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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Works Vol. 1 CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

2.93 | 730 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars This is what happens when rock stars start believing their personal downloads don't have an offensive aroma. After conquering the progressive rock world with their legendary "Brain Salad Surgery" album in '73 and extensively touring the planet performing it for their adoring fans, the boys in the band were way past being sick of each other's company and took a long vacation. During that break a funny thing happened to the group. It ceased to exist. In its place stood three individuals, each convinced that they were the lone genius responsible for the group's fame/fortune and no longer obliged to heed any suggestions or criticisms about their songwriting from their conceited coworkers. Their triumphant solo career would prove it. However, legal representatives were able to convince them that the hassle of getting out of their contracts with each other was far, far worse than releasing their separate works of art under the bankable banner of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Thus, we unsuspecting supporters (who had waited 4 years for new material) trustingly plopped down our hard-earned moolah for a pricey double LP in anticipation of being blown away by our heroes as soon as we got it on our stereos. We got royally shafted big time.

Going in their customary alphabetical order you get Keith Emerson's contribution first. He offers up his "Piano Concerto No. 1" even though you didn't ask for classical music at all. If you enjoy symphonies as much as I do you know there's a proper time and place for them but usually not in the first nineteen minutes of a rock and roll record. It's a gallant effort all right but it's not Gershwin, Mahler, Copeland or Khachaturian quality by any stretch of the imagination. (And if you're going to enter your pet project at that level of the science fair you'd better be ready to take on the nuclear physicists if you know what I mean.) It might've had a slim chance of acceptance in that genre if Emerson had only thought to include the most important ingredient: A memorable theme. In all fairness to Keith, though, it's the highlight of the album (what does that tell you?) and would earn him a passing grade in freshman Composition 101.

Greg Lake, the voice of the band's greatest songs, gets his 22 minutes in the spotlight next and it quickly becomes apparent that since the last album he has morphed into a Las Vegas crooner. "Lend Me Your Love Tonight" sounds like one of Elton John's obscure filler tunes and is a prime example of spoiled overindulgence. With sexy words like "You'll feel my senses spin and soar/you will become my meteor/divine and universal whore/complete me" what woman could resist? "C'est La Vie" is very much in the vein of the hits "Still. You Turn Me On" and "From the Beginning" and it's a pleasant tune although the orchestration comes on entirely too strong towards the end. (The unplugged version on "Works Live" is a lot better). "Hallowed Be Thy Name" follows and it's an ugly mess. First of all Greg sings like he's imitating The Who's Roger Daltrey and lyrically you get inane lines like "but many a drunk got drunker/and mostly a thinker, thunker" that insult your intelligence. "Nobody Loves You Like I Do" is a lame mimicry of Bob Dylan as Lake tries to copy his phrasing and his harmonica-driven style. Greg warbles "you can change the world/but if you lose control/they will take away your T- shirt." Say what? His last song is the worst, however. "Closer to Believing" is a mushy Jimmy Webb rip-off and you half expect Richard Harris (of "McArthur Park" fame) to join in on vocals at any time. And talk about drippy, they don't have this much syrup in all of Vermont! I don't know how Lake managed to sing "I need me/you need you/we want us" with a straight face. If it weren't so tragic it'd be hilarious.

After that fiasco you'd think Carl Palmer's side would be an improvement but it's not. "The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits," an excerpt from Prokofieff's "Scythian Suite," is okay sound-wise but really only proves that Carl can play a march. It's hard to put into words how lousy "L.A. Nights" is. It has a dull, rolling beat that turns into a standard blues shuffle along the way and you wish that guest guitarist Joe Walsh would've had the guts to tell Palmer that the song blows. Somebody needed to. "New Orleans" follows and it could pass as the theme for a corny TV sitcom. After those two stinkers almost anything would be a step up and his treatment of J.S. Bach's "Two Part Invention in D Minor" is just that. Carl's performance on the Vibraphone is surprisingly good but it only lasts for 2 minutes. "Food for your Soul" is a stab at something I can't identify (jazz maybe?) and the drumming is downright atrocious from beginning to end. A remake of "Tank" is Palmer's finale. It gets a Glenn Miller-ish big band treatment and it's actually listenable. Whoever played the soprano sax earned his studio fee that day because he provided the side's only trace of emotion.

You have to trudge through all that mediocrity before you finally get to some music that actually sounds like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their interpretation of Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" is a step back in time when these guys would knock your walls down and leave you begging for more. (Take note, Keith, THIS is what a symphonic theme sounds like!) They stay close to the original score, then Emerson jams out raucously for about 5 minutes over Lake and Palmer's rumbling rock shuffle till reaching the dynamic end where they return to the classic arrangement. "Pirates" has an orchestral beginning that is promising and gets your hopes up briefly but then it turns into unintentional self-parody. Just imagine if you'd been watching Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in 1977 and the hosts Donny and Marie Osmond breathlessly inform you that Greg Lake and the cast of the smash Broadway musical "Shiver Me Timbers" are now going to perform a rousing number from the show on the street in front of Radio City Music Hall. That's exactly how this comes off. You'll shake your head in dumbfounded puzzlement.

I never bought another ELP recording. I may be a fool but I'm rarely a fool twice. If I were to be stranded on an island with just this album to listen to I'd play their cover of "Fanfare" and, on occasion, Emerson's brave little piano concerto and ignore the rest forevermore. It's still inconceivable to me how such an incredibly popular (and talented) group failed to realize how cruelly they were insulting their followers by allowing them to spend money on their egomaniacal drivel. 1.6 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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