula of one album was adhered to in minute detail on the other one, almost as if the creator was working based on a strict «give the people exactly what they want» principle. Even if those people were relatively few in number, and this time around, I am not even sure if Pete Townshend got to hear it. (Robert Christgau did get to hear it, and rated it higher than In The Court Of The Crimson King — not that I'd expected anything else from The Dean of Prog Misjudgement).

Well, to be absolutely fair, only the first side of the album is a structural copy, where ʽPictures Of A Cityʼ is The Heavy Apocalyptic Jazz Rocker (replacing ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ), ʽCadence And Cascadeʼ is The Relief-Oriented Soothing Folk-Prog Ballad (replacing ʽI Talk To The Windʼ), and the title track is The Epic Bombastic Mellotron-Doused Lament (replacing ʽEpitaphʼ). That these songs come in these styles and in this particular sequence cannot be a coin­cidence, and, frankly, this decision looks a little cheap and insulting to Fripp's reputation. If at least each and every one of them actually expanded on that legacy, that would be understandable, but it does not look like that's the idea.

After the slightly deceptive accappella opening of ʽPeace — A Beginningʼ (which, due to its featuring Lake all alone, sounds a lot like many of his solo spots in ELP), ʽPictures Of A Cityʼ goes through exactly the same motions as ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ: gruff, bombastic, distor­ted opening riff, nightmarish apocalyptic lyrics delivered in angry-madman-prophet style, jazzy instrumental mid-section with brass sirens, free-form guitar solos, virtuoso guitar / drum duets, and a chaotic ending. On its own, that riff ain't half bad, but it is impossible for me to experience the song out of context, and in comparison with ʽSchizoid Manʼ, its almost leisurely shuffle makes for a far less terrifying experience. Apart from the sped-up mid-section, this is a song that could be written, say, by Black Sabbath (in fact, the vocal melody even has a few bits in common with ʽElectric Funeralʼ). A good listen, but there's a good reason why it never became a bona fide KC classic like ʽSchizoid Manʼ — too much of a conscious effort to make another one just like the first one, a trick that rarely works for regular pop bands and almost never works for pro­gressive bands. Lyrics are fairly good for Sinfield, though: I like it when he is just piling up scary imagery ("concrete cold face cased in steel...") rather than going all Old Testament on our picky modern asses.

However, if ʽPictures Of A Cityʼ is essentially a decent song and only a minor disappointment in comparison, the other two contributions on the first side are flat-out disasters. ʽCadence And Cascadeʼ, marking the first appearance of soon-to-be lead vocalist Gordon Haskell, never rises above the level of soft slurry murmur: where ʽI Talk To The Windʼ had a subtle dynamic from verse to chorus, and an inherent feel of deep sadness that made it a perfect precursor to the bom­bastic ʽEpitaphʼ, this song is a shapeless mess of milk and kisses with completely nonsensical lyrics and an almost expressionless vocal performance. Another soon-to-be member, Mel Collins, plays a nice flute part here, proving himself to be a worthy successor to McDonald, but this is hardly enough to save the song.

This is nothing, though, compared to the title track, which, in all honesty, should have been branded with the subtitle ʽEpitaph Done Wrongʼ. All the elements are there — slow tempo, moody acoustic guitar, ominous Mellotron pseudo-orchestration, wailing Greg Lake, stately and lengthy fade-out — but it never clinches: the deeply gripping feel of tragic loss and impossibility of redemption produced by ʽEpitaphʼ does not even begin to synthesize. Maybe it is all the fault of the lyrics, now too encumbered and twisted for their own good to allow the lead singer to get a grip on them (I mean, at least you can work your emotions up properly to something like "but I know to­morrow I'll be crying", but can you do the same to "bishop's kings spin judgement's blade, scratch ʽfaithʼ on nameless graves"?). Maybe it is the lack of the soul-pinching electric guitar moan from Fripp, depriving us of the vital icing on the cake. Maybe it is the relative lack of ups and downs along the way (nothing like that magnificent Mellotron crescendo in the middle of ʽEpitaphʼ, the one that breaks like a tsunami wave, disintegrating into a thousand small acoustic guitar ripples). Simply put, this is one King Crimson song that does not have a single reason to exist: ʽEpitaphʼ successfully performs all of its functions and does much more than that.

If some face at least were not saved on the second side of the LP, In The Wake Of Poseidon could have gone down in history as one of the most embarrassing follow-ups to a classic ever recorded by mortal man. The good news is that somehow, as if snapping out of an evil witch spell, Fripp eventually comes to his senses and begins recording something different. First, there is ʽCat Foodʼ, the original band's only stab at a «pop single» that even earned them their only appearance on Top Of The Pops — a hilarious diversion, combining Lake's passionate vocals with an almost ʽSubterranean Homesick Bluesʼ-style rapid-fire delivery, Sinfield's clever lyrical stab at consu­merism (most likely inspired by a trip through the local supermarket), and Keith Tippett's won­derful jazz piano playing which at first sounds like it belongs in a completely different song, but eventually begins contributing to the overall feel of confusion and frustration. Perhaps they should have really called this one ʽLost In The Supermarketʼ — now it's too late, what with The Clash holding the right to that particular title.

