King Crimson: In the Wake of Poseidon

Music •••½ DVD-Audio Mix ••••½ Extras ••••

The latest reissues in King Crimson’s 40th Anniversary Series capture the band at difficult junctures in Phase 1 of its quixotic history. Both 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon (the band’s second album) and 1971’s Islands (its fourth) were recorded with unsettled lineups. Yet each time, guitarist Robert Fripp — the unflinching, disciplined eye at the center of the storm — salvaged something worth hearing. And now, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson has made the albums worth hearing again and again with his lush, spacious, and tactile 6-channel mixes in these CD+DVD-Audio packages.

In terms of the composition, arrangement, and positioning of its songs, Poseidon was (let’s be blunt) a virtual carbon copy of the previous year’s KC debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. Yet while it may have been more of the same, the template from which it drew was extraordinary, and today Poseidon sounds awesome in surround. That is, with one glaring, unfortunate exception: The multitrack tapes for “The Devil’s Triangle,” a three-part composition running 11:25, are lost, necessitating its upmixing to 6.0 (by Simon Heyworth) from the original stereo master. On the bright side, the rare B-side “Groon,” an unhinged instrumental, appears in a surround mix that transforms your listening room into a boxing ring.

Wilson makes great use of Crimson’s bold dynamic shifts. The split-second transition from “Peace — A Beginning,” the lulling opener sung a cappella by Greg Lake, into the explosive blast of “Pictures of a City” was enough to cause a guest unfamiliar with the band’s oeuvre to topple out of his chair. Fripp’s distorted guitar roars from the left and right front channels with feral power during the “City” verses; brass and reeds wail like sirens from all four corners at other times. A lovely finger-picked guitar in the left front begins “Cadence and Cascade,” as Gordon Haskell’s vocal emerges from the center and right front. The song spreads out from there, seeming to hover in the air, until the title track immerses you in a sea of Mellotron. Wilson saves his best tricks for the supermarket spoof “Cat Food,” where Keith Tippett’s splashy piano dances around the sound perimeter and backing vocals leap from right rear to left front.

All in all, this is a dizzying but cleanly articulated Poseidon, ripe for rediscovery. Extras include multiple versions of “Groon” and “Cadence and Cascade” plus an intriguing studio rehearsal of “The Devil’s Triangle.” And as with all reissues in the series, you get two stereo mixes: the original (on DVD-A) and  a new one by Wilson (on both DVD-A and CD). Listeners without DVD-A capability can hear the surround version in DTS 5.1.