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Lizard (1970)

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Postby Ian on Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:39 pm

One interesting thing I forgot to mention in my review is the first and last use of a Moog synth and a Hammond organ on a Crimson album. (I might be wrong here, so feel free to correct me.)

It's not a Moog; it's a VCS3. And it was used again in Islands ("Sailor's Tale" guitar solo)

Here's my take on "Lizard": it's probably my third favourite KC album - I have three vinyl copies of it (Island Records, Atlantic and EG) and the 30th Anniversary remaster (and by the way, have anybody noticed that the mix of "Cirkus" on the 30th Anniversary remaster is actually the same mix of the American Atlantic Records version? [And yes, there are differences on the mixes of "Court", "Poseidon" and "Lizard" between their English and American versions])

It sounds like a rushed job. It's well known that Haskell thought it was all shite since he didn't like that kind of music and that he had been cheated out of royalties (or so Fripp says in the "Epitaph" booklet concerning his relationships with former band members), and truth be told, Haskell sounds abysmal. He did a class job on "Cadence And Cascade", so I wonder why did he sing the way he did on "Lizard". It did fit the songs, but that was due to their own restrained nature. So there goes my first complaint about "Lizard" (and I've said this before on my topic about Andy McCulloch): the rhythm section work is way too much restrained. Andy almost plays the very same rhythmic drum pattern on all of the songs, when, knowing his work with other bands, he could very well match Giles and Bruford. And Gordon's bass work, well, sounds rather feeble. Knowing that Fripp actually taught Burrell how to play the bass for "Islands", it's not surprising to hear that on "Lizard" as well - could he possibly have a low regard for the bass playing on "Lizard" and "Islands"? I think not, since on "Poseidon", Peter Giles's bass work is absolutely stunning. My conclusion is that it was a rushed job. There goes my second complaint.

The third and last complaint is that Fripp seemed to be wanting to incorporate too much jazz and classical influences with no regards for the ensuing results, and to experiment with keyboards and synths so he could get away from the stigma of repeating himself that has been donned to "Poseidon". It often worked, but also as much as often, it was a hames. "Happy Family" epitomizes that kind of stance regarding the songs. As a matter of fact, aside from the descending riff with the VCS3, guitar, bass and drums in the song, the sung parts are nothing short of a rehashing of a motif that Ian McDonald often played in KC improvs after "Travel Weary Capricorn" most of the times back in '69. The rest of the song is aimless noodling with Mel Collins on the flute and Keith Tippet on the electric piano - as Bruford would say, "clueless and slightly slack". And the electronic encoding of Haskell's voice is quite irksome as well; proof that the electronic enhancement of a good voice (i.e., Lake on "Schizoid Man") can have class results, whereas the same method applied to a weak voice (the aforementioned song) can be awful.

There, I'm done with the complaints.

Now, on to the good points: the same excessive meshing of jazz and classical elements and experiments with keyboards makes up for a full, colourful sound - this is, in fact, the most colourful sounding album from King Crimson, even if it seemed rather chaotic at times. Multiple wind instruments coming and going all the time makes it very tasteful most of the time - examples being the alto/tenor/baritone sax riff of "Indoor Games", the wind instrument jam of "Bolero" (even though I have to admit that it's nothing short of an attempt to reproduce a "Sketches Of Spain" mood on the "Lizard" suite - and I believe this has been mentioned here before) and when all hell breaks loose on "Last Skirmish", which is in fact, a very calculated piece of music; one should notice how the wind instruments play the main riff with a busy bassline underlining it, and then the bass plays that riff and the wind instruments play the bassline as the section progresses.

Also, Keith Tippet makes this album an excellent listen. Somehow, Fripp convinced Tippet, as a purist, to play the electric piano, and the results were great (bar his "Cat Food" - styled dissonance on "Happy Family"). Since the credits say that Tippet plays the electric piano, and not Fripp (who would eventually do it along with David Cross on the '72 - '74 lineup), then I say Tippet made an excellent job on both acoustic and electric piano, and I would go as far as to say that his best performance with KC is contained in this album.

Then, there's the horn section. Does "Cirkus" sound as apocalyptic in the end with the Mellotron Mark II in the chorus preset as Marc Charig plays the cornet as opposed to the '71 - '72 lineup playing the same motif in the brass preset on the Mellotron 400 live? I don't think so. Nick Evans on the trombone sounds wonderful as well - one would never think that an acoustic ballad in the vein of "Cadence And Cascade" and "I Talk To The Wind" would sound as languid and mournful with a trombone, and Evans does it wonderfully. The playing of the cornet and trombone throughout the whole album is nothing short of astoundingly tasteful; restrained, or mournful, or chaotic whenever needed, not to mention very jazzy. Lastly, there's Robin Miller on the oboe and the English horn, almost all the time bringing tears to my eyes whenever he's playing them. He's wonderful. One thing to notice is that, given that almost the same horn players appeared on Soft Machine's "Third", Fripp might've tried (and often succeeded) to incorporate the "Canterbury Sound" into the usual pallette of sounds from King Crimson. Fine by me. It all sounds great.

