KING CRIMSON have always been an extraordinary band, constantly changing styles and band members. In 1970 they released LIZARD and blew me away.
It is a bizzare, strange, trippy album that I’m sure would be disturbing to someone under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
But it is also a brilliantly pieced and arranged album full of great songs that you will have never heard the likes of before in your life.
It is not for all as I’m sure it is an album that is an acquired taste but once you have tasted it, you will never listen to music n the same way again.
When choosing an album of King Crimson’s as one of my favourite’s, it was a toss up between this album and “LARKS TONGUE IN ASPIC”.
Both brilliant albums as far as I’m concerned but LIZARD just won the race in weirdness.
Lizard is the third album by the British band King Crimson, released in 1970.
It was the second recorded by a transitional line-up of the group that never had the opportunity to perform live, following In the Wake of Poseidon.
This would be the first (and only) album to feature bassist/vocalist Gordon Haskell and drummer Andy McCulloch as official members of the band.
Haskell was previously a classmate of Fripp’s at Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Wimborne near Bournemouth, the pair having subsequently played together in local band the League of Gentlemen.
After Haskell contributed vocals to the track “Cadence and Cascade” on In the Wake of Poseidon, Fripp asked him to become an official member of King Crimson for the recording of Lizard.
Another supporting musician on In the Wake of Poseidon, saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins was also asked to become a full-time member of this line-up, as was drummer Andy McCulloch.
The group was then augmented with supporting players, including another In the Wake of Poseidon alumnus – the noted jazz pianist Keith Tippett – together with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, and brass/woodwind players Robin Miller, Mark Charig, and Nick Evans.
Lizard is arguably King Crimson’s most jazz-inflected album, developing further in the direction suggested by the track “Cat Food” on In the Wake of Poseidon (also released as a single). King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield’s contributions to Lizard include some of his most imaginative and evocative work.
The powerful opening track, “Cirkus”, is perhaps the best-known track on the album, and begins with a hushed verse from Haskell before launching into a menacing theme played by Fripp on the mellotron.
The song’s verses then alternate with this signature theme, and the track boasts some of Fripp’s most dextrous acoustic guitar playing, not to mention a soaring saxophone solo by Collins. With a memorable lyric by Sinfield rich in circus imagery, the track builds up into a cacophonous climax.
The next two tracks, “Indoor Games” and “Happy Family”, are offbeat and full of mischievous humour – the former with lyrics evoking various forms of hedonism and borrowing heavily from the guitar breakdown of Led Zeppelin’s Dazed And Confused, and the latter with lyrics about the dissolution of the Beatles.
The Beatles are represented in “Happy Family”‘s lyrics as ‘Judas’ (Paul McCartney), ‘Rufus’ (Ringo Starr), ‘Silas’ (George Harrison), and ‘Jonah’ (John Lennon).
Haskell’s vocals are distorted on both “Indoor Games” and “Happy Family”, and the two tracks are separated by the sound of Haskell laughing uncontrollably, as he tries unsuccessfully to sing the words ‘hey ho’.
His laughter, he later explained, was provoked by the fact that he thought these words ridiculous – which seems to be representative of his attitude towards Sinfield’s lyrics in general.
“Lady of the Dancing Water” is a more tranquil piece, whose lyrics and instrumentation have a medieval feel, in the tradition of “Moonchild” on In the Court of the Crimson King and “Cadence and Cascade” on In the Wake of Poseidon. The track is most notable for Mel Collins’ beautiful flute playing.
The album concludes with the bombastic title track, “Lizard”, the longest composed (as distinct from improvised) piece ever recorded by King Crimson.
This piece is divided into several sections and even subsections, with a narrative running through its entirety, about a prince who takes part in an epic battle.
The track’s grandiloquence verges on (self-) parody.
Lizard’s opening section, “Prince Rupert Awakes”, features Jon Anderson in his only ever contribution to a King Crimson recording. This section of the track alternates between sincere and ethereal verses, and an amusingly folksy chorus accompanied by handclaps. The two styles are then combined in a rousing, worldless chorale, that segues into the track’s next section, “Bolero”.
“Bolero” provides a showcase for the talents of supporting musicians Tippett, Miller, Charig, and Evans. Playing over McCulloch’s bolero-like drum part, they are given the space to develop progressively more jazzy solos around a central theme.
