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King Crimson - THRAK CD (album) cover

THRAK

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.62 | 716 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "20th Century Schizoid Man" was the opening volley that began the long run of King Crimson. Heavy and smart, accessible and experimental by turns, the song was a blueprint for the sound of the band. Through many deviations and diversions, one could say that this single song has been developed and refined as the core of what "King Crimson" means. Having consistently (and only occasionally with tongue in cheek) referred to King Crimson as a personified force or ethic apart from himself, Fripp would undoubtedly admit that there is something specific and consistent about the work of the band, regardless of any given set of band members or varying instrumental and production approaches.

What is new about "Vroom"? Well, the players, of course; the six-piece ("double trio") consists of some of the finest improvisational instrumentalists in experimental rock. The "Discipline" lineup remains nominally intact, with the additions of Crafty Guitarist Trey Gunn and percussionist Pat Mastoletto (XTC, Mr. Mister, etc.), but the way the musicians work together has apparently changed. "It may well be the craziest Crimson yet," declared Fripp. It's definitely heavier and grittier than the Discipline-era trio of albums, which tended to filter even the noisier inclinations of Crimson through the pervasive sheen and clarity of the digital 80s. One might allege that KC had 'gone grunge'...but with the obvious retort that "Red" was even grungier, back in 1974. And "Vroom" frequently brings to mind that stripped-down and ragged passionate final expression of the 70s Crimson- updated and smoothed out a little, as if refracted via the shimmering minimalist pop lens of "Three of a Perfect Pair" and "Beat".

From the first, a contemporary metal guitar tone creeps into the palette- instantly apparent after the sampled strings of the first seconds of the album. When "Vroom" backs off, the glistening clean arpeggios reflect the classic Frippertronic patterns, but with a lonely rarefied quality; more immediate, more traditional in a way, with the fretless curling around them in a sentimental, sensual progression. Progression being another motif of the album- each song seeming to descend and expand in itself and simultaneously into the next. If you need proof, there's even a vocal sample to accompany the instrumental countdown of the second track.

"Dinosaur" is many things; recognition of age, fear of obsolescence, and commentary; Fripp often referred to the lumbering beasts of the rock industry during his "small intelligent mobile unit" discussions. Certainly he wouldn't deny feeling a bit like a dinosaur himself these days, but perhaps the song is a protest as well. Belew has embraced the shade of Lennon, and McCartney too (for rock is pop and vice versa, for now). If you stretch back only as far as "Dig Me" and "Industry", this is not a new song either- but it's a damn good one. It tries to fall apart, and the musicians keep bringing it back...just like the Crimson King himself.

And "Walking on Air" is just beautiful...the summoned Fab Two doing "Matte Kudasai", bringing the transcendent back down to earth, or maybe the other way around. Belew's backwards lead guitar and yearning vocal surges bubble within this whisper and everyone else softly and perfectly hold back...everyone gets their space, and the percussion is up next, rolling you into "Thrak". This one may resist simply letting you sink your teeth into it, the Crimson contrast playing out over a few songs rather than self-contained. Every step of the way, the attention span is expanded; the next cycle takes even a few more songs to play out.

As it begins, we come to understand that the mournful strain will not be neglected; "Inner Garden" may be this decade's "Epitaph", or it may not...but it passes briefly as to lessen the plod and portent. Requiem gives way to funky observations of "People", and about this time my interest sometimes gives way to distraction...it's just a little too reminiscent of passages on "Beat" during which I often find myself daydreaming. There's some lovely snaky soloing if you stay with it, though, and whoever is responsible for the percussion on this piece even conjures up the ghost of Brother Muir (he really is a monk now, you know!). We are sampled into "One Time", which lurks on tiptoe at the shadowy doorways between rooms of convention and rooms of mystery. We are sampled back out again, with shifting radio reception from distant transmitters, and find ourselves once more in the Garden of melancholy reflection. "Sweet is the voice from far away..."

After a self-induced exile and hermitage after "Red", Robert Fripp gradually returned to music with a new philosophical and spiritual framework. His first forays involved collaborating with such people as Bowie, Gabriel, and Eno, all of whom were similarly exploring new technology and 'post-progressive' genres like world music, punk, and minimalism. The dichotomy between musical excellence and performance in the popular music realm led Fripp to create various musical ventures, from the artistically uncompromising Frippertronics to the intentionally accessible League of Gentlemen.

"Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" is this same dichotomy, decades later. On one hand, we have a funky, instantly-engaging blues-rock riff and a chorus that hits hard, with a Helter Skelter vocal and train-of-thought imagery. Just when you think the song has established itself, it explodes into extreme rhythmic and melodic complexity; a newcomer to the Crimson sound may be forgiven for hearing chaos and cacophony, and even diehards may find themselves wishing the band would develop the ideas behind the initial, more coherent sections. Did we do the same upon first hearing "20th Century Schizoid Man"? Both songs are the clear embodiment of "King Crimson", undoubtedly...but is there nothing more to all this than the typical rock artiste conceit (i.e., give the public an 'easy' song in order to justify or support the more abstract experimentations...a contrast that ELP fans, for instance, have embraced since "Lucky Man")?. "Vroom" and "Vroom Vroom" are exactly what they need to be: not a bookend like "Peace" was on an Island a long time ago, but a declaration and final summation like the ones that roared around "Lark's Tongues" a few years later. Descend and expand.

Perhaps the question to Mr. Fripp should be: with all of the philosophical and artistic development from "20th Century Schizoid Man" to "Vroom", has anything substantial about King Crimson changed? One could conclude that Fripp is simply milking the approach time and again, and there is in fact no real difference except for recording techniques and band members. One could say that every incarnation has drawn "King Crimson" with more clarity and detail, bringing the perfect representation of the concept closer to the listeners. One might even say that listening to the King Crimson discography as a whole reveals an unbroken chain of sound, in scope and complexity, as well as similarity, resembling the beauty of a fractal animation. Perhaps there is no single truth to be learned, and all responses are equally valid. In "Thrak", one can look backwards and forwards. Three stars in either direction!

James Lee | 3/5 |

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