Island/Atlantic/Vertigo Records, 1970
Produced by Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield

The first of many massive personnel changes in the Crimson camp occurred when Greg Lake met Keith Emerson at a King Crimson/The Nice double bill at the Fillmore in San Francisco in December, 1969. After that show and Emerson and Lake decided to hook up and with Carl Palmer and they recorded their first album the following summer. Wikipedia is not helpful in explaining why Ian MacDonald and Michael Giles left the band after that American tour as well, but even with all of these changes, Poseidon remains an even more cohesive album (IMVHO) than Court. Part of the reason is that Pete Sinfield is still handling lyrics, Lake sings on all but one of the album’s vocal tracks, and McDonald cowrote two tracks, the single Cat Food and side 2’s epic instrumental The Devil’s Triangle.

The album is bookended with three parts of a song called Peace – A Beginning opens side 1; A Theme and An End open and close side 2. The second tracks on each side are the two straight up rockers, Pictures of a City and the single Cat Food, and the album is rounded out with a couple of more progressive propositions.

Pictures of a City evolved out of A Man, A City, performed on the Crimson King tour and found in multiple versions on the Epitaph collection of those 1969 concerts. Musically it’s roped in from the clatter of those early performances into something a bit tighter. In the earlier versions, there’s room for a sax solo, and some stretched out interplay between the musicians. On the studio album, it’s a distinctly less free (as in jazz, not beer) proposition.

Side 1 continues with the thinly arranged ballad Cadence and Cascade, sung on the album by Gordon Haskell, but for which there’s a Greg Lake vocal version included as a bonus track on later releases. The sparse arrangement keeps the instruments from tripping over/crashing into one another, but leaves room for the individuality of the guitar and a sweet flute solo from Mel Collins. On the other hand, Haskell’s voice really doesn’t do the song justice – he doesn’t hit the high notes or master the low notes the way Lake did.

king-crimson-wake-jpThe title track closes out side 1. I think the band was going for something like Epitaph – musically, the song has the flow and drama of the earlier song with those smooth mellotron lines connecting the piece together. Lyrically however, it’s one of those songs that (and I paraphrase mellotron master Mike Dickson – I just can’t find the source – it’s in the notes for one of the songs on mellotronworks II) make prog rock fans say, ‘I don’t listen for the lyrics’. Sinfield seems to be after the grandeur of the drama between heroes and rulers and peasants in war, but each stanza has multiple subjects, whereas in Epitaph, we had only a tortured ‘I’ to give the song its emotional weight. The song is crushed under the weight of Bishop’s kings, Harvest hags, Heroes, Magi, and Harlequins.

After the resonant acoustic solo of Peace – A Theme, Cat Food roars in. More jazz than progressive, this was the song that grabbed me most when I first listened to this album in the 90s. My emotional response was to the weird, almost new wave instrumentation. The piano lines are reminiscent of the work Mike Garson was doing with David Bowie at the time with that right-hand madness. I’m not surprised the label used it for the single – it’s the tightest of the songs and the vocals are clear and mostly untreated. On the other hand, it’s the most unrepresentative song of the early work. (Listening now, I’m surprised it didn’t return to active service in the Adrian Belew years – it has some of his offbeat humour, both musically and lyrically.)

The Devil’s Triangle is a proper three-part instrumental epic which fades into some long mellotron chords, adds martial drums and some other stuff. The third part of the song (‘The Garden of Worm’) is very neatly separated from the previous section by a wind effect that fades to silence. The same martial drums are accompanied by whistles maybe and then a harpsichord shows up. Describing a song like this is very much in the ‘dancing about architecture’ category. Some bits are jazz, and some bits are just noise, and it’s mostly unlike anything else except when the occasional chord points out that this band evolved from Giles Giles and Fripp and another segment repeats a piece of the previous LP’s title track. Just for a moment, those Ah-ah-ahs show up, before Peace – An End. I hear the thematic reason for having the three parts of Peace show up evenly placed on the album, but the a cappella intro is almost as jarring to the ear as the opening chord of Pictures of a City after Peace – A Beginning. It might be done on purpose, but it doesn’t make for consistent listening, not that I’m asking for consistent listening from King Crimson. Honest!)

Overall, I give it a solid four stars. Next up? Lizard.