When Triumph Took One for the Team on ‘The Sport of Kings’
Taken at face value, The Sport of Kings seemed to have the makings of a classic Triumph album. The kind that balanced adventurous progressive rock and in-your-face hard rock, as had become the band's trademark on platinum-selling records like Just a Game, Allied Forces and Never Surrender.
As the band's fans discovered once they heard the record, however, The Sport of Kings was anything but. Released on Sept. 11, 1986, Triumph's eighth studio album found singer and guitarist Rik Emmett, singer and drummer Gil Moore and bassist and keyboardist Mike Levine bowing down to commercial radio trends and business pressures.
"I think Rik and Gil would agree that it was The Sport of Kings that had us asking ourselves what we were doing," Levine later explained in an interview with Niagara Frontier Publications. "We allowed the record company, for the first time, to be part of Triumph."
Label meddling resulted in some pretty middling songs: "Tears in the Rain," "Somebody's Out There" and the painfully cliched "Hooked on You," which had less in common with vintage Triumph than '80s AOR bands such as Journey and Foreigner. And while the stately "What Rules My Heart" briefly restored some sense of normalcy, another cut, "Don't Love Anybody Else but Me," felt even more alien, combining layered guitar harmonies reminiscent of Boston with a chorus that foreshadowed '90s sibling duo Nelson. And these were the highlights.
In the Niagara Frontier Publications interview, Levine concluded that "The Sport of Kings was a poppy album. There were some cuts I refused to even play bass on, and [session man] Mike Boddicker did the keyboard parts. The whole process was not fun. We all felt like we were getting a root canal every day."
The project was overseen by producer Mike Clink, whose next assignment would be Guns n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. Triumph's immediate future would look nothing like Clink's, as they soldiered through one more studio record – 1987's Surveillance, a partial return to form – before splintering near the end of 1988.
Emmett embarked on a solo career while Moore and Levine resisted the temptation of proceeding without him until 1993's indifferently received Edge of Excess, featuring guitarist Phil Xenidis. The original trio would eventually patch up their differences for the occasional concert reunion, but time has done little to improve The Sport of Kings' low standing in the scope of Triumph's career.
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