Various Artists - Reimagining The Court Of The Crimson King

Various Artists – Reimagining The Court Of The Crimson King

This release caught my attention primarily because of some of the musicians and singers featured on it, and Todd Rundgren being involved was certainly a huge personal bonus for me. It is, as the title implies, a ‘tribute’ project to what most people consider the wellspring of seventies progressive music, which is the incredibly influential debut album by King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’m not sure why it’s being issued in 2024, as it’s hardly a landmark anniversary year, with the original album now being 54 years old. Yet regardless, somebody came up with the bright notion to recreate all the songs from the fabled album, drafting in a well-established and recognisable cast of players to undertake the recording sessions. I’m a sucker for old-school prog, so I had no issue with spending a few listening sessions going through these songs that have been given both a fresher, modern production and occasionally an alternative interpretation.

Also, this was an ideal opportunity to go back to and re-examine the original King Crimson album, so as to get some reference points when analysing these brand new versions. It had been such a long time since I’d listened to the full album, and not just the two obvious stand-out tracks, those being the album’s opening and closing numbers. In the interests of fairness, I gave the Reimagining album several full listens from start to finish, before I eventually revisited the King Crimson source material. On this new release there are 3 versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man. The first being the album’s opening number, with all the 5 main compositions included on this and running in the same sequential order as the original. And then finally you have the last 2 versions of 21CSM tagged on to the end. Track 6 is a different edit/production/structuring of the song, done in a slightly alternative style, and track 7 is the instrumental version of track 1. I’ll list the songs as I review them, along with the personnel featured on it (guest players identified from the accompanying press release)

21st Century Schizoid Man (Todd Rundgren, Arthur Brown, Mel Collins, Chris Poland, Ian Paice)

Firstly, I’m not totally sure who is singing lead vocals on this particular version. I’m guessing it’s Arthur Brown on verses 1 & 3, and Todd Rundgren on the 2nd verse, because even with the distorted filter effect, there’s an audible difference between the styles. Also apart from the named guest contributors, it doesn’t mention who plays bass on this, or perhaps drums or bass on some of the other songs. Hopefully the sleeve notes on the proper physical release have more details on the full personnel for each song, and who plays/sings what on each one. Yet this opening song has all the main hall-marks and structure of the original, although sounding a lot more modern, even if it does at times try to capture some of that former retro vibe. It remains one of the greatest moments of the early British progressive scene, and a truly landmark song, and the version presented here does it admirable justice.

I Talk To The Wind (Jakko M Jakszyk, Django Jakszyk, Mel Collins)

This is likely my favourite track on the album, and one I could honestly say improves upon the original. Firstly the vocals (I’m guessing Jakko) are gorgeous sounding, and way more accessible than the buried lead vocal of Greg Lake in the original version. Not only are the vocals an absolute pleasure to listen to, but the musical performances and overall production on this number are also first rate. It’s a beautiful song to start with, and even in its original form it was one of those little gems that often get overlooked. But on this album it’s probably the stand-out track for me personally. It keeps the same structure and musical composition, and is incredibly faithful to the original, yet it really shines very brightly here because it sounds so much fresher and alive than its counterpart. This version has made me rediscover the song and totally fall in love with it. So can I say a huge congratulations to all that were involved in this particular recording session.

Epitaph (Alan Davey, Paul Rudolph, Nik Turner, Adam Hamilton, Danny Faulkner)

From this line-up I can see that there are three former members of Hawkwind included in this session, yet apart from that I’ve no idea who is singing on this track. Overall it’s a decent version, and once again the vocals cut through much better than the 1969 recording, and the drums sound more preferable too than the limited facilities they had to capture them to tape back in the late sixties. The vocal delivery is definitely more in the style of an older Greg Lake, than the softly spoken one from his early formative time with King Crimson. In that respect it has its positives, although I think I prefer the original version just for its vibe and those beautiful soaring mellotron keyboard sounds. Also, this new interpretation is around three and a half minutes shorter, which covers the main song structure yet cuts out the lengthy play-out during the closing section. Another cover version that still has its merits and is worthy of being included in this collection.

Moonchild (Joe Lynn Turner, Marty Friedman, Jah Wobble, Chester Thompson)

For those that are well-versed with the track Moonchild will know that it is essentially a two and a half minute short song with a further ten minutes of musical experimentation tagged on to its end. And to give this project its dues, this is exactly what they do with this version too. It begins as a song featuring the former Rainbow singer giving a very different performance to that of the original soft-spoken and incredibly English Greg Lake. Yet structurally it’s pretty much the same and fairly authentic…up until the instrumental section. Then it goes off at a tangent with a very different interpretation. Rather than try to emulate the weird improvising and musical noodlings of Fripp, Giles & McDonald, with no bass guitar featured at all, this trio follow a different path. Jah Wobble opts for a pulsing 4 note bass line, while Friedman improvises lots of jazz guitar passages, and Thompson adds erratic percussion. And just like the original version…most listeners will likely opt to press the skip button.

