Though I said I’d be visiting a lot of bands again by the time the year was out, this will be my last un-planned Album Du Jour entry. Until a few hours ago, I was racking my brain trying to think of what album would make a good Christmas Eve album, because I already know what album I am writing up for Christmas, but then I remembered that I hate seasonal music and thus today we are going to give King Crimson one last spin:
THRAK is that kind of album that instantly fascinates me not only because of the music, which is superb in this album, mind you, but because of the elements that might otherwise go unrecognized that make up its creation. When we last left King Crimson, it was the 80′s and they were actually making *good* music, which in and of itself was a rarity, but even rarer was the fact that, after the album Discipline, Crimson went on to record not one, but two albums with the exact same lineup. You might as well tell me a giraffe gave birth to a helicopter at that point, but let’s leave that uncomfortable metaphor quickly.
One thing that is far less surprising is that, after that trio of albums, the band broke up again, only instead of breaking up “forever and ever”, and based on the nature of King Crimson only requiring one member to exist, they more or less went “on hold” for about 10 years. A few things happened within that decade, but most of it was in the 80′s so who cares, right?
Well, fearless leader Robert Fripp was once again bored with not being in a very successful rock band (he decided to take up teaching this time, which amassed for him another Chapman Stick player by the name of Trey Gunn, so he decided to bring back King Crimson again. The usual players were called, Adrian Belew returned to lead vocals after a solo stint as well as some work with David Bowie and his own band called The Bears (an appropriate name given the fate of other former King Crimson members, it all makes sense now!) Bassist Tony Levin was called away from his other gig of making Peter Gabriel suck less, and some new players were brought to the group as well. Trey Gunn, in an unusual move, was kind of made a “second bassist” as his instrument was the Stick and that’s what Levin played as well. Pat Mastelotto was brought on as drummer, having worked with one of Fripp’s interim projects, and then, the strange and awesome happened.
Bill Bruford, who you may remember from the band King Crimson, more or less saw a Crimson reformation starting up, and ran up to the group saying “Don’t forget about me!” Fripp couldn’t say no, because not only is Bill Bruford awesome, but this meant that King Crimson was now composed of two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers, and thus the idea of a “double trio” was introduced. THRAK is the resulting album of having two band’s worth of members jamming out some awesome songs.
Indeed, from the heavy-hitting introduction “VROOOM” (onomatopoeia would be a freqently-visited concept on this album) which brings back the Mellotron, to the ending track of “VROOOM VROOOM (Coda)” (I love these names), the album is thick with instruments, but not in the way you’d really expect. At no easily-discernible time are instruments just playing in tandem, and neither are they venturing so far away from each other that it just sounds like a mess; instead, everything is arranged to the core, with a noticeable lack of lengthy improvisational segments. Heck, the longest song on here is just over 6 minutes and is closer to Pop than Prog. That song, by the way, is my favorite and is called “Dinosaur”.
After what seems like a double-introduction song in the form of “VROOOM” and “Coda: Marine 475″, which kind of has lyrics but then kind of doesn’t, we’re given a Mellotron-backed diminished chord wonder with a stomping rhythm that sounds like John Lennon writing and singing a Stravinsky number. Seriously, maybe it was intentional on Adrian Belew’s part, but his vocals on this song are very Lennon-esque, and the back-and-forth guitar chords sound to me exactly like a play on “I Am The Walrus”. The song’s chorus, “I am a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones” seems to be kind of a play on King Crimson feeling a little old at this point, though plenty of groups by this time were digging their bones, Tool and Primus being notable examples. Either way, “Dinosaur” is an incredible song, and though it only bears a passing resemblance to “I Am The Walrus”, it doesn’t have the nonsense lyrics, opting instead to actually be clever with lines like “Ignorance has always been something I excel in, followed by naivety and pride”.
Instead, the nonsense lyrics would come in the form of one of the much later songs in the set called “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream”:
Sex sleep eat drink dream
Primal tribal apple egg vegetable eel
I have a new canoe but it does not have a wheel
Not bad at all, not bad at all. This song also has a wonderful funky-to-disaster switch-up that I am quite fond of.
In fact, the more disastrous parts of the album, particularly in the instrumentals, are really fun from a music appreciation standpoint. The album even features, for the first time ever, a gol’dern drum solo in a track called “B’Boom”, which seems to be a bit of an inevitability when you’ve got two drummers going, is what I’m thinking. The album’s title track features guitars (107 of them, according to Fripp, but that’s probably a joke) playing these nonsense chords in a way that is slightly off time, just enough to overlap and refer to another part of the rhythm. Of course, those might be the Chapman Sticks as well, it’s kind of hard to tell because I have never seen any of this stuff live, as much as it would have blown my little mind to do so.
The album’s got its tranquil moments too, which are actually quite pleasing in their own way. “Walking On Air” is the first, and is a deep-toned tune that again seems to sound like The Beatles given the Prog treatment (also known as Radiohead), and it’s a nice peaceful tune with a lead guitar duet that are played in more of an ambient way, to great effect. It’s a nice counter to the more oppressive tunes, which are mysteriously broken up across the album, such as “Radio” and “Inner Garden”, both of which are kind of fragmented and scattered across the middle of the album, not to mention that there are 3 different songs with the word “Vrooom” in them, so don’t go thinking this is a pop album, it’s every bit as confusing as prog gets.
I really do love this album, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s more because of the music or more because the “double trio” gimmick is really interesting to me, but that’s like trying to decide whether you like the peanut butter or chocolate more in a stocking full of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: either way, you win.