The second in this batch of reissues is the also the second album released by King Crimson during its long career in the business they call music. Personally, it is not a record that I am a particular fan of, as structurally and tonally it pitches its tent in the “In the Court of the Crimson King Part 2″ territory.
However, I was looking forward to the 5.1 surround remix of this because these new remixes do throw new light onto these recordings and Steve Wilson’s work often shines the torch into dark corners we’ve never been exposed to before.
In terms of packaging, it follows the usual slipcase and double disc tray package, but despite the booklet including the usual history of the time from Sid Smith there is no separate commentary from Robert Fripp about this album. Perhaps there was nothing left to be said about this period?
But onto the review of the music, for that is what you are all here for, no? Initial impressions are that this record is very much a showcase for the talents of Michael Giles. Yes, he was apparent on the “In The Court” 5.1 remix, but here his drums are mixed very much to the fore and are delivered with a piquant crispness deserving his unique lolloping style.
Album opener “Peace – A Beginning” arrives out of an audio soup – just like it does on the original recording – though in this instance the transformation from murk to clarity is more apparent.
Perennial stomper “Pictures of a City” is transformed – more so than say “21st Century Schizoid Man” – as it is now wider, crisper and carries more depth and detail than ever before. Of course, I am a little resistant to its charms due to its over-similarity to its older sibling “Schizoid Man” but the syncopated stop-starts are tighter than its predecessor and it seems that everything is faster in this mix. Of course, that’s my ears playing tricks on me.
“Cadence and Cascade” is a welcome break from the hubbub and in this version its pastoral nature is laid bare, with its instrumentation tastefully spread around the surround spectrum with the piano breaks popping up just as they did in the stereo mix. One criticism – and this is a criticism that I will also level at the title track – is that the vocals seems to be mixed way too low. Gordon Haskell’s voice is slight on this track anyway, but now the instruments grab your attention to the detriment of the near-whispered vocals.
The same can be said of “In the Wake of Poseidon” – Greg Lake is no whisperer, but his powerful vocals here are drowned out by the instruments, which is a shame as both tracks end up feeling a little unbalanced. In terms of the mix, the title track hasn’t sounded better and its cinematic nature and powerful mellotron-flavoured lead lines are there to propel the song forward. However, the lack of detail in this mix starts to make you wonder if the original recording was a little under-developed, but that’s the critic in me rearing its ugly head.
“Peace – A Theme” is presented as is. It doesn’t sound particularly as if it has been mixed for surround – it’s just a lone guitar playing the theme. However, I would have expected a little more atmosphere from the surround mix, but I didn’t feel it and to these ears, it might as well been the stereo mix.
“Catfood” is a delight. OK – it’s up there with “Ladies of the Road” in terms of annoyance factor, but here the surround sound mix comes into its own and the piano of Keith Tippett is allowed to dance around the field and Lake’s vocals are bounced around the rear speakers for the “Catfood” refrain on the chorus. The track is really opened up and benefits greatly from this spit-and-polish.
“The Devil’s Triangle” is not a track I would wish to sit through more than a handful of times in this lifetime, but I did it again for you, dear reader, and I hope you appreciate the suffering I endured to make it through to the end. In this instance, the original master tracks for the song were lost and so Simon Heyworth presents the stereo master enhanced by a 5.1 upmix – something I’ve never heard on one of these types of discs before. Surprisingly, the effect works, you do get a sense of sitting in the middle of the song, but in terms quality compared to what’s preceded, this track stands out like a bit of a sore thumb, the ugly guy at the orgy, if you catch my drift. Again, what else could they do? Leave it off the album? I suppose this is the best compromise but it doesn’t matter as I have no plans to revisit this track again for another 10 years anyway.
“Peace – An End” brings together the elements from the previous two “Peace” tracks. It sounds nice enough but in terms of a mix, the surround sound does nothing for it. I think it (and its siblings) works better in the stereo mix.
As a surround sound album, it works nicely enough except for the upmix of “The Devil’s Triangle” and illustrates the gulf between the recording quality between this and its co-release “Islands”. The instrumentation here – especially the drums – are pristine and so make this a much livelier and satisfying prospect, whereas “Islands” will always sound a little more strange to these ears due to issues at its original recording stage.
The package is made complete by the inclusion of more versions of the charmless “Groon” than you can wave a stick at (no I can’t stand that one either and, for me, is like the audio equivalent of pulling – there’s a reason why it was a B-side, you know). However the real item of interest for the fans is Greg Lake’s vocal take of “Cadence and Cascade”, which illustrates the subtleties of vocal performance and how interpretations can differ between two vocalists.
Overall, it is an interesting release but no matter how much fairy dust they sprinkle on it, this will always be the poor cousin to “In the Court” – it lacks the imagination of that album, the sheer bonkers doolally nutty charm of “Lizard” and the plaintive soul of “Islands”. In proper music reviews they say something like: “one for the fans”.