Throughout the history of King Crimson, the lineup has been in a constant state of flux. The lineup is best described as fluid, with members leaving, only to join and return at a later date. By 1995, King Crimson were onto their fifth lineup, when they recorded Thrak, which was recently released by DGM as a double album. Thrak was the first studio album King Crimson had released since 1984s Three Of A Perfect Pair.
It was the tenth album that King Crimson had released since In The Court Of The Crimson King in 1969. Since then, King Crimson had forged a reputation as one of the most pioneering progressive bands. Albums like 1970s In The Wake Of Poseidon and Lizard, 1971s Island and 1973s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic featured a groundbreaking group at the peak of their musical powers. They were creating some of the most ambitious and innovative progressive rock of the early seventies.
This continued with Starless and Bible Black in 1974, which was hailed a powerful and experimental album, where live recordings and studio recordings were edited together. King Crimson were proving one of the most inventive bands of the progressive rock era. However, this era was about to come to an end.
In 1975, King Crimson released their seventh studio album, Red. It wasn’t quite as refined an album. Instead, Red was brasher and louder than previous albums. Despite this, Red was released to the same critical acclaim. The only difference, was that Red wasn’t same commercial success. Red stalled at forty-five in Britain and sixty-six in the US Billboard 200. This was disappointed for King Crimson. What was even more disappointing, was that later in 1975, it looked as if King Crimson were about to join the annals of musical history.
After seven albums in six years, King Crimson split-up. Many critics thought this was the end of the King Crimson story. Critics had different views on this.
If King Crimson never reunited, they would leave behind an almost peerless musical legacy. They had never made a poor album, and would be remembered as one of the greatest purveyors of progressive rock. However, other critics felt that King Crimson had too much to offer music. If they failed to put their differences aside, music was being robbed of one of its most talented, inventive and innovative bands.
After a six year hiatus, King Crimson returned in 1981. Only guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Bill Bruford returned to the King Crimson fold. Bassist John Wetton had joined Yes. His replacement Tony Levin, who played bass and Chapman Stick. Adrian Belew played guitar and added vocals on five tracks. It was a new beginning for King Crimson.
The new lineup of King Crimson released Discipline on September 22nd 1981. It was a fusion of progressive rock, math rock, experimental and new wave music. This was a stylistic departure from King Crimson. However, they realised that music had changed since 1975, and that they had to evolve musically. This worked. Discipline reached forty-one in Britain, and forty-five in the US Billboard 200. For King Crimson, Discipline was their most successful album in America since 1970s In the Wake of Poseidon. King Crimson were back, and looked as if they were about to enjoy their third decade as one of Britain’s most successful bands.
It looked like King Crimson were making up for lost time. After six years away, they released two albums in nine months. Beat was released on June 18th 1982. Just like previous King Crimson album, it was a concept album of sorts.
Beat celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s classic road novel, On The Road. However, it wasn’t just Jack Kerouac that Beat referenced. Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Bowles’ works are all referenced on Beat. The beat writers was the thread that ran through Beat, which many critics regarded as King Crimson’s most accessible album. They also regarded Beat as a cerebral, literate and ambitious album. It was released midway through 1982.
When Beat was released, it was to critical acclaim and commercial success. Beat reached thirty-nine in Britain, becoming King Crimson’s most successful album since Larks’ Tongues in Aspic in 1973. However, it was a case of swings and roundabouts. Beat only reached fifty-two in the US Billboard 200. This wasn’t as successful as Discipline. Maybe, however, King Crimson’s next album, Three Of A Perfect Pair would result in a change of fortune in America?
Three Of A Perfect Pair.
Nearly two years passed before King Crimson released the tenth album of their career, Three Of A Perfect Pair on March 27th 1984. Three Of A Perfect Pair found the middle ground between the experimental nature of Discipline, and the much more accessible sound of Beat. This however, didn’t find favour among critics. Reviews were mixed. For King Crimson, this was a first. Usually, their albums were released to critical acclaim. Despite the mixed reviews, Three Of A Perfect Pair reached number thirty in Britain, surpassing even, the commercial success of Beat. In America, Three Of A Perfect Pair reached just fifty-eight in the US Billboard 200. Again, it was a case of swings and roundabouts.
When King Crimson sold more albums in Britain, they seemed to sell less in America. That was ironic, as America was the most lucrative market in the world. Maybe that would change with King Crimson’s next album?
Following the release of Three Of A Perfect Pair, King Crimson toured the album. The final night of the Three Of A Perfect Pair tour took place in Montreal on 11th July 1984. That concert proved to be the last time King Crimson played together live for nearly ten years. After the Montreal concert, King Crimson were put on hold for the second time.
For nine years, the various members of King Crimson worked on their various projects. It wasn’t until Adrian Belew travelled to England to discuss with Robert Fripp, the possibility that King Crimson reform. So once Robert Fripp’s 1993 tour with David Sylvian was over, he began putting together a new lineup of King Crimson.
