Books That End In Tears is the fifth studio release from Polish stalwart composer and producer Ryszard Kramarski and his tRK Project. Like its predecessors it has a literary theme and as with the last release Kay & Gerda (2020, see review) it comes in a 2-CD package with one featuring vocals by Karolina Leszko and the other by David Lewandowski, so you can take your pick. Both are fine vocalists and do an excellent job. I've mentioned it before so I don't want to labour it, but for me I would like to hear them sing the odd duet, though I guess they have their reasons for organising things this way and it makes for good value.
At first sight this foray into the standards of 20th Century English and German literature might look a bit daunting. Ending in tears scarcely does justice to the selection of which three present what can loosely be described as visions of totalitarianism with individuals sublimated to an all powerful system and one strips humanity down to its brutish essentials, exposing the demonic murderer that lies within. At least we can be grateful that Jude The Obscure hasn't come into the reckoning. A quick look at the track listing might warn you away from selecting this as the backtrack to your next festival, and you might be right, but things are not as grim as they appear. tRK Project to their credit do seem to have had some fun in the making of the music which mitigates the darkness of the subject matter, and the inevitable class of the performance does much to lighten the load.
Lord Of The Flies- a favourite of high school English teachers begins with some lovely atmospheric guitar underlining the sense of Paradise if not lost, then badly corrupted. In this version the schoolboys themselves have morphed into the 'Lords of the flies', the literal English translation of the Hebrew 'Baal Zevuv' from which comes the Devil's own name Beelzebub. There is an almost pastoral languid feel to the opening ballad, a gentle counterpoise to the naked truth of human behaviour which is to be subsequently revealed in frenetic bursts and soaring guitar. tRK prefer to paint the greatest horrors through musical pictures and keep to a short spoken word extract from Golding to fix the narrative.
The Trial turns Kafka's K from a cog in an uncaring system not even worthy of a name, just an identifying letter, making him at the same time an everyman and a nothing into Mister K transforming him into something quite jolly and at least doing him the honour of seeing him as an individual of worth as opposed to the terrified and terrifying claustrophobic victim presented by Kafka. Insistent chugging beats, however suggest the predetermined path on which K has been set by the faceless system (Prozes) stripped of all free will. Despite the darkness of the subject matter, there is a lightness and airiness about the arrangement. The weariness of the process is conveyed without becoming wearisome, with growling guitar and martial beats used to announce the incoming disaster. There is no escaping that this particular tale ends in much worse than tears and though no detail is spared the entertainment from the musicians goes a long way to soften the blow. Just not for K.
The second half consists of two works from an English Labour politician Nineteen Eighty-Four the best known is a dystopian vision of a surveillance society of the future. The one thing Orwell didn't foresee about the all-seeing Big Brother was that instead of being a tool controlled by the state, the means of surveillance and intrusion would be monetised by global corporations beyond accountability to any institution. In this version, as with the others tRK Project stay faithful to the tale of the original text and concentrate on retelling the main features of the story. Elegant keyboards are used to good effect, drawing out the monochrome desperation of life within Orwell's state, but also hinting at some form of hope outside the system. Room 101 intrudes with a crackle of guitar, and the denouement is truly heartbreaking and lyrical.
Animal Farm has already provided inspiration to modern rock musicians from Roger Waters' injection of invective into a previously politely protesting Pink Floyd on Animals to the politics of The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again (Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss).
This version avoids translating the allegory directly maintaining the universal appeal of the format. It is less explicitly angry, although also thereby lacks Orwell's frustration at the failures of Soviet style socialism. There is an almost pastoral, folky feel to the ending which mourns the failure of the revolution without drowning in its hypocrisy.
For me this is tRK Project's most complete and successful trip into the realms of literature. There is genuine empathy with the tales presented and care to remain faithful to the spirit and intention of the original authors, while at the same time being entertaining - no easy task given the subject matter chosen. As you would expect from the experience on hand the playing is lyrical, inventive and achieves the full tapestry of shades, tones and judicious changes of pace. For anyone unfamiliar with the previous works or Kramarski's other outlet, Millenium, I would recommend this as a good place to start exploring. The stories may end in tears or worse, but this is far more entertaining than its subject matter and a well executed treatment with much to admire in every department.
***+ Andrew Cottrell
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