Now THAT’s how you start an album. It takes about 25 seconds before it kicks in, but when it gets going, the opening track, “21st Century Schizoid Man” explodes through the speakers, promising 44 minutes of sonic anarchy and experimentation. It’s thrilling and unexpected and grabs your attention immediately.
On my first listen though, that wake-up call faded fast as the album progressed, seemingly far more conventionally. It was only after a couple of listens that the album really gives up the gravy.
Perhaps it was the second track, the more sublime “I Talk to the Wind” that threw me off. It’s a far more relaxed affair after the gargantuan opening track, with a folksy ballad sound that doesn’t really feel quite in place, but it’s only on closer inspection that you realise that even that has some intricate soundscaping behind it. It’s as if Syd Barrett had a go at producing a Simon and Garfunkel album.
Still, it all gets proper interesting again with “Epitaph”, which somehow manages to be epic, ethereal and gentle at the same time, while “Moonchild” pushes the boundaries towards an ambient vibe, an idea which feels as anachronistic as a sudden appearance of Amen loops and Autotune.
The final track, “The Court of the Crimson King”, brings it all back home, sharing harmonies with the opening track and mixing it with gospel harmonies, flute and smugly overenthusiastic drumming. It’s thematically in keeping with the rest of the album but ends the album gently.
I’ve never been too trusting of prog rock, an irony given my Floyd obsession, and looking at the albums coming up soon on this list, that might be a hazard to deal with. Still, this first real delve into the prog quagmire (progmire?) isn’t an unpleasant experience, and looking at that haunting, stunning cover, I find myself dreaming of staring at that album artwork late at night in an apartment full of wicker, incense, cheap wine, fag ash and bean bags, listening through headphones and letting the world’s stresses go fuck themselves.