This lineup, was going to be the most ambitious lineup in the King Crimson’s four decade history. It was a double trio, featuring two drummers, two bassists and two guitarists. This wasn’t new. Miles Davis had pioneered this during his electric period. However, for King Crimson, this was a new development. Whose idea it was, is still being debated.
Both Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford have laid claim to the concept of the double trio. However, it was Robert Fripp that seemed to put the lineup together. Eventually, Robert Fripp had finalised the fifth lineup of King Crimson. They headed to Woodstock, to rehearse, and record the mini-album Vrooom.
The fifth lineup of King Crimson, made their way to Woodstock, where the rehearsals began. Then they made their way to Applehead Studio, in Woodstock on 4th May. That’s where
drummers Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto joined guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew who added vocals. Tony Levin switched between bass and Chapman Stick; while Trey Gunn played Chapman Stick. This double trio set about recording the six tracks the members of King Crimson had written. They were finished by 7th May 1994, and marked King Crimson’s comeback.
Vrooom was released in Britain on October 31st 1994, and in America on 1st November 1995. After ten years away from the recording studio, critics found King Crimson bounded out of the starting blocks, showcasing six tracks of raw, rocky, impassioned and dynamic music. It might have been twenty-five years since King Crimson released their debut album, but they were still relevant, and capable of creating groundbreaking music. This bode well for the release of King Crimson’s eleventh studio album.
After the success of Vrooom, the members of King Crimson regrouped at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, in Wiltshire. It was one of the best equipped and most advanced studios in Britain. At the heart of Real World Studios was the latest Solid State mixing desk, and plethora of outboard equipment available to King Crimson. This would prove perfect for King Crimson who were about to release one of the most ambitious albums of their career, Thrak.
Since King Crimson released their last studio album Three Of A Perfect Pair in 1984, the compact disc was almost commonplace. Back in 1984, the compact disc was in its infancy, and prohibitively expensive. By 1994, nearly every music lover owned a compact disc player. It had many benefits. The sound quality was regarded as superior. Another supposed benefit of the compact disc was that, no longer were bands restricted to albums of thirty-five to forty minutes at most. Instead, eighty minutes of music could fit onto a compact disc. This offered the opportunity for ambitious, sprawling albums. King Crimson would embrace this benefit of the compact disc.
For Thrak, the six members of King Crimson penned the music for another nine tracks. Again, Adrian Belew wrote the lyrics, except Coda: Marine 475 which Robert Fripp wrote. These nine tracks, and the six tracks that featured on Vrooom, this become the basis for Thrak, which was recorded at Real World Studios, between 24th October and 4th December 1994.
At Real World Studios, King Crimson regrouped, and the double trio began work on Thrak. It was co-produced by King Crimson and Canadian producer David Bottrill. This was the first time King Crimson had worked with an outside producer since Beat in 1982. However, much had changed since King Crimson recorded their last studio album in 1985. King Crimson however, were determined to record and produce another album of pioneering music.
So the same lineup that featured on Vrooom got work. Drummers Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto joined guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew who took charge of lead vocals on eight tracks. The other seven tracks were instrumentals. Meanwhile, Tony Levin switched between bass, upright bass and Chapman Stick. Trey Gunn flitted between Chapman Stick and Warr guitar. This double trio spent forty-one days recording Thrak, King Crimson’s highly anticipated eleventh album.
Once Thrak was completed, the release date was set for 3rd April 1995. There must have been a sense of trepidation as that date approached. Apart from the mini-album Vrooom, King Crimson hadn’t released a studio album in ten years. That was a long time for any band to be away. King Crimson hoped that critics would respond well to their comeback album, and that their fans wouldn’t have forgotten them.
Before the release of Thrak, the whirlwind of promotion began. King Crimson were reacquainting themselves with critics and media. They were hoping that Thrak would receive better than Three Of A Perfect Pair in 1985.
Unfortunately for King Crimson, lightning struck twice. The reviews of Thrak were mixed. It seemed the jury was out. Some critics felt that Thrak marked a return to form from the progressive rock veterans. Other reviews, including the one in Rolling Stone magazine, weren’t won over by Thrak. Things weren’t looking good for the comeback Kings.
When Thrak was released on April 25th 1995, the album stalled at fifty-eight in Britain. This made Thrak King Crimson’s least successful album in Britain. Things weren’t much better in America, where Thrak reached just eighty-three in the US Billboard 200. Thrak became King Crimson’s least successful album in America since 1970s Lizard. For King Crimson, Thrak hadn’t been the comeback they had imagined.
Since then, critics have reappraised Thrak, which recently, was reissued by DGM as a double album. The first disc features a new stereo mix of Thrak by Jakko Jakszyk and Robert Fripp. Then on the disc two, which is a DVD-A, there’s 5.1 Surround Sound and High-Resolution stereo mixes by Jakko Jakszyk and Robert Fripp. That’s not all. There’s a high resolution stereo version of the original album. This is perfect to reappraise what was King Crimson’s second comeback album, Thrak.