Then there's Mel Collins. I do quite enjoy Ian McDonald's Dolphy-esque approach on the sax, but I think that as a sax and flute player, Collins lets it loose way much more than McDonald. And he's perfectly adequate for every kind of mood that the record tries to convey - he's flawless. He is the main star of the album, period.

Finally, Fripp. His electric guitar excursions are seldom heard on the album, but when he does so, they're all great - his intrusions on "Indoor Games", and to give another example, the breathtaking solo on "Prince Rupert's Lament". And then he sticks mostly to the acoustic. Well, have you ever heard such wonderful acoustic playing from Robert as on "Cirkus"? Sure, he made excellent efforts with the League Of Crafty Guitarists, but with King Crimson, his acoustic playing on "Cirkus" is his definitive performance on the band's entire catalogue. Whatever else he does on the rest of the album is pure class. And his Mellotron playing is also a defining factor on the album. It is what gives it its classical feel, after all. And the attempt of adding organ and synths (although Sinfield might've been also a defining influence on the presence of the VCS3 on "Lizard", and if so, he did a great job - bar "Happy Family", once again.

So there you go. These are my "two long cents" on this wonderful album, and I don't think it was a misstep; just a rushed job and an attempt to break more barriers at the same time, which might've been why "Lizard" sounds so awkward to many KC fans. I shan't comment on Sinfield's lyrics, though - that's another subject. Let's just say that he did as much good as bad work in here - and with Jon Anderson singing on "Prince Rupert Awakes", it almost seems like an irony (graphomaniacs of the world unite!), and about Anderson's presence: very much needed in the song they chose to make him sing.

All in all, a wonderful album. With a different bassist and singer, and no underuse of the drumming from Andy, who was capable of doing a lot more than what he does here, even though on the "Battle Of Glass Tears", there's a hint of how he could be the definitive replacement for Michael Giles, this could have been not my third, but second or maybe even first favourite album from King Crimson.
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Postby vrooom on Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:51 pm

Wowser, that's a pretty considered and thoughtful summation of the album there, Ian. Carry on like that and you'll get promoted to moderator! ;-)

But I think you are being too unfair on Haskell. Neither he or Burrell could do justice to those tangled lyrics from Sinfield and GH was the only singer to actually bring a soulful voice to the group. I like Haskell's contribution - it suits this weird album. I also like "Lizard" because it is completely off-the-wall and eccentric and completely unlike any other KC album. It's the bastard child of the KC canon and it mirrors this KC community, so most of us here tend to embrace it as a brother.

Lizard rocks and don't let anyone tell you other wise. :D

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Postby Dog_none on Tue Jul 17, 2007 4:01 am

vrooom wrote:It's the bastard child of the KC canon and it mirrors this KC community, so most of us here tend to embrace it as a brother.

I don't think I've heard it put like that before. I like it!
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Postby evktalo on Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:14 pm

That was the best written piece on music I've read in a long time.

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Postby evktalo on Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:17 pm

vrooom wrote:It's the bastard child of the KC canon and it mirrors this KC community, so most of us here tend to embrace it as a brother.

Whoa. I guess I'll have to go buy a copy, then..

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Re: Lizard (1970)

Postby DrGonzo on Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:13 am

I love this album, the concept, music and lyrics just blend so well that it makes it a stand out album in Crimsons history. Fripps guitar is wild, during Cirkus he plays so fast on his acoustic that it blows my mind. I think of it as one of their best and I love how evil the album sounds. The lyrics are just creepy and they way they are sung is great, it has a very sad sound to it. The music on the album is also fun but really experimental and odd with the drums keeping it together. The image of a sad crappy Cirkus that is just horrible with everyone behind the scenes just sad and miserable just to put on a show for normal folk who laugh at the torture of animals and clowns sticks in my head as I listen to it. It makes you think of just how unhappy and barbarick a circus is. Its one of Crimsons best early visions, out of their first three I think I would pick this one. In The Court is so good, but Lizard is more me and the Crimson I like. The sad, creepy and complicated Crimson.
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Re: Lizard (1970)

Postby Galeans on Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:51 am

I used to think (and I still do, to a certain degree) that this album was my least favourite by the band. I like it, I just don't like it as much as the other (nothing in this world will ever make me stop thinking that "Happy Family", "Lady of the Dancing Water" and parts of "Lizard" don't go anywhere at all). I don't have problems with Gordon Haskell's voice, which sounds psychotic and quite adecuate to the record (and his bass playing is very good), but, apart for the aftermentioned compositions, I don't like Andy McCulloch's drum playing at all. I heard him on a couple of Greenslade albums, and I like him there, but here he sounds like he's imitating Michael Giles a bit too much, for my tastes. I also don't like the way the drums sound (expecially the snare). Apart from that, I always thought "Cirkus" was a terriffic opener, with the mellotron, the voice and the guitar sounding positively scary, that "Indoor Games" was very engaging and that "The Battle of Glass Tears" was one of the best things early Crims ever did.... there's so much going on in that section, and I really, really like what Mel Collins is doing.

A couple of days ago, I bought cheaply an used copy of the 2009 CD remixed by Steven Wilson and... wow, just wow! The album sounds twice as lively as before! Gordon's voice has new life and you can actually spot differences between the two mixes. As for the bonus tracks, the run-through of "Cirkus" is very interesting.
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