Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beelzebub Strikes Back

Sometimes I just don’t know how I get myself into these things.. It must be the curiosity in me. Also, sometimes you just sort of have to forget about who you are and what your musical preferences are. That way you will find something new – really new, not just another Posies soundalike.

It all began last summer when I was making a project regarding the history of music, focusing on 20th century. The project slowly turned into three and a half hours of me blabbing about the development of music – from ragtime to post-rock - and throwing in sound samples after each blabbing sequence. When I reached the end of the 60s, it was time to introduce progressive rock.. I made my research and found out that some of the most famous prog bands included Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer… and King Crimson.

I was looking for audio material to include in my progressive rock section.. For some reason, the first thing I ended up listening to was King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man. Man, it surely struck me.. Saxophones! (My second favourite instrument after vocals. Someday I will end up becoming a saxophone player. You’ll see..). I couldn’t resist that rich sound, unusual drum playing, and somewhat brooding general feel that was emphasized by a raucous vocal effect. I actually liked the song very much right away.

I didn’t have much time to dig deeper into this specific band at that moment – I still had about 30 other genres to deal with.. I added an extract from 21st Century Schizoid Man, as well as samples from Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues, and continued to my hard rock section.

It was sometime around Christmas when I finally got around to listening to an entire album from King Crimson. I chose In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) because it was the band’s first album and included that Schizoid Man song – it was song #1. After that came something very different: I Talk to the Wind, a beautiful and melancholic song with flutes. The other songs on the album – such as Epitaph and Moonchild – seemed to be parts of a bigger picture rather than separate songs. I guess that’s why the lengths of the songs didn’t seem to bother me at all. Well, to be honest, 12 minutes sounded quite long for one track..

Then, I read a very interesting article about the band in Soundi magazine, and realized I should listen to Red (1974) right away. That was what I did. I listened to it a few times and suddenly I didn’t care anymore if the songs were 12 minutes long, and if there was a single vocal melody in an entire song or not. I started to get the point of this music.. Still, no matter how you see it, One More Red Nightmare is a really catchy song.

Progressive rock just doesn’t seem to work in the same way as traditional pop. It’s a lot more experimental and focuses on creating large sound landscapes rather than trying to be as economic as possible. One of the most distinguishing features of the genre is combining rock-jazz fusion with psychedelic rock. Jazz fusion..?

Well, I haven’t said anything about it yet but I really like jazz – many types of jazz. I don’t listen to jazz very actively yet, but I go to Pori Jazz festival with my dad every summer, I’ve been doing that for about five years now. One of last summer’s most memorable events was seeing 70s rock-jazz fusionists Return to Forever play. It was really fascinating. I was mesmerized by the music, it was really something different – not anything like swing or bebop but it was still jazz.

I really look forward to see what this progressive rock adventure turns into.. I’ve already listened to some Pink Floyd, so it might be a good idea to listen what more they have to say, and perhaps move on to Yes and others sometime.. I want to encourage all pop fans to check out some prog! At some points progressive rock does, in fact, include catchy melodies. Like any melody-oriented type of music, it also aims to express human emotions. It does it in a bit more abstract way, though. There are not as many straightforward words as in pop!

There is so much information about King Crimson that it actually has its own wiki page! There have been almost 20 different people in King Crimson and the band has split several times and got back together. Central figure Robert Fripp is the only original member left in the band. Fripp describes King Crimson as “a way of doing things”. He has made music and toured under several different band names.

Finally, here is an explanation for the name King Crimson (from Wikipedia):
“The name King Crimson was coined by [early King Crimson] lyricist Peter Sinfield as a synonym for Beelzebub, prince of demons. According to Fripp, Beelzebub would be an anglicised form of the Arabic phrase "B'il Sabab", meaning "the man with an aim" (although it literally means "with a cause").”

King Crimson Official Website
Elephant Talk – A King Crimson and Robert Fripp Wiki
King Crimson at YouTube


scottst said...

I hope you hear them all. I have enjoyed them all since discovering them in 1971 (I was 16). Now I'm 54 and I can't wait to hear what they do next. - S.

Nazza said...

Since you enjoy pop you may want to look into Robert Fripp's only solo album, "Exposure". He has stated his intention was "to investigate the 'pop song' as a means of expression. I think it's an incredibly good way of putting forward ideas. I think it's a supreme discipline to know that you have three to four minutes to get together all your lost emotions and find words of one syllable or less to put forward all you ideas."

Melody Freak said...

Thanks for comments, guys! I don't get many of those... Robert Fripp making three-minute pop songs sounds really interesting. I think I'll check out that stuff sometime. New wave and prog should prove to be a good combination.

Jon Green said...

And then is this lengthy exploration of the first four King Crimson albums.