In The Court Of The Crimson King (James LaBrie, Carmine Appice, Steve Hillage)

I’m in two minds about this rendition of the title track. The guitar parts during the verses are very different to the original, and that really throws me off. Those classic defined acoustic guitar passages in the verses, counterpoised with the huge mellotron chords during the choruses is what makes this song so epic in its nature. And by changing the established guitar lines for a different melody line entirely just doesn’t work for me. Yet in total contradiction, I really do like the lead electric guitar playing that enhances the keyboards during the choruses, which isn’t in the original version either. The lead vocals are very good too. It’s incredibly hard to follow those iconic vocals laid down by the legendary Greg Lake, yet James LaBrie does a very reasonable job on this version. This track also runs about three and a half minutes shorter than the original, by omitting the quiet section where the flute sounds come in, and it also omits the very lengthy play-out.

21st Century Schizoid Man – Version Two (Arthur Brown, Brian Auger, Chris Poland, Ian Paice)

Firstly I think they have definitely gotten some musical credits wrong here. Yes it’s definitely Brian Auger on keyboards added to this particular version. Yet no mention of Mel Collins, which is strange as this version has a lot of saxophone in it, and the guitar is pushed much lower in the mix too, so I’m not even sure if Chris Poland features on this one. As for who is singing lead vocals, well I’m not even sure if Arthur Brown is on this one, even though he’s credited for it. The second verse sounds pretty much identical to track 1, so my guess is that it’s Todd Rundgren singing on both the first and second verses. As for verse three, well that almost sounds like Lemmy at times, so I’ve no idea at all who is singing on that part. It’s quite frustrating not having a detailed set of sleeve notes at hand, when the featured guests are the main selling point, and those credits that are actually listed in the record label promo are incomplete.

As for the version represented here, it has a very alternative spin on it compared to the first one. Straight away you can hear much bigger, spacier reverbs being used, so it definitely feels like it’s a different producer at the helm. The guitar is downplayed in the mix, saxophone is massively hiked up in prominence, and the main instruments for the mid section are organ, bass and drums. And that’s where it gets really interesting when the core trio turn into a homage to ELP. The bass tone really sounds like classic Brain Salad Surgery era Greg Lake , and the melody shifts gear incorporating Keith Emerson’s interpretation of America, from his former days in The Nice. It’s a really cool change of vibe, and justifies being described as a ‘reimagining’, keeping with the title of this full album project.

21st Century Schizoid Man – Instrumental Version

This contains all the same musicians from track 1 and is in fact absolutely identical to track 1 in every way, except the vocals have been removed. And when you consider that the total amount of vocals on this song are less than 45 seconds worth…then why bother? Seriously, what was the point of this version being added to the album? Once you realise that the song is seven minutes long, then for roughly six minutes and fifteen seconds it is absolutely identical to the opening track. The running time for this album’s main five tracks total less than 37 minutes. The ELP style version two is definitely justified in being included as a bonus track, but this third version just comes across as a totally pointless album filler purely to increase the full running time.

I quite like the cover for this album. It’s a lot more grotesque and disturbing yet incorporating the same huge pink face theme that adorned the original issue. The old one was kind of quirky and trippy in its design, whereas this one is distinctly more visually alarming. I’m not sure who the artist is, or even if there is a real artist, as it’s so hard to tell in this day & age of artificial intelligence assisted graphics. Yet it does grab your attention, and even has the gatefold reveal on the rear of it, of the expanding ear dissolving and drifting off into some weird universe. And of course, this album is also available as a vinyl record, in pink coloured vinyl, and with a gatefold sleeve too.

Is this an essential purchase for anyone that already owns a copy of the original King Crimson debut album? Most likely not, but for those that are curious, or fans of any of the artists featured on this collection, then it is totally worth a listen. As for I Talk To The Wind, I have played that over & over again, as it’s a fantastic version of a great tune. Also the second version of 21st Century Schizoid Man, I really like the ELP vibe that they have worked into the song. I also enjoyed revisiting the original King Crimson classic, to hear how different it all was back in 1969, with it being recorded purely on to an 8-track tape machine. God bless modern technology, I say.

01. 21st Century Schizoid Man (6:59)
02. I Talk To The Wind (6:16)
03. Epitaph (4:56)
04. Moonchild (12:30)
05. The Court Of The Crimson King (5:58)
~ Bonus tracks
06. 21st Century Schizoid Man (Alternate Version) (5:27)
07. 21st Century Schizoid Man (Instrumental) (6:59)

Total Time – 49:08

Jakko M Jakszyk – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals (track 2)
Jürgen Engler – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards (tracks 1,4,5,6 & 7)
Chris Poland – Lead Guitar (tracks 1,6 & 7)
Paul Rudolph – Electric & Acoustic Guitar (track 3)
Marty Friedman – Guitar (track 4)
Steve Hillage – Guitar (track 5)
Mel Collins – Saxophone (tracks 1 & 7), Flute (track 2)
Nik Turner – Flute (track 3)
Brian Auger – Keyboards (track 2)
Alan Davey – Organ, Mellotron, Bass (track 3)
Django Jakszyk – Bass (track 2)
Jah Wobble – Bass (track 4)
Ian Paice – Drums (tracks 1,6 & 7)
Andy Hamilton – Drums (track 3)
Chester Thompson – Drums (track 4)
Carmine Appice – Drums (track 5)
Todd Rundgren – Vocals (track 1)
Arthur Brown – Vocals (tracks 1 & 6)
Danny Faulkner – Vocals (track 3)
Joe Lynn Turner – Vocals (track 4)
James LaBrie – Vocals (track 5)

Record Label: Cleopatra Records
Catalogue#: CLO5255
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 19th April 2024

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