Twenty years have passed since Thrak was released. Since then, it’s been an album that’s divided the opinion of critics and even, King Crimson’s own fans. However, it was always going to be difficult managing expectations when Thrak was released.
King Crimson had enjoyed an almost unrivalled longevity. By 1995, their career spanned eleven albums and four decades. However, King Crimson had been on hold since 1985. When it was announced the King Crimson were on the comeback trail, the sense of expectation and anticipation was high. Especially, since it was their first album in a decade.
The double-trio had recorded fifteen tracks for Thrak, that lasted fifty-six minutes. They were utilising the extra space that the compact disc afforded them. It meant that King Crimson could experiment, and push musical boundaries.
They were determined that they weren’t going to remake the same music they had been making for the past three decades. Instead, they wanted to make progressive rock for the twenty-first century. Part of King Crimson’s musical master plan was the double-trio.
It could add depth to the music. Rather than just one set of drums, two sets of drums provided the heartbeat. They were augmented by Tony Levin’s bass and the two Chapman Sticks. Then there were the two guitars, and the Warr guitar. These instruments were layered, and added depth and density to the music. Some critics however, felt that the music on Thrak was cluttered, and too dense. That’s not the case though. On the recently reissued version of Thra, each instrument stands out in the mix. It sound as if a great deal of thought has gone into its placement, and the result is a carefully balanced mix. That’s the case from the hard rocking, opener, Vrooom.
The double trio get the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. That’s before the tempo changes, and the guitars intertwine, creating a crystalline, progressive sound. These two sides of King Crimson whet the listener’s appetite for the rest of Thrak.
Literally, Thrak comes to alive on the newly remixed album. The clarity is astounding, when compared with an original vinyl copy.
Tracks like Dinosaur, a near seven minute epic, is vintage King Crimson. All the ingredients of classic progressive rock are present. There’s twists, turns and tempo changes, as Adrian Belew delivers an impassioned vocal. The arrangement veers between rocky and anthemic, partly because of delicious drum groove. The the arrangement heads in the direction of progressive rock and classical. By then, an almost wistful, thoughtful sound has descended, and one is tempted to press play again. However, much more awaits.
Walking On Air, with its understated, ethereal beauty, is easily one of Thrak’s highlights. It’s one of the best songs on the album, and a reminder of why King Crimson are considered Kings of progressive rock.
B’Boom sees the double trio come into their own, as they embark on what seems like a captivating musical duel. Each trio seems determined to outdo the other. By then, it becomes apparent why Robert Fripp put together this double trio. Having warmed up. they’re ready to rock on Thrak. Behind the blistering, searing, ascending, then descending guitar licks the rhythm section fill in the gaps. Then as one, they strut and swagger their way through the rest of the arrangement. It’s a tantalising example of King Crimson at their rocky best.
Moody, melancholy and tinged with drama describes Inner Garden Parts 1 and 2. Both are short tracks, but their cinematic sound paints pictures in the listener’s mind’s eye.
Radio is an instrumental in two parts. Part One has an experimental, cinematic sound, that sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a horror movie. Just like Radio Part 2, it’s King Crimson at their most inventive.
Another track in two parts is Vrooom Vrooom. This six minute epic finds King Crimson find their inner rocker. Built around the drum groove, machine gun guitars and sci-fi sounds play an important roll on this fist pumping instrumental. Then all too soon, Thrak is almost over. Vrooom Vrooom Coda closes Thrak, which in 1995, marked the return of comeback Kings King Crimson.
Twenty-six years after they released their debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, King Crimson were back. It may have been a different lineup of the band, but they were still making innovative music that’s stood the test of time.
Unlike many albums released during 1995, Thrak sounds as good today, as it did today. That’s partly, because the album has been remixed. There’s a clarity to the music that wasn’t there before. Each of the instruments gets the opportunity to shine, as the double trio work their way through Thrak’s fifteen tracks. Just like they had on previous albums, Thrak featured innovative, influential and groundbreaking music. It was meant to be progressive rock for the twenty-first century. Sadly, reviews of Thrak were mixed, and since then, the album has been one of the rare, hidden gems in King Crimson’s. Not any more.
The recent reissue of Thrak by DGM will allow a new generation of music lovers to reappraise Thrak, which proved the end of era.
When King Crimson returned in 2000 with The ConstruKction Of Light two members of the band were missing. Founder member Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin, who had been a member of King Crimson since 1981, didn’t feature on The ConstruKction Of Light. Only Robert Fripp remained from the original band. He featured on The Power To Believe, which was released in 2003. It looks like being the King Crimson’s swan-song. Since then, King Crimson have never released another album.
Looking back at King Crimson through the years, the eight different lineups have enjoyed a longevity few progressive bands enjoyed. Their first seven albums, from 1969s In The Court Of The Crimson King to 1974s Red, featured the best music of King Crimson’s career. Although King Crimson released another six studio albums, none of these albums matched the quality of their first seven albums. However, Thrak, which is an underrated and timeless album, that deserves to reappraised as it finds the progressive rock Kings, King Crimson making music for the twenty-first century.