REVIEW: Triumph – The Sport of Kings (1986)

Part one of a two-part series by request of the mighty DEKE!

TRIUMPH – The Sport of Kings (1986, remastered 2003, TML Entertainment)

And the award for Worst Album Cover of 1986 goes to…Triumph!

Seriously, can anybody tell me what the hell this is supposed to be? Methinks the band just didn’t care anymore, and the music contained herein bears me out.

The Sport Of Kings, following the double live Stageswas a total about-face for Triumph. Starting off with a turgid sequencer riff, the album shifts immediately into “coast” on “Tears In The Rain”. Keyboards, bad sounding drum samples, coupled with a sappy almost guitarless song, and that is the opening track! (I hereby trademark the word “guitarless” as my own creation.)  Post-split, Gil Moore and Mike Levine were pretty adamant in their blaming up Rik Emmett for the change in direction.  Certainly, the early part of Rik’s solo career backs up that claim.

I’ll admit to being into “Somebody’s Out There” at the time, but it is hard to listen to now in the car with the windows down.  Wouldn’t want anybody to see me.  (The remixed version from the recent Greatest Hits Remixed CD is better.)   This song is just pure pop, way further into that direction than anything Bon Jovi was doing at that time.  But not in a good way.

The sad thing is, I really used to dig this album to the point that I wore out my original cassette. Now, on CD, I once every few years.  I’ll claim that I didn’t know better at the time. When I owned this the first time, I’d never heard a single Led Zeppelin studio recording; not one. I had never heard of “Smoke On The Water”, and I’d never heard a Rush album. Perspective changes even if the songs remain the same. The problem is that Sport Of Kings is too pop:  not enough guitar, not enough rock, not enough Triumph, too many keyboards! Hell there are three keyboard players on this album (one being Kitchener’s own Scott Humphrey).

I’m trying to pick out some non-embarrassing highlights. I kind of like “If Only” for the lyrics and chorus.  “Play With the Fire” is Triumph trying to be progressive again, but the song isn’t any good.  I like “Take A Stand”, and I’ll admit to still enjoying “Just One Night” (an old Eric Martin demo, co-written by Martin and Neal Schon). I only wish the video remix was on an album of some kind. The superior original remixed version used in the music video has never been released on any music format that I own.  I’ll have to use Audacity to rip it from a DVD.

This is not the remixed video, unfortunately — they’ve replaced the remix with the album version

I used to enjoy “Don’t Love Anybody Else But Me”, and I think the melody is still OK, but man, those lyrics. Gradeschool stuff. Of course, I was in gradeschool at the time!  To me in 1986, these lyrics were probably pretty profound.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting that your tastes have changed and some music you just don’t dig anymore. In this particular case, the tastes of the entire world have changed. Richard Marx does not make top-ten albums anymore. This album lacks spark of any kind, it’s just a keyboard-ridden embarrassment. If you played anything on this album side by side with “Blinding Light Show” or “It Takes Time”, you’d never guess it was the same three guys.

But it is, and they had only one more “contractual obligation” record left in them after this. The end was nigh.

1.5/5 stars

Come back in a few days, and we will be discussing that very contractual obligation record!

89 comments

  1. Well here it is…..thanks Mike!!!!
    I followed Triumph from the Allied Forces album on…I mean these are my teenage yrs so to speak and yep I bought Never Surrender(not as good as Allied Forces) Thunder 7(fantastic) Stages and yep here comes the blip…..
    Sport Of Kings….I purchased it on the assumption it was gonna be a good Triumph record I mean sure I could get past the debut single(Somebody’s Out There) I mean u gotta sell records out of the gate so when I bought It on cassette and pushed play….ummmm ok what’s this…
    Tears In The Rain I can deal with and Take A Stand…..that’s it ….me and my buddy’s were like wow what a huge sellout ….it seemed to us they were going for the real huge American breakthrough and it backfired on all accounts! Total sellout …..so it was filed away pretty quick even the Just One Night Vid ,I mean Gil get back behind the drums for Christs sake!
    Quit crooning ……where’s the dude that sang Rock n Roll Machine,Fool For Your Love,I Live For The Weekend……oh yeah he’s becoming a balladeer ???
    Sure a lot of bands go thru peaks valleys and recover but I think with the Sport Of Kings Triumph never recovered from it…..have not visted this release since 86..hahaha….
    But the Triumph tour I did see when MuchMusic filmed it and the songs came across better live but there was no turning back by than…..
    I give this a 1 …..

