Anyway, the packaging alone is worth the price. The CD cover, with its round type and song titles running down the left side of a solemn band portrait, looks like an old Judy Collins record. And if the liner notes are a joke (please, please, let them be a joke), they're the best statement about the vacuity of rock criticism that I've ever seen.

-- Paul Tullis
18th Dye opens for Yo La Tengo Wed, June 21, at the Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 885-0750.

King Crimson

King Crimson's 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, literally defined the progressive-rock genre. Yet despite Crimson's influential status, the band never achieved the worldwide fame that Genesis or Emerson, Lake, & Palmer enjoyed. Instead, enigmatic leader/guitarist Robert Fripp chose to reside on the experimental fringe along with critically revered groups like Gong and Focus, exploring the outer limits of free-form improv jazz, random noize, ambient texture, and raw funk, while prog rockers like Yes rode pop sensibilities to mainstream success. Also, Fripp had a peculiar habit of abruptly disbanding Crimson at the height of its popularity, only to soon reform it with entirely different players.

Now, after a decade in limbo, King Crimson returns: Intact from the 1985 lineup are Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford, plus newcomers Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto. Thrak, for the most part, is vintage Crimson: "B'Boom" rages as a polyrhythmic enhanced instrumental, while "Vroom," the opening track, features seven minutes of blistering aural heat wrapped in cosmic symphonics. The band even mocks its prehistoric rocker status on "Dinosaur." But while moments of sonic brilliance link the release to classic Crimson fare like Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Discipline, a few songs will confound longtime fans. Lite reprieves like "Inner Garden I & II" and "One Time" are oddly out of place, embodying all the syrupy elements of Adult Contemporary that Crimson once strove to avoid. "Coda: Marine 475" and the title cut shred and wail, but as a whole, Thrak lacks that old electricity. King Crimson is caught at the crossroads, trying to reclaim the cutting edge while simultaneously appealing to its aging fans' mellowing tastes. You'd think Fripp could have avoided that trap.

-- spence d.
King Crimson plays Sat-Mon, June 24-26, at the Warfield in S.F.; call (510) 762-

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