The big epic on the second side, however, is ʽThe Devil's Triangleʼ, and fortunately for us, it does not encroach on the territory of either ʽMoonchildʼ or ʽCrimson Kingʼ. Instead, it is a multi-part, multi-layered, apocalyptic composition loosely based on Gustav Holst's ʽMarsʼ, an interpretation of which the band regularly played on their 1969 tour and wanted to record for the album as well; no permission was given, so Fripp had to change the basic melody enough to avoid copyright infringement, while still preserving the impending doom thrills of the original. The result, now that I think of it, is a minor classic that is decades ahead of its time — it is precisely the kind of panoramic, atmospheric «post-rock» crescendo arrangement that would be championed thirty years later by the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, albeit on a smaller musical scale (because Canadians have a knack for sticking together, while Brits still prefer to retain their solitary pride). The reason why it loses in efficiency to something like ʽStarlessʼ is that it is all but completely dependent on the Mellotron, and while Fripp does a good, sweaty job dragging down its keys, this is still not his primary specialty. Still, there is plenty of that «black ritual» atmo­sphere floating around, making it the single creepiest studio track they'd laid down up to that point — some progress, at least. (Do not forget to pay attention to more examples of Keith Tippett's firs-rate controlled-chaos piano playing throughout the track, either).

Nevertheless, on the whole Poseidon is a disappointment, and it marked the beginning of a strange period for the band. In a way, you might argue that Fripp pretty much «sat out» the Golden Years of Prog (1970–1972) in mediocrity, not being able to fully compete with the symph-prog and folk-prog monsters such as Yes, ELP, or Jethro Tull, and only hitting his full stride once again after said monsters themselves became bogged down in repetitiveness and complexity for complexity's sake. The reason for this, I believe, is that In The Court Of The Crimson King was still very much a piece of collective art, where Fripp, McDonald, Giles, and even Lake all brought roughly equal parts to the table. Once the duty of delivering this mix of modern avantgarde and medieval romanticism became relegated onto Fripp's shoulders in toto, he simply could not properly handle the second part of it — for all the different things this man can be, his medieval romanticist streak is even thinner than Gordon Haskell's voice on ʽCadence And Cascadeʼ. Still, at this point worse things were yet to come: ʽPictures Of A Cityʼ, ʽCat Foodʼ, and ʽDevil's Triangleʼ all ensure the status of In The Wake Of Poseidon as an obligatory staple in the average KC fan's diet.


  1. I can help but wonder if the album would have been better if "Cadence And Cascade" and the title track were replaced respectively with "Flight Of The Ibis" (which ended up on McDonald & Giles) and "Lucky Man" (which ended up on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's debut album).

    Also, any thoughts on "Groon", an instrumental b-side that was recorded during the Poseidon sessions?

  2. Also, it just hit me - "Pictures Of A City", at least it's intro, might have came into being by the Court lineup's live performances of Donovan's "Get Thy Bearings".

  3. There's an instrumental edit of 'In the Wake of Poseidon' on the 21st Century Guide to King Crimson, Vol. 1 that I far prefer to the full length song with vocals.

    But otherwise I don't see much point in returning to this album anymore, besides "Peace - A Theme", which is humble in its beauty, an example of Fripp's exquisite acoustic guitar playing in this period.

    "The Devil's Triangle" has always seemed more tedious to me than exciting or terrifying. Same with "Pictures of a City." The live recordings of early versions of both ("A Man, A City" and "Mars") by the '69 line-up are another matter, though. But in terms of studio performances I prefer the mannered madness of Lizard.

    Okay, kudos to Keith Tippet, but the thought of listening to Greg Lake's over-singing on "Cat Food" makes me avoid listening to it.


    The timing of these reviews has me noting some general similarities between Floyd and Crimson. An epochal first album; early elements of British insane whimsy later discarded; extremely significant line-up change after the first album; a period of searching and flawed experiments followed by renewed success arriving just at the tail end of symphonic prog. Of course you have to fudge a few things (Piper combines the epochal space-rock with the insane British whimsy; in contrast, Crimson King's epochal progressive rock has none of the cheerful insanity of Giles, Giles, & Fripp, except perhaps sections of "Moonchild") and the scale of success is different. The collapses and recoveries are mirror images: Floyd loses their truly mad centerpiece and then has to find their own direction of solemn, controlled brain damage; Fripp loses the band, develops his own mannered madness of controlled tension and release while searching for the right band (i.e. the Larks' lineup).

    You have to squint a little, but it's interesting to consider the trajectories of each, the personalities involved, and the effect that has on the music.

  4. I think all criticisms of this album being a copy are valid, but I can't help but feel more charitable to ItWoP than you. It doesn't have the emotional punch of ItCotCK, but I enjoy the variations in some way, shape, or form. "Pictures of a City" isn't supposed to be an apocalyptic thrill ride like "Schizoid Man" -- it restrains the fury into a slower groove that's still menacing. "Cadence and Cascade" is a pleasant little piece that I find it hard to complain about, except that the earlier take with Lake on vocals works better. The title track's lyrics are pretty atrocious, but I'm a sucker for the melody that they've got going, particularly at the end.

    I agree with you, though, that the best part of the album is "The Devil's Triangle" -- not as a true song, but one of the best apocalyptic soundscapes that any prog band made, because there is an actual musical backbone that the madness is built around.

  5. That yellow George, that yellow.....
    do you want us to select the headline text for every average album?