Atlantic Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/19/1998
Is it a cardinal sin to suggest that a King Crimson record doesn't have enough Robert Fripp on it?
Coming off the strengths of In The Court Of The Crimson King and In The Wake Of Poseidon, two albums that I found myself enjoying immensely despite myself (it took me a long time to truly appreciate King Crimson), their third album Lizard left me a little disappointed. The moments that Fripp gets to shine on this one, he easily demonstrates why he could be the best "unknown" guitarist out there. However, when he's not in the limelight, the work suffers.
I recognize that any time I listen to a King Crimson record, I need to expect some level of weirdness. This is something that I especially appreciated in songs on In The Court Of The Crimson King. However, the weirdness takes a poor turn in the area of lyrics on Lizard. Sample line from "Cirkus": "'Worship!' cried the clown, 'I am a T.V. / Making handsmen go clockwork, / See the slinky seal Cirkus policeman; / Bareback ladies have fish." Give me a fuckin' break, Peter Sinfield.
Musically, Lizard falters only once in this vein, on "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale". Portions of this track sound almost like a Grateful Dead jam that has gone horribly off in the wrong direction. If you're looking for a lot of musical resolution in this piece, you're simply not going to find it.
However, my belief that King Crimson is inherently good pays off after a while. Tracks like "Indoor Games" (another of the bizarre lyric numbers) is a decent enough rocker, featuring some very nice acoustic guitar work from Fripp. Likewise, "The Battle Of Glass Tears" is a number that doesn't seem to last nearly half as long as the album jacket suggests (the track clocks in at just under 11 minutes). Once again, King Crimson proves the power of their performance when all things click into place.
Where Lizard eventually fails is in its lack of direction. I don't think that the band knew quite which direction they wanted to go at this point in their career. (If memory serves me correctly, this was the last studio album with this lineup.) Did they want to continue to be a cutting-edge fusion rock band ("The Battle Of Glass Tears"), or did they want to move to a smoother, softer edge ("Lady Of The Dancing Water")? The appearance of Yes vocalist Jon Anderson doesn't help matters much, though he turns in a decent performance on "Prince Rupert Awakes"; it's almost like his appearance further confuses the band as to what direction they want to move in. (As a side note, it almost sounds natural for Anderson to be fronting King Crimson; one is left to wonder what would have happened had Anderson been the permanent lead singer of the group.)
In all the confusion, what is lost is Fripp's presence on the record; if his influence is on "Lady Of The Dancing Water", I sure can't hear it. This ends up being a big loss; although Fripp's style does have to grow on you, his guitar playing is top notch, and adds to the chemistry of any song. I could have easily dealt with a guitar presence that was more up front in the mix.
Lizard is a step down for King Crimson, but not one that would cause me to lose interest in the band. Although the diehard fans will undoubtedly worship every note that rises from the grooves of the vinyl, the rest of you should approach this one with some caution.
Interesting take on an album that is hard to put into words. As a Crimson fan, I'm not quite a diehard and as such do not worship this. In fact, quite the opposite - it's one of their worst releases ever. I would agree that it must be approached with caution.
However, I think Islands was the last album with this lineup, although Lizard was the last one with this singer. Boz Burrell took over on Islands and stayed for that one disc...then the band went on hiatus and came roaring back with Larks' Tongues in Aspic in 1973.
Anyway. Take care, Mr. Thelen.
|Lizard and Islands seems to be the most disliked Crimso albums. I tend to agree with Lizard: while I enjoy most of the album, it just sounds like the band was approaching a dead end. Thankfuly for Islands they came back with a different sound which makes that album a unique record.|