Critic's Pick: King Crimson In the Wake of Poseidon Islands

Contributing Music WriterDecember 20, 2010 

Critic's pick

King Crimson

In the Wake of Poseidon Islands

Reissues of the second and fourth albums by the longstanding progressive ensemble King Crimson might seem unlikely companions for Christmas weekend. But then, the wintry feel of 1970's In the Wake of Poseidon and 1971's Islands remain profound.

Now with the brilliant clarity of new stereo and 5.1 mixes, along with a smattering of previously unreleased relics from the original recording sessions, both albums reawaken as potent timepieces from prog rock's dark past. Why not, then, spend a few winter evenings discovering (or rediscovering) their riches?

In the Wake of Poseidon was released after the original Crimson lineup's fragmentation and eventual dissolution. Greg Lake hung around for a few tracks before leaving to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer. So did the sibling rhythm section of Michael and Peter Giles. There are deep echoes of the band's mighty debut album, 1969's In the Court of the Crimson King, especially in the flood of the Mellotron keyboard and the distant choirlike chorus that fuels Poseidon's title tune.

But new voices are enlisted to crack Crimson open. The extraordinary jazz journeyman Keith Tippett dresses the playful and lyrically impenetrable Cat Food with piano animation that dances a fractured jazz ballet around Robert Fripp's guitar leads. Saxophonist Mel Collins is the ace in the hole, though, in the new Crimson ranks. He ignites the brutish bounce of Pictures of a City and cools Poseidon's waters with lovely flute colors during two versions of Cadence and Cascade that showcase the album's spacious new mix by Fripp and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson.

Islands was viewed by some Crimson fans and critics as the black sheep of the band's early albums. A record with a glorious split personality, it shifted meaty quartet rock 'n' roll (Ladies of the Road) and expansive, moodier and even chamber-style adventures. The new mix (again piloted by Wilson) enhances and, in many instances, vindicates both extremes.

The track that leaps out of the new edition is the wildly propulsive instrumental A Sailor's Tale. The late Ian Wallace kick-starts the tune as if it were a jazz reverie before unison lines by Fripp and Collins set it ablaze. The guitar and sax lines then split and begin feeding off each other. For seven minutes, until a booming blast of Mellotron caps everything off, the tune's invention and drama never abate.

Islands' title tune summons the album's other persona with elegiac strings, reeds and a ghostly cornet solo from Mark Charig that brings the record's original six songs to a close. Luckily, this edition sports an alternate version of the entire album through a series of bonus tracks. What better place to spend the holidays than in these newly charted Islands?

WAlter Tunis, contributing music writer

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