King Crimson: Lizard
   An Analysis by Andrew Keeling

Part I

'Lizard' is a concept album with a difference from those of the period, where the idea of social chaos is wrapped-up in suitably fitting metaphors such as the circus, the family, The Beatles and the Lizard. I do not plan to analyse the complete work, but will concentrate on 'Cirkus' and 'Big Top', which are both related as they frame and balance the musical structure. This brief analysis (to be expanded at a later date) will be divided into parts.


'Cirkus' includes the letter C and K which, perhaps, stands for Crimson King in a similar way to the first album, which included the group's name in its title. 'Cirkus' has four verses which are prefaced by instrumental introductions. There is an absence of refrains, or chorus-like material. Instead, each of the verses, in turn, ascend to climaxes which create tension. This is also reflected in the structure of the entire piece, which begins softly (a harp-like, distant electric piano), gradually building in intensity throughout until ending with loud mellotrons, cornet and rolled cymbals.

The whole piece falls into fifteen distinct sections which I will deal with separately:

  1. Intro. - harp-like piano introduces the minor third 'rocking' motive (pitch-classes 0,3 [E-G]). Tonality = E minor/mode;
  2. Verse 1 - voice and electric piano sound the second important musical motive of oscillating tones, mainly E and its lower neighbour-note D (0,10) which gradually rise to the 'dawn' (V-B major) by the close of the verse. The verse also includes Phrygian cadence-like chordal progressions, which made an appearance on 'Epitaph' on ITCOTCK (1969);
  3. Bar 25 introduces the 'rocking' mellotron motive, Bb - G (6,3), played mechanically in crotchets, which rises to E natural in bar 28. The much later song-piece, 'ProzaKc Blues', also explores the same pitches, although differently ordered. However, I believe that 'Dinosaur', included on 'Thrak' (1995), also references the minor third 'rocking' motive of 'Cirkus' as a kind of musical archaeolgy. Returning to 'Cirkus', the bass guitar anchors the texture with a G natural pedal pitch. The music returns to E in bar 31. In this way, the original E - G motive (3,0) of Verse 1, has now been reflected in the harmony (G minor - E minor mode). 'The World's My Oyster Soup...' ('The ConstruKction of Light', 2000), also utilises the pitches G and E as part of its riff;
  4. Verse 2 - 'open' texture. Acoustic guitar word-paints the lyrics (i.e. 'pushed me down a slide...' is pointed-up by a guitar glissando;
  5. The minor thirds of the instrumental, following Verse 2, is accentuated by bass guitar Bb - G - E - G (6,3,0,3) which not only uses the material from the mellotron's minor thirds, but also 'magnifies' it;
  6. Acoustic guitar solo - a study in arpeggiated thirds (played as fast semiquaver triplets) which takes material from the mellotron's minor thirds. This another example of Robert Fripp's technique of closely unifying musical materials;
  7. Verse 3 intensifies Verse 2 in textural terms.
  8. Alto saxophone solo heightens the words, 'lest the wheel stop turning', by circling over Phrygian cadence-like chords (C major - B minor). These Phrygian progressions also reflect the falling semitones in the voice part of the verses (i.e. at 'gave me each a horse..' of verse 1). Once again, the Phrygian chord movement is very much a King Crimson musical fingerprint. The mellotron pitches are also sustained over the bars by one beat, which is connected to the phrase structure which, in turn, has been stretched from four to six bars. This has the effect of tripping-up listener expectations;
  9. Drums are omitted from bar 155ff. This is the still centre of the piece, and perhaps the fulcrum on which the structure balances. Idea of social chaos, reflected in the metaphor of the circus, is now mirrored by the musical structure. On either side of this quiet section are 114 bars, followed by 111 bars excluding the senza misura climax at the very end. The piece may then be regarded as being bipartite; like a huge musical see-saw or swing. This central section also balances with the opening verse, both being without drums. It is also interesting motivically: the left-hand of the mellotron plays B - C - A (minor 3rds) underpinning a B major chord;
  10. Verse 4 - absence of drums ('Elephants forgot...' [drums=elephants?]); rapid descending arpeggios in the guitar part; drums re-enter on up-beat to 'I ran for the door...' giving the music great upward-thrust;
  11. Instrumental - even greater intensity than before with minor 3rds reinforced in the piano part;
  12. Quiet section; rhythmic symmetry in the second mellotron (three crotchets/two crotchet rests/three crotchets) plus motivic symmetry: mellotron II plays ascending C# - E nat. - C# crotchets; mellotron I plays descending C# - A nat. - C# mimims;
  13. 'Rocking' minor 3rds are further intensified with the introduction of the cornet;
  14. Penultimate section introduces rising A - B - C - D - D# which outlines a tritone (A - D#); bass guitar underpins this with a chain of tritones (A-D#, B-F, F#-C, G-C#). The tritones have been previously heard as part of the minor 3rd motive (Bb - E nat. of Section 3);
  15. Coda - senza misura: the climax of the piece with huge mellotron-dominated chord cluster (F/Gb/Ab/B/C/Db/Eb) supported by cymbal rolls; F natural, as a root pitch in the mellotron, seems to give the impression of progressive tonality (i.e. a work which ends in a higher or a lower key as compared to the key of the opening):

