King Crimson Album Art: In the Wake of Poseidon

King Crimson In the Wake of Poseidon

The most com­mon cri­tique levied against King Crimson’s In the Wake of Posei­don is that it is a mere retread of ground already bro­ken by their leg­endary debut album In the Court of the Crim­son King. This “more of the same” charge applies to the entire pack­age; the com­po­si­tion, instru­men­ta­tion, musi­cal styles, and nomen­cla­ture all fit the gen­eral tem­plate of its pre­de­ces­sor, and the album art con­tin­ued the motif of fan­tas­ti­cal portraiture.

I hadn’t been look­ing for­ward to writ­ing this chap­ter in my visual his­tory of King Crim­son. Musi­cally speak­ing, In the Wake of Posei­don is not my least favorite King Crim­son album (for the record: Lizard, fol­lowed hotly by Earth­bound), but it is the one about which I have the most dif­fi­culty try­ing to find some­thing inter­est­ing to say. This may sound like heresy, but I don’t love In the Court of the Crim­son King either, but I value and appre­ci­ate it from a his­toric point of view. So it’s very dif­fi­cult for me to work up enthu­si­asm to lis­ten to or write about an album that sounds to me like a do-over. Coin­ci­den­tally or not, the 2010 40th Anniver­sary Edi­tion reis­sue is one of the few in the ongo­ing series not to fea­ture a liner note essay by Robert Fripp, so per­haps he didn’t know what to say either.

Con­tinue read­ing

Orifices in Place of Faces: The Flaming Lips: Christmas on Mars

Flaming Lips Christmas on Mars poster


The Flam­ing Lips are an odd band to have achieved main­stream suc­cess. After years of non­com­mer­cial psy­che­delic art-rock exper­i­men­ta­tion like the four-disc Zaireeka (1997), they broke through to mass appeal with The Soft Bul­letin (1999) and Yoshimi Bat­tles the Pink Robots (2002). The lat­ter fea­tures the finest exis­ten­tial love song to ever become the offi­cial rock song of Okla­homa:

Do you real­ize that every­one you know some­day will die
And instead of say­ing all of your good­byes, let them know
You real­ize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You real­ize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illu­sion caused by the world spin­ning round
     – Do You Real­ize??

Wayne Coyne in Christmas on MarsThe Alien Super-Being gets great reception

The Lips also have more ambi­tion than most of their con­tem­po­raries when it comes to the audio­vi­sual aspects of a rock group’s respon­si­bil­i­ties. They were inspired by how some of their fore­bears did more than con­tract third par­ties to film them live in con­cert or to direct hagio­graphic doc­u­men­taries. The Bea­t­les (A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Yel­low Sub­ma­rine), The Who (Tommy, Quadrophe­nia), and Pink Floyd (The Wall) all made fea­ture films that deserve to be con­sid­ered among their canon­i­cal audio-only discog­ra­phy. As Lips front­man Wayne Coyne told Pitch­fork:

we’d always talked about how the Flam­ing Lips should have a movie, like the Ramones have a movie, or the Bea­t­les. Not in a pre­ten­tious way, just like, “Yeah! We should have a movie!” We thought, “Well, why not? We’ll just sort of make one and see what happens.“

They began talk­ing up Christ­mas of Mars years ago, and the longer the delay, the greater the leg­end. It was rumored to be either an expen­sive folly on the scale of Axl Rose’s album Chi­nese Democ­racy (in pro­duc­tion for 14 years for a bud­get of $13 mil­lion) or an elab­o­rate meta joke. But in fact, the Lips did in all seri­ous­ness work on the project off and on for about seven years. They pro­duced the whole thing in their stomp­ing grounds of Okla­homa City, mostly around Coyne’s own home. For bet­ter or for worse, it’s entirely their vision, writ­ten and co-directed by Coyne, with Bradley Beesley (who directed sev­eral of the band’s music videos) and George Salisbury.

Surely Coyne & co. must have been famil­iar with the infa­mous b-movie Santa Claus Con­quers the Mar­tians (1964) (in the pub­lic domain and a free down­load). The spec­tac­u­larly awful movie was hilar­i­ously mas­sa­cred on both Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000 in 1991 and by Cin­e­matic Titanic in 2008. Like this igno­ble pre­de­ces­sor, Christ­mas on Mars is sad­dled with long sequences of bad dia­logue deliv­ered poorly by ama­teur actors. Even cameos by the Lips’ pals Fred Armisen and Adam Gold­berg are really awkward.

Partly inspired by the psy­che­delia of Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (read The Dork Report review), Christ­mas on Mars actu­ally owes more to the blue-collar atmos­phere of Rid­ley Scott’s Alien. The humans in Christ­mas on Mars are ordi­nary peo­ple in an extra­or­di­nary locale, strug­gling to sur­vive. One year prior, human­ity has estab­lished a dilap­i­dated space sta­tion on Mars. Worse, the crew mem­bers are slowly going mad and suf­fer­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions. As they con­clude, man is not meant to live in space. The sole pur­pose of the colony, other than con­stantly repair­ing its decay­ing infra­struc­ture, seems to be to sup­port a test-tube baby due on mid­night, Christ­mas Eve. The only woman on the sta­tion lives in a bub­ble, feed­ing the baby through a tube grafted into her belly.

Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd in Christmas on MarsThe Lips dis­cretely invite you to enhance your view­ing expe­ri­ence in what­ever man­ner you choose

Major Syr­tis (Lips mem­ber Steven Drozd) has taken it upon him­self to orga­nize a Christ­mas Pageant to raise morale. He is in fact par­tially respon­si­ble for their cur­rent predica­ment, as he appar­ently sac­ri­ficed stor­age space to cart some Christ­mas accou­trements to Mars, a deci­sion that has near-fatal con­se­quences for the colony. The colony’s only source for hap­pi­ness is very nearly ruined when his cho­sen Santa com­mits sui­cide. The Alien Super-Being (Coyne) lands nearby in a spher­i­cal space­craft, which con­ve­niently shrinks to a size suit­able to be swal­lowed until he needs it again. Even though Coyne wrote the script, and is quite a talker if the DVD’s bonus inter­views are to be judged, the role he assigned him­self has no dia­logue. He fills Santa’s shoes and repairs both Syrtis’s busted snow machine and the colony itself. He saves Christ­mas and allows the baby to be born.

Far more inter­est­ing are the beau­ti­ful opti­cal spe­cial effects (at least, I assume they’re opti­cal — if they actu­ally are dig­i­tal, they’re uncom­monly beau­ti­ful). Some of the abstract psy­che­delia was so freaky I feared it might burn out my aging tele­vi­sion. Most curi­ous is the strange pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with vagi­nal imagery. The Alien Super-Being passes in and out of his space­ship through a vagi­nal por­tal. Syr­tis hal­lu­ci­nates a vis­it­ing space­man with a pul­sat­ing vagina for a face, and later dreams of an entire march­ing band with sim­i­lar ori­fices in place of faces (say that ten times quickly).

A pre-movie sequence advises view­ers to have sex, smoke pot, or just do what­ever they like while watch­ing the movie. This bor­ing Dork Reporter dared to dis­obey these instruc­tions and sim­ply watched it alone at home, stone cold sober. Not to put too fine a point on it, I sus­pect Christ­mas on Mars is one of those things best expe­ri­enced in an altered state.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD and sound­track CD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.