Thursday, November 5, 2009

In The Wake Of Poseidon

King Crimson/1970

If at first you do succeed, then try, try again. As was the case with King Crimson when contemplating their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. Because in late 1969, their iconic first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, came barreling out of nowhere – a dark, beautiful, spooky symphony that caught the unprepared music world totally off guard. So, how do you follow that tough act? The royal challenge fell to guitarist Robert Fripp – struggling to keep his young band together whilst others abandoned court, unable to handle the incredible rookie success of their debut (the most notable abandonee being woodwinds/mellotron player Ian McDonald, with lead singer Greg Lake and drummer Michael Giles soon to follow). Fripp seemed to heed that age-old advice: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Returning to the high-contrast aural shadings of the first album, vinyl Side 1 of Poseidon repeated the previous album’s Side 1 template in an almost clone-like way: “Pictures of a City,” heavy, jazzy/bluesy sax-driven head banger (complete with let’s-see-how-fast-we-can-play-it instrumental interlude) ala "Schizoid Man"; “Cadence and Cascade,” pretty acoustic guitar ballad, with lots of flute a’ fluttering ala "I Talk to the Wind"; “In the Wake of Poseidon,” epic mellotron-drenched track to close out the side ala "Epitaph." So far, so good. Definitely starting to sound like the lost little brother of In the Court of the Crimson King. But after a brief acoustic guitar piece that opens vinyl Side 2, things get schizoid. “Cat Food” is neither rock, nor pop, nor jazz, nor…hell, I’m not exactly sure what it is other than totally insane – thanks to Keith Tippett’s freeform piano riffs flying all over the place, and lyricist Pete Sinfield’s bizarro-world take on a day in the life of a grocery store:

“Lady Supermarket with an apple in her basket
Knocks in the manager's door;
Grooning to the muzak from a speaker in shoe rack
Lays out her goods on the floor;
Everything she's chosen is conveniently frozen.
Eat it and come back for more!”

Uh, okay. To give you some idea of what heady times these were, that track was actually released as a single. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, along comes “The Devil’s Triangle,” an extended, multi-section instrumental loosely based around Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War.” Ominously fading in with an unnervingly simple bolero-like beat and menacing mellotron chords, the track gradually morphs into a boiling cauldron of dying mellotrons, alien noises, beeps, blurts, burbles and floating voices. If there was a guided tour of Hades, this is the muzak you’d most likely hear piped through the public address system. The atonal concoction finally reaches its violent, swirling, clattering climax, then fades into Lake’s plaintive voice singing “Peace – An End." Joined by Fripp's melancholy acoustic guitar, it's a haunting finale to the chaos that preceded it. Though l
acking the audacity, the intensity, the shear sonic shock-and-awe of the debut, Poseidon nevertheless holds its own. It's an album with a dual personality – one side gazing longingly back at what might have been, while the flip side turns its eyes (and our ears) towards the warped and wild experiments yet to come on Lizard.

Essential Tracks: "Pictures of a City" "In the Wake of Poseidon" "Cat Food"

1 comment:

  1. Pretty good review. I'm glad you didn't fault it for having a similar structure to ItCotKC, as so many other have.

    I once decided that this would be the ONE album I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island.