King Crimson

DGM, 2018


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


As the only album released in the ‘90s by King Crimson, THRAK tends to get overlooked in a discussion of the best Crimson releases. Even Robert Fripp dismissed it in the liner notes to a later live disc, saying it was less than the sum of its parts, and none of the music from it is being played on the current Crimson tours. Which is a shame, because after hearing what the seven man live lineup has done to the older songs, I’d like to hear them take on THRAK.

For a live take on the album, B’BOOM had been the unofficial live document for many years until VROOOM VROOOM came out in 2018, amid a flurry of live releases from all phases of the band. As expected, it hits the majority of THRAK, with select tracks culled from the three ‘80s albums and a few from the older releases to satisfy fans.

To be sure, this incarnation of the band didn’t quite improvise as much (a fact for which I am thankful), so there’s little variety from the studio versions and only a couple of brief noodling sessions. But the Crimson dynamics are in full force, from the roar of “Red” and the opening title cut to a pulse-racing “The Talking Drum” and the offbeat “THRAK.” Of special note is “B’Boom,” which is even better live as a dual drum showcase. The first disc falters in the indulgent percussion solo “Prism” and the forgettable “Neurotica,” but “21st Century Schizoid Man” is always welcome and a good way to close the disc. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first disc is from an August 1996 show in Mexico City; the second is from a November 1995 show in New York, and there is almost no overlap between the two. “Thela Hun Ginjeet” is noisier and more neurotic live, “Frame By Frame” is given a nervy energy not found on Discipline, and “People” remains one of the best songs from this era of the band, shifting gears from a standard Adrian Belew pop rocker to a slower, moodier but no less arresting number. “One Time” is a beautiful song that loses none of its ethereal beauty when played live as well.

The second disc is better in how it emphasizes the aforementioned dynamics and why pigeonholing this band has always been a fool’s errand. Going from the interlocking prog dynamics of “Frame By Frame” to the lovely “One Time” to the psychedelic pop-rock “People” to the nerdy new wave “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream” is a gearshift that few bands can pull off, but these guys can. And if you want weird, “Indiscipline” and “Elephant Talk” deliver, though they are certainly a far cry from “Red” and “Schizoid Man,” and not for the better.

The only song missing is “Sleepless,” a song the band slayed live (as head on B’BOOM), and in its place are another take on the first half of “B’Boom” and another version of “THRAK,” no doubt intended to show how the piece changed from tour to tour (spoiler: the one on Disc 1 is far better). Belew also gets to indulge his Beatles love with “Free As A Bird,” which came out on the Beatles Anthology around the same time, and then the disc closes with a flat-out love song (?), “Walking On Air,” a showcase for Belew’s vocal range and a truly beautiful tune. This was a side of Crimson that hadn’t shown up before and would never show up again, but it’s yet another reminder of the diversity and power of the ‘90s double trio.

So VROOOM VROOOM isn’t perfect, of course, but it does its job showcasing an era of the band that deserves more love. It’s a solid effort, worth checking out if you’re a fan of this era or wanting to explore it.

Rating: B

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