Now I’m in an awkward position. I wonder if fans felt this way around 1995 when THRAK came out, because it absolutely makes the previous year’s EP VROOOM obsolete. The only songs exclusive to the EP are Cage and “When I Say Stop Continue”, two of the less interesting ones to my ears, so there’s not that much reason to buy VROOOM today since THRAK contains its better material along with a lot of new stuff. Unless you’re a King Crimson completionist, that is, and good fucking luck to you if that’s the case. You have a lot of live albums to buy.
That said, my feelings about 90s Crimson, at least in the studio, didn’t change that much upon my relisten to THRAK. It’s better — about half of it is more or less enjoyable, and that’s not a small amount considering the album’s nearly hour-long runtime. That was the CD age: kids today won’t relate, but many bands back then didn’t seem to realize just because you have the ability to make your album 70 minutes long doesn’t mean you should.
Thankfully, that doesn’t quite apply to King Crimson. There’s nothing truly unpleasant on THRAK, but the album does range in quality. We’ve already addressed the opening instrumental VROOOM, now for whatever reason divided into “VROOOM” proper and the coda as Coda: Marine 475. The title track is also a carryover, along with Sex Sleep etc. and One Time, and they’re all just as fine or okay as they were on VROOOM.
As for the new stuff, it’s once again a mixed bag. The two best songs on the album run right after the close of the “VROOOM” coda. Dinosaur is a pretty fine catchy rocker with lyrics featuring a dinosaur lamenting its fate but that also might be about something other than a literal dinosaur (since old bands used to be and maybe still are called dinosaurs, and Crimson was 25 years+ old at this point) and with Adrian Belew doing his best John Lennon impression in the verses. By contrast, Walking On Air is another romantic song, but a stronger and more distinctive one than “One Time”. The other standard song on THRAK is People, which is pretty ehhh. A little generic-feeling, and with that sort-of-approaching social commentary that again feels weird out of Crimson.
Aside from the two two-part interludes (Radio I and II are total wastes; Inner Garden I and II are very short, interesting tries at capturing a sort of gothic feel that aren’t terrible) we have the album-exclusive instrumentals left: the drum duet B’Boom, which I don’t care for too much, and the “VROOOM” variation VROOOM VROOOM (these fucking titles, man.) The closing “VROOOM VROOOM” isn’t bad and even contains some fun quotes from “Red” in the middle, not a bad way to go out.
So again, THRAK is pretty all right. A little disappointing in how underwhelming it is compared to their 70s and 80s work, but 90s Crimson wasn’t the same band, anyway. It feels like they were no longer progressing quite as much at this point, either. This version of the band is sort of accurately described as a blend of the 70s heaviness/fullness of sound with the 80s precise instrumental work, but when you think about it, no previous version of the band could have been described as a blend of older Crimson styles or “70s Crimson plus or minus whatever.” That’s not the case at this point. I’m not sure if that will change in their 00s releases, but I hope it does — I’d take a failed experiment from King Crimson over a repetition or mixing of older styles. Then again, maybe they’d earned some repetition after so much innovation.
Anyway, if you’re interested, just listen to THRAK and see what you think. “Dinosaur” and “Walking On Air” are enough to make it worthwhile along with the pretty decent “VROOOM”-related pieces, anyway. For what it’s worth, I could see someone totally new to Crimson loving this stuff — my problem is I started with Crimson King and already had Red on fairly regular play by the time I got to THRAK.
Next up are two live albums out of this 90s Crimson, one of which is a good time and the other of which is… you’ll see. Until then!