I grew up listening to a fair amount of progressive rock. Something about its combination of pretentious bombast and self-conscious artiness really gelled with me, for better or worse. Then I discovered classical music, which quickly became my stole the thunder of the bands of my youth.
But lately I’ve been making some headway back into it, filling lacunae in my listening. One of which is King Crimson’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King.
I’m still trying to absorb it all, but one thing that immediately struck me was just how aggressively dark and, well, weird this album is. This came out in 1969? While “jazz-influenced” is a descriptor that gets hurled at rock albums a lot, this is the first one I’ve heard which sounds more more in line with the freakier aspects of Charles Mingus and Roland Kirk than rhythm and blues.
The paranoid, nihilistic atmosphere is interesting. While some of it is your bog standard political apocalypticism (references to Vietnam, etc.) all the psychedelic/fantasy elements blur in with it, making it feel like a nightmare version of John Lennon &co. It seems like a preternatural vision that, as Carl Scott put it in his Rock Songbook, “the 60s cultural revolution was not really the solution to modern civilization’s sicknesses, but actually, the ultimate flowering of modernity.”
Yes, the Schoenberg-lite passage in “Moonchild” is kind of absurd. But the fact that it goes on with a straight face for eight minutes pushes it into a, “so pretentious its cool again” level.
More prog rock thoughts to come (perhaps).