Intro: E minor/mode (chord i)...Coda: f note-cluster (chord bii)

There is also a connection between this allusion to progressive tonality with the tone/semi-tone neighbour-note oscillations included in the melodic material of the verses.

The piece could be regarded as a musical metaphor: the idea of the circus, included in Peter Sinfield's words, is further conveyed by the bi-partite/symmetrical structural see-saw, which balances on the fulcrum of the still centre. More than that many of the musical motives seem to have symmetry as their basis, as well as rising and falling motion, which closely unifies the music with the words even further.

Part II

Big Top

'Big Top', the final piece of 'Lizard' and originally the working title of the album (letter from Robert Fripp to Andrew Keeling, Winter 1970), balances with 'Cirkus' by being placed as coda to the entire work, as well as to the title-piece, 'Lizard'. A listener is brought to ground with a conscious reminder that the idea of the circus has run like thread-like through the work in a similar fashion to The Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper...'. However, Peter Sinfield has said (e-mail to Andrew Keeling, 23-vi-00) that a visit to a 'Bertram Mills' circus may have served as a catalyst for the work: 'I was introduced to various animal trainers, acrobats, the stern black-top-hatted ring master and...Coco The Clown...I came by affection/infection honorary circus folk at a very imperishable age (between 4 and 8). Add that to my later fascination with fun fairs.' The front cover-painting, as well as the music, gives very careful attention to detail in term of this circus/fun fair atmosphere.

'Big Top' is an instrumental in 6/8. It is 33 bars long, and includes a motley collection of instruments, used to evoke a typically circus-like instrumental accompaniment, perhaps as accompaniment for the trapeze, where the spectators' attention is not fully on the music but, instead, on the circus act itself. We hear, in the foreground, the mellotron strings, the bass guitar playing fifths and octaves, the drums battering snare, cymbals and open hi-hat on the strong beats, piano, fast oboe chromatic arabesques, marimba and hidden sounds whirling around in the background. The piece is, essentially, a loop.

'Big Top' resolves the tension of the gravitas of 'Lizard', and employs two chords: G7 and C. The piece is in C major, and in this way serves as a long-term harmonic resolution. It begins with a short anacrusis-like dominant prolongation before we hear two melodic phrases, a) and b), which are heard in the strings. These include the interval of the 3rd central to 'Cirkus'. However in the case of 'Big Top' the 3rd has been filled-in and transposed: a) C - (B) - A - (B); and transformed into the major as well as by retrograde form: b) (C) - B - (A) - G - (B). The latter version also reveals two interlocking 3rds: C - b - A - g.

The piece is interesting in other ways. Being loop-like the material is repeated round and round, like a giant wheel or roundabout, and begins in the far right of the audio-space. It gradually becomes central before, at the very end, moving upwards and over into the far left with an accelerando. It's as though what began as a rational experience, symbolised by 'right', has now ingrained itself into the unconscious, symbolised by 'left'. Perhaps it anticipates its gentler successor, 'Islands', which, through its use of femine symbolism such as water, ocean, the feminine per se, is preparing to connect us with an experience of the deep unconscious? Interestingly 'Formentera Lady', the first song-piece of 'Islands', is also in the same key/mode as 'Cirkus', E, but in the case of 'FL' music of a more passive type evolves. It is as though the conflicts of 'Lizard' are subsequently laid to rest in favour of the more Eros-laden music of 'Islands', and what was begun as far back as 'In the Court of the Crimson King' is, by now, treated in a very different way through 'feeling'.

(All analyses of the music of King Crimson/Robert Fripp is copyrighted material: Andrew Keeling/Discipline Global Mobile, 2000.)

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