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    1. HAHAH…oh Deke I have no idea what I can possibly add to this! Did you even bother with Surveillance? I hope you like that review coming soon.

      I never did get Edge of Excess…was it any good, do you know?

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  2. So glad to see that low rating, Mike. I discovered Triumph when I bought “Progressions Of Power” at a going-out-of-business sale for a record store near my house, probably in late 1980. That was followed soon thereafter by “Allied Forces,” which cemented my love for these guys, and I quickly went back & got their previous albums (“Just A Game” being an overlooked classic). By the time “The Sport Of Kings” was released I was less of a fan, so I borrowed a friend’s copy and had the same reaction you did. I didn’t own it until the CD remasters a few years ago when I decided I should be a completist (that doesn’t include the Phil X album, however).

    Any album with Rik Emmett singing on it has to have some redeeming value, but there’s not much memorable about the album otherwise. Emmett, though, should be much more highly regarded. In the age of AOR bands like Journey, Survivor, Foreigner, Boston, etc., his voice was at least the equal of any of those lead singers…and he played brilliant guitar at the same time.

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    1. I don’t know if you followed his solo career at all Rich, but after Triumph he went very much down a jazz/easy listening route. He’s very good at what he does but he really distanced himself from Triumph. He would play jazzed up or unplugged renditions of Triumph songs but not so much rock.

      I do however have some, which I will be covering at a later date!

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      1. I have his first couple of solo albums when he was still doing rock stuff, and I’ve heard some of his more recent jazzier stuff as well. I was amazed when they reunited for the Sweden Rocks thing a few years ago, since I figured he was completely done with Triumph. His voice sounded good even though he couldn’t hit the notes like he used to, but man could he still shred on the guitar. I seem to remember one of my earliest comments on your blog was in response to that live CD/DVD, if my memory is accurate.

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  3. Never heard any Triumph! At least I know what album to avoid… I don’t understand why you can’t make the cover out. Clearly, it’s a… y’know… a racetrack and… umm… some Tarot cards and… er… yeah I don’t know what it’s supposed to be either.

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    1. Yep, you nailed the description of that cover perfectly, HMO. Haha.

      As for never hearing Triumph, may I steer you in the direction of “Allied Forces” as the perfect entry point into their catalog? I have other favorites (“Just A Game,” “Never Surrender”) but if you only listen to one Triumph album in your life, that’s the one.

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      1. That’s great, I’ll know where to start now! If I ever see that going cheap I’ll pick it up. Can’t say I see their albums much over here. Might need to be an Amazon job!

        So with this being a poppier Triumph album, did it reap extra commercial rewards?

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        1. Alright. I’ll give you Anvil, they too wear hockey jerseys like Triumph.

          I need Kick Axe too. Didn’t see it yesterday.

          By the way Scott, specifically for you, I need you to watch the Toronto video all the way to the end credits when it goes up tomorrow :)

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        2. Kick Axe those first two releases were very good rock albums…George Criston had a very unique vocal delivery totally original….miss that guy..

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        3. Yes! Although she still likes to rock a bit.

          Great singer and from what I’ve heard a great person too. Now if she’d only hurry up and ship the greatest hits CD I ordered from her site.

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  4. Yep bought Edge Of Excess,pretty good all mid tempo rockers with Gil singing all leads and staying behind the kit where he belongs ….!
    It was a good effort..not as good as Allied Forces/Thunder 7 which are my two fav Triumphs..
    But if anything at the time it was good they were back kinda like the Live at Sweden disc…

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  5. I forgot to mention in my early post or ahem should I say rant .ha that I can’t believe Mike Clink did this right before Apetite For Destruction..I mean Clink could have not included this on his résumé before Axl/Slash..ha…imagine that to go from Just One Night to Rocket Queen within a yr!
    Clink must have come cheap…..

