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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover

TARKUS

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.04 | 1255 ratings

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clarke2001
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The progressive rock.

There it goes, my 100th review is dedicated to my desert island record - to an ultimate masterpiece: the immortal Tarkus. And I will rate it with highest possible rating without letting the side-long suite, "Tarkus" to affect my rating.

I discovered this gem in my late teens, and now at the age of 30 I'm still discovering new details and hidden chapters of this monstrously spectacular story. My first rendezvous (or shall I say: impact?) with this album happened when a friend borrowed me dull-sounding copy's copy's copy's copy of Tarkus on an old BASF tape. It struck me hard and changed my life.

And than it struck me again, when I finally obtained my own copy, I realised that the album cover (which I never saw before) is exactly the same as I expected it to be. Do you believe in coincidence, destiny or supernatural powers? However, this record changed my life indeed. I was convinced (well, still I am) that every note and sound on the album is telling the story and painting the picture exactly as I imagined them in my head. I would like to say: this album is mine, interacting with me in some parallel universe. I don't want to sound like Charles Manson, but I hope you get the picture how strongly this piece of art affected my life.

Armadillos, hymera, the battle between good and evil, war, science-fiction motif? Everything is here, and none of the above.

Thousands of Tarkus reviews are done in the last thirty (and more) years, with many of them utilising deep dissection of the plot, focus, musicianship, lyrics, concept and everything else that could possibly be related to the album. Thesis about Tarkus is not uncommon thing. More than half a dozen doctorates were written about Tarkus' length. That's right, people gained PhD title because of this record.

And all of them presented less then one percent of knowledge to an average listener who never had a chance to be purified by listening to the album.

Perhaps it's time for a philosophers to start writing reviews. Or lunatics.

The main motif of ELP's career is humanity and human being itself, and Tarkus is the core of ELP's career. That is precisely the same motif present in all the art that human race created during the history. The motif is often represented by demonstrating different aspects of human madness - usually through the typically human sociological phenomenon - the phenomenon of war. These two parameters are interacting, and the link between them could be considered a root, while occasional branches are questioning and examining all other aspects of human nature and society.

Why that war-madness relationship? I got that idea while listening thoroughly Tarkus, and later, when I discovered other ELP's albums, that theory was confirmed several times. Let's take a chronological look: on their debut, we have "Three Fates", for example - but finding the same motif there could be a huge stretch, and it will probably sound as "Paul is dead" theory during the Beatlemania; and if you want to find an ambiguous proof, you can find it anywhere. No. The picture is worth one thousand words, but the music can evocate an infinite number of pictures. But let's try with another example: Tank. It's not only the three-part showmanship, actually you can trace the development of a story of tank (and a tiny soldier-driver inside), where the first part is introduction and training if you want, drum solo is, of course, a battle with enfilades, and third part is discovering lunacy, the absence of fear, and a pure destruction. The similar motif reached its peak on Tarkus, and on Trilogy you can experience the same story while listening Abbadon's Bolero. Speaking of wars and battles, should I mention Karn Evil 9 too? Even during the days of ELP's reformation, when their inspiration batteries were worn off, you can find similar plot in Changing States, for example.

Considering the music itself: it's impossible to describe it. Before any possible jumping into conclusion that I am defending "Tarkus vs. rest of the world" attitude, I will say that every piece of music is indescribable; you can only describe your own impressions and emotions, or do the analysis of the matter or compare it and observe who influenced who - but for the music, even the best reviewer in the world will always be in the gray area. That especially goes for good music.

From the historical, and, I must say, mathematical point of view, I can't cope with this masterpiece. As I said, there are numerous analysis around, published on the web, in the books and elsewhere, with different amount of "dissection depth". I remember that I've found several sheet music transcriptions of Tarkus, each of them slightly differing from another. No surprise there's no many Tarkus sheet music books around.

The music on Tarkus is new, fresh, innovative and groundbreaking. The roots of it could be found in the works of THE NICE, of course, in the classical (and contemporary classical) scores, and in the jazz. I am often foreseeing traces of Thelonious Monk in Emerson's piano pieces. There is a perfect amalgam between classical and jazz approach in the "Infinite Space (Conclusion)", where bass and piano are playing the pattern that is almost entirely unison, except for the last note in the sequence which is played in the semi-note interval, producing brilliant dissonance and creating an extraordinary mood. "Jeremy Bender" is also worth mentioning, with a ballad mellow melody with an influence of music from a Romanticism period, but the whole thing was actually derived from relatively simple ascending chords with occasional spices of jazz.

There are many details that could be observed through the lenses and offer another proof that Tarkus as a whole is a piece done by three musicians, each of them undoubtedly bearing the title of genius. But since we, mortals, are seeing only the top of the iceberg, I wouldn't observe the piece in its entirety. I could mention "The Only Way (Hymn)" - where Lake did an extraordinary vocal performance, and lyrics once again fit into my theory of war-madness thread. Emerson's intro on organ, with hypnotic pedal tone and absolutely weird but gorgeous approach to the fugue is incredible. I really doubt I will hear something half as good in my lifetime. And they dared to overdub their vocals underneath the pedal tone (although quietly) and gave the song a scent of rock music and, I dare to say, banality? But I never heard anyone complained about it. And why complaining? It works perfectly.

clarke2001 | 5/5 |

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