Music News & Reviews

Critic’s Pick: King Crimson, ‘Thrak – 40th Anniversary Edition’

The wheezy melancholy that kicked open Thrak upon its release in 1995 couldn’t have sounded less like King Crimson. It began like a string quartet playing on a cranked-up Victrola but with a sort of easy animation that made the serenade sound like the soundtrack to a 1940s radio drama.

Then the avalanche hit. Two guitarists, two drummers and, in effect, two basses roared to life with an accelerated melody that alternated between thunderous, almost danceable rhythm and a chiming refrain that reach into a more ambient level of prog-related bliss. The resulting title of this album-opening detonation tune couldn’t have been more succinctly apt: VROOOM.

A newly remastered Thrak comes to us as one of the first official album releases of 2016. But don’t get too hung up on dates. Although it’s barely more than 20 years old, the original Thrak brought King Crimson to life again after a decade-long hiatus. This new edition, boasting a wildly crisp stereo mix by Jakko Jakszyk (co-guitarist and vocalist of the current Crimson incarnation) and Robert Fripp (guitarist, founder, chieftain and the only mainstay member of the band’s many lineups) and several DVD audio impressions (including a 5.1 Surround Sound mix that I got to hear over the holidays that is truly imposing in its clarity), comes with the subtitle of “40th Anniversary Edition.” That refers to Crimson’s inception in 1969. The reissue series that began with the milestone anniversary of that event remains several recordings short of completion.

What is important, though, is getting a chance to hear Thrak again with fresh ears and a several hearty tweaks. It’s an album full of glorious racket that brought together Crimson’s full 1980s lineup — Fripp, drummer Bill Bruford (a holdover from the band’s early ‘70s roster), bassist Tony Levin and Northern Kentucky native Adrian Belew as a second guitar piledriver — with a pair of players whom Fripp had more recently collaborated with: former Mr. Mister drummer Pat Mastellotto and stick player Trey Gunn.

What resulted was perhaps the most musically diversified record in the Crimson canon. VROOOM and its hot-wired reprise piece, VROOOM VROOOM, recalled the power-chord strut of such earlier Crimson epics as Red, while the title tune let loose Bruford and Mastellotto on a furiously exact percussion rumble. Then there was Belew, who offered a pair of gorgeous neo-ballads (One Time and Walking on Air) that blended his flair for Beatle-esque reflection and Fripp’s guitar ambience. Topping it all was Dinosaur, a giddy Belew-led rampage that grooved with youthful vitality even as its lyrics mocked Crimson’s weighty legacy (“I’m a dinosaur; somebody is digging my bones”).

Thrak sounded great then and roars with even more beastly clarity in this retooled and ultimately ageless-sounding edition.