The best album of each King Crimson phase has been the first one -- In the Court of the Crimson King, Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Discipline -- so it's no surprise that THRAK is an excellent disc introducing the 1995 incarnation of King Crimson, which had now been turned into a double trio.
Yet Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp have overcome their pop foray and weighty past. Gone is the tinny pop blandness and aimless noodling of the last two 80s albums and the lofty lyrics and Mellotron-heavy progressive sound of the early 70s, and in their place is a lean, hungry modern progressive rock band.
To sum this up shortly, the attitude and hard rock of Red is mixed with the best parts of Discipline, but this is one of the few times in the band's history that the lyrics play a bigger part in the music. So no matter which era of the band you like, there is something here for you. It's one of their most straightforward discs.
The opening of "VROOOM" and "Coda: Marine 475" recall "Red" in structure, both winding guitar epics with a heavy sound that comes courtesy of six band members. "Dinosaur" is reminiscent of the band's 80s work but with the weirdness of the Talking Heads thrown in. The lyrics are the thoughts of a dead dinosaur, but some interpret it as a self-reference to the classic rock bands who are considered dinosaurs in the 90s, and that holds weight too. Sample lyric: "Ignorance has always been / Something I revel in / Followed by naievete and pride / I'm a dinosaur."
A bit of revelation comes on "Walking On Air" and "One Time," two very pretty ballads that would have been unthinkable for this band in 1971. Being a pop disciple as well as a studio player for many people, Belew is able to write two moving, beautiful songs that retain the Crimson originality but stretch out into another dimension this band hadn't touched on -- soul. My wife even likes "Walking on Air," and she hates this band.
Of course, any Crimson album will have its soundscapes and long instrumental passages, and this one delivers. But while typically the jams are hypnotic (the entire Red album, for example), here they are hit or miss. "B'Boom" features two drummers soloing at once in a way that must be heard to be believed, but it's ruined by the title track, which is just noise after a while.
"People" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" are two straight-ahead rock numbers (for this band, anyway - never expect anything normal from them). The former has better lyrics and a great slap bass.
A few detours litter the process, such as the throwaway "Radio" tracks and the two "Inner Garden" pieces, which are nothing but a harsh guitar arpeggio and Belew singing about lost love. The closer "VROOOM VROOOM" is decent, but its coda is annoying, and both are just rehashes of the opening track.
Still, this album proves that Crimson was still branching out and making vital music after 25 years in the business, far beyond their contemporaries that had gone pop, broken up or become oldies acts. It may not be a perfect album, but this is not a band that wants to be popular or famous -- it's a band that does music their way on their terms, and on that level THRAK succeeds.
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