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  6. I was never a big Triumph fan, but I did see their uninspired gig at Sweden Rock some years ago. They were rusty to say the least. Still really liked that Thunder Seven album. At least half of it. This album wasn’t all bad, I guess, but on the other hand, it wasn’t all that great either. That’s why it’s kinda funny that I love Surveillence…

    Kick Axe on the other hand. What a band. Vices and especially Welcome To The Club are fantastic. Too bad Rock The World kinda sucked…

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    1. I don’t have any Kick Axe. I didn’t see any on vinyl in Toronto. I really want Vices and Welcome to the Club but I’ll take anything at a good price.

      Surveillance is a review I am posting in a couple days. You might have to sharpen your chainsaw again!

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  7. Kick Axe those two as u guys are saying are excellent releases ..I still remember putting on Vices for the first time and Criston letting out that wail at the beginning of Heavy Metal Shuffle,man that just about blew my brains out….

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    1. Deke I remember going to the mall and buying a button for my jackey, and it was Vices. I loved the song On the Road to Rock and I LOVED the Vices mascot guy…it was one of the first buttons I bought if not the first. If it wasn’t packed in a box I’d take a picture.

      Damn shame I packed those (and many other) things up before taking pictures for my blog.

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  8. Actually if u search Kick Axe Live 1984 on youtube there’s a couple of songs from a California radio broadcast(Heavy Metal Shuffle & Vices) and man they sound good live!
    Check it out!

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    1. What your grade 9 teacher never told you was that in the future every friggin’ device you own will have a calculator in it among other much more wondrous features. And you thought you had to memorize your times tables because some day you’d need to know your times tables!

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    1. The other one I loved at that time was…THE RIGHT TO ROCK! Especially when that suit guy got electrocuted at the end of the video! And Ron and the little kid both had the white stripe in their hair.

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  9. Mike,just read over at Music Express that Triumph is planning to hit the road in 2014!
    Now if they roll thru town here..I’m in!!!
    Even and I mean even if they were to play Sport Of Kings front to back!
    Hahaha

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    1. Yeah so I wouldn’t consider that a real tour. So this could be a pretty big deal. Who knows Deke with nostalgia being what it is, could be big. I know in this town, Triumph would draw a crowd.

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    1. According to today’s stats, Sport of Kings will soon be in the #1 spot. There’s a delay in how it displays on the front page, but Sport of Kings is leading ahead of Sexy Beast today by 2 hits :)

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  10. Allied Forces in every nation!
    I can totally relate to Jon’s deal with Triumph at the SRF!!
    For sure there was tons of rust shit they were idle for how many yrs???
    I actually dig there disc of said show….it was just good to hear the tunes live again!!
    The only knock is I wish they woulda stayed as a 3 piece…..but than they have carried a 4 th member since the SOK tour back in 85.
    See what happens with em in 2014!

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  11. This article is pretty lame. Please do some research before you post stuff like this. Triumph had issue with the producer Ron Nevison. He wanted them to have a hit single and he was trying to craft the songs to be radio friendly. The band had been pretty much cranking out an album a year for the whole decade and touring in between and the record company was demanding more. The band was spent! Some of the songs aren’t as strong as previous outings, but it sounds like you were never much of a fan in the first place. Never be embarrassed about the music you like…whether it’s Triumph, Kenny G or Michael Jackson. I like what I like and i don’t care what anyone else thinks!

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      1. Yes we will have to agree to disagree. I think their worst album by far is Progressions of Power. But that’s the only album I dislike and there are still some good songs on it. I have two questions for you. Are there any Triumph albums that you do like? And what music were you listening to in 1987 that you enjoyed?

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        1. Well Dave I’ve been listening to Triumph since about 84 or 85. I think their best stuff was pre-Stages, an album I still love. It was my first Triumph album.

          I still listen to all the same bands, I just don’t think much of some of the albums. Lee Aaron for example did some abysmal music around 87-ish.

          Cheers!

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        1. Nice! Is this going to be a Triumph series? The timing works good.

          Send me an email with the date you’re posting your Sport of Kings review, and I’ll see if I can coordinate my WTF Comments with it.

          Like

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