When this section of “Lizard” was excerpted from the whole, for inclusion on the compilation Frame by Frame: The Essential King Crimson, Gordon Haskell’s bass guitar was replaced with a part recorded by the later King Crimson bassist Tony Levin.
As “Bolero” comes to a halt, it is followed by “Dawn Song”, the first of three subsections that comprise “The Battle of Glass Tears”.
“Dawn Song” opens with an ominous theme led by Robin Miller on cor anglais, which is then joined by a subdued vocal sung by Haskell.
The next subsection of “The Battle of Glass Tears”, “Last Skirmish”, is arguably the instrumental high point of the Lizard album. A lengthy section intended to simulate an epic and increasingly fraught battle, it culminates in ever more forceful repetitions of an ominous theme similar to the main theme of “Cirkus”, all reliably underpinned by McCulloch’s syncopated drumming.
If “Last Skirmish” represents a battle, then “Prince Rupert’s Lament” evokes the bloody aftermath, a funeral rhythm section providing the backdrop to Fripp’s plaintive guitar part.
“Prince Rupert’s Lament” having concluded “The Battle of Glass Tears”, “Big Top” then concludes both the “Lizard” suite and the Lizard album as a whole.
This section consists of distorted fairground music, echoing the album’s carnivalesque opening track “Cirkus”, faded in and out while it is simultaneously sped up.
By all accounts, Haskell and McCulloch had an unhappy experience recording Lizard, Haskell especially – a devotee of soul and Motown music – finding it difficult to connect with the material. Following the album’s completion, Haskell left King Crimson during rehearsals for a prospective tour.
During the next 19 years, he sought legal redress, because he believed that he had been cheated out of royalties owed to him for the album. Shortly after Haskell left the group, McCulloch did likewise.
The press release drafted by Sinfield to promote Lizard wryly quoted Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata”, which contains advice on how to chart a true course through confusion.
Collins, on the other hand, remained in King Crimson with Fripp for the recording of the group’s next album, Islands. Haskell was replaced with Boz Burrell on bass guitar and vocals, while McCulloch was replaced with his sometime housemate Ian Wallace.
The Islands line-up of the group would finally give the Lizard material a live airing, with “Cirkus” and “Lady of the Dancing Water” becoming part of King Crimson’s touring repertoire. More recently, “Cirkus” has become part of the touring repertoire of the 21st Century Schizoid Band, whose members include Mel Collins.
Lizard’s outside cover art is by Gini Barris, who was commissioned to produce it by Peter Sinfield.
The album’s outside cover consists of the words ‘King Crimson’ spelled out in ornate medieval lettering, the word ‘King’ on the back cover and the word ‘Crimson’ on the front cover, with each letter incorporating one or two discrete images.
These images in turn represent Sinfield’s lyrics from the album – the images in the word ‘Crimson’ representing the lyrics of the various sections and subsections of track 5, “Lizard”; while the images in the word ‘King’ represent the lyrics of tracks 1-4.
Whereas the images representing “Lizard” are medieval in content – depicting Prince Rupert, his environs (including a peacock), and the Battle of Glass Tears – the images representing the other four tracks juxtapose medieval and contemporary scenes.
The image around the letter ‘i’ in ‘Crimson’, for example, depicts the Beatles, corresponding with their pseudonymous appearance in the lyrics to “Happy Family”. Around the “n” on the front cover, there is a depiction of Rupert the Bear driving a yellow aeroplane.
The inside cover of Lizard consists of a marbled pattern, credited to Koraz Wallpapers.
All songs written by Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield.
* “Entry of the Chameleons”
2. “Indoor Games”
3. “Happy Family”
4. “Lady of the Dancing Water”
1. “Lizard” – 23:15
1. “Prince Rupert Awakes”
2. “Bolero: The Peacock’s Tale”
3. “The Battle of Glass Tears”
1. “Dawn Song”
2. “Last Skirmish”
3. “Prince Rupert’s Lament”
4. “Big Top”
* Robert Fripp – guitar, mellotron, electric keyboards and devices
* Gordon Haskell – bass guitar, vocals
* Mel Collins – saxophone, flute
* Andy McCulloch – drums
* Peter Sinfield – words, VCS3, pictures
* Keith Tippett – piano, electric piano
* Robin Miller – oboe, cor anglais
* Mark Charig – cornet
* Nick Evans – trombone
* Jon Anderson – vocals (track 5, part 1 – “Prince Rupert Awakes”)
(thanks to Wikipedia for the information supplied)