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“The Sport of Kings” (TML / Universal; 1985)

Often considered one of the most disappointing Triumph records, “The Sport of Kings” was attacked because of its heavy keyboard sound and the band’s shift to a more radio-friendly song style (in the vein of the then uber-popular Foreigner and Journey).

While this newly remastered version of this CD can’t erase all of that 80s cheesiness, “The Sport of Kings” does sound more dynamic today than it did upon its initial release, even if some of the songs are truly dated (and, over 20 years later, why wouldn’t they be?). While songs like “Tears in the Rain” perhaps play better today than in 1985 (due to the exquisite remastering here), the lackluster of other songs — such as “What Rules My Heart” — becomes really apparent.

Not a bad Triumph CD if you’re a fan of 80s rock radio, but quite disappointing if you like Triumph’s harder-edged sound, “The Sport of Kings” at least benefits from the recent re-mastering. It still may not be one of the band’s best CDs, but at least some of the better tunes have been punched up a little.

Triumph: Rik Emmett – guitars, vocals; Mike Levine – bass, keyboards; Gil Moore – drums, vocals.

Triumph – The Sport of Kings (MCA) 1986

1.  Tears in the Rain (3:54)
2.  Somebody’s Out There (4:05)
3.  What Rules My Heart (3:54)
4.  If Only (4:00)
5.  Hooked on You (3:23)
6.  Take a Stand (4:30)
7.  Just One Night (3:39)
8.  Embrujo [instrumental] (1:29)
9.  Play with the Fire (5:18)
10. Don’t Love Anybody Else but Me (3:55)
11. In the Middle of the Night (4:34)

Considered by many fans  to be the last great Triumph record, others consider it to be one of the band’s worst. “The Sport of Kings” is definitely radio-friendly, especially the surprisingly melodic and catchy “Somebody’s Out There”. With Triumph’s popularity and string of past hits, how did this song not become a hit? “Tears in the Rain” and “What Rules My Heart” are both classic Triumph rockers. I’m also partial to “Play with the Fire”, one of the harder rocking songs on the album. As usual Rik Emmett’s guitar playing is excellent. As on past records, this album’s lone instrumental allows Rik to strutt his stuff. “Embrujo” is a short, dynamic guitar solo with a Spanish influence. “Hooked on You” is a straight forward blues rocker and one of the only songs where Rik Emmett & Gil Moore share lead vocals. “Just One Night” sounds like it could have been a Foreigner ballad. I tend to agree with the majority on “The Sport of Kings” that it was their last great record. While it seems to be slightly more slickly produced than some past albums, it still sounds like classic Triumph to me.

Triumph: The Sport of Kings (remaster)

Canada’s hard rockers continued their successive streak with 1986’s The Sport of Kings, a commercial mix of hard rock guitar, progressive tinged pop, and radio friendly melodies. The remastering process has delivered a bright and crisp sound to this classy album, sending Rik Emmett’s guitars & vocals, Gil Moore’s drums & vocals, and Mike Levine’s bass & keyboard work soaring to new heights.

Noted mainly for the opening two tracks, “Tears in the Rain” and “Somebody’s Out There”, both of which were played quite a bit on FM radio at the time, The Sport of Kings has a strong arena rock feel throughout. “Tears in the Rain” is a crunchy rocker led by Emmett’s power chords and Moore’s powerful vocals, yet also has some cool melodic keyboards from Levine in addition to great vocal hooks. Speaking of hooks, “Somebody’s Out There” has enough catchy melodies for the whole album, delivered in part by Emmett’s soaring vocals. The band opts for some heavier rock on “What Rules My Heart”, a song sung by Moore and featuring effective backing vocals from Emmett, as well as lethal electric guitar thunder and tender acoustic embellishments.

Emmett delivers his passionate ballad on “If Only”, an atmospheric pop rock song with symphonic keyboards and layers of guitar textures. “Hooked On You” sees a rare sharing of lead vocals from both Emmett and Moore, but is otherwise a bland & generic stab at radio or MTV hard rock, and easily the worst song on the album. On “Take a Stand” the trio pumps out a decent arena rocker with a big sounding chorus and thick, beefy guitars, bass, and drums, but they again fire out another clunker on the ballad “Just One Night”, a drab piece that sees the boys trying to sound like Richard Marx or Bryan Adams. Thankfully, Mr. Emmett saves the day with his remarkable instrumental “Embrujo”, a brief forray into Spanish and classical guitar themes that leaves you breathless for more.

“Play With Fire” is a driving hard rocker fueled by Emmett’s blistering leads and high-pitched vocal wailings, and the melodic “Don’t Love Anybody Else But Me” is an underrated gem lost in the shuffle at the band end of the CD, littered with catchy hooks, tasty guitar work, and layers of keyboards. The album ends with the passionate “In the Middle of the Night”, another radio friendly tune that also contains perhaps Emmett’s most emotional vocals in the entire set.

For many long-time Triumph fans, The Sport of Kings was a bit too commercial sounding, and it’s obvious the band was reaching for greater chart, radio, and MTV acceptance. However, these guys could certainly write a catchy hook and combine that with some hard rock thunder, although there are perhaps too many instances of saccharine here. Still, it’s a great remaster job, and you get full lyrics included.

Track Listing
1. Tears in the Rain
2. Somebody’s Out There
3. What Rules My Heart
4. If Only
5. Hooked on You
6. Take a Stand
7. Just One Night
8. Embrujo [Instrumental]
9. Play With the Fire
10. Don’t Love Anybody Else But Me
11. In the Middle of the Night

The second last offering from Triumph includes great songs like Hooked On You, the instrumental Embrujo and the Top 40 hit Somebody’s Out There.