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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson Lake & Palmer CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.24 | 1910 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Essential - but I wouldn't recommend it...

Although there is much evidence of creativity, an approach full of inspired drama and a wide range of great ideas, there are altogether too many flaws in this album for me to give it the full masterpiece status - which, to be fair, it practically begs for! That in itself is mainly why I do not give it the coveted award - generally the trio try too hard to impress, and not enough to write music of distinction.

"The Barbarian" features Greg using a fuzz box which sounds very much like one I bought many, many moons ago - and was ancient then! Great, retro fuzzy sound, and intriguingly panned across the stereo, but somewhat ponderous.

Keith then demonstrates how to play the organ with boxing gloves... I only jest slightly, for amongst the deliberate dischords, there is evidence of clumsy fingers and slightly poor timekeeping that makes a trained keyboard player such as myself balk somewhat. That said, there is much inventive keyboard work in this track, much of which reminds me of some of the early twentieth century French composers - and fine stuff it is too... except that it's a bit directionless and doesn't really gel into anything much.

It's only when Greg swings the bass back into action with a bit more volulme applied that we are reminded that this track is entitled "The Barbarian". Palmer, of course, keeps things ticking away nicely with sensitive drumming crammed full of suble technical goodies and punctuation - although, on the whole, unremarkable, except for that gong!

On the whole then, an opening designed to grab the listener's attention that does not really sustain it despite the increase in intensity, because of the lack of direction and the keyboard "fluffs".

Moving on to "Take a Pebble", which apparently starts with Keith dragging a plectrum across the strings of a piano. Ineffectually for the opening, he changes to a more delicate motif, then steps around to the proper playing area of the instrument and produces wonderful rippling music of a sublime quality. In the meantime, Greg rolls out some fat root notes and Palmer produces fine, sensitive percussion... and then there are the vocals. I am not keen on this particular style of singing - and even less keen on the lyrics - so will leave it there before I upset the ELP fan base!

Around the 3 minute mark, we get more piano ideas based around the rippling motifs - and, mysteriously, more of the piano string scraping, before an ultra-quiet acoustic guitar led section in a different key. This inexplicably builds to a hand-clap accompanied climax before subsiding again - presumably the idea here is to build a series of "movements", but a little continuity would be nice! Keith has the idea when he re-introduces the rippling piano, but stylistically develops it. One or two fluffs don't mar this section, which drives onwards, maintaining the French style I observed earlier. Palmer picks up a nice jazz rhythm, and Lake wanders coolly around the bass and the music develops naturally and easily for a while, but wanders a little here and there into uncertain territory. There is something of the King Crimson lurking in here - if only I could put my finger on it...

"Knife Edge" is a bit of a mystery to me still - I like the crunchy riffing, and the quiet - loud - quiet - loud construction should resonate with anyone into Nirvana style grunge. Keith shows again why he should take those boxing gloves off, producing solo lines with more fluff than the average rabbit. The direction gets almost completely lost about midway, attempting to draw from Bach, but fortunately it's all pulled back together in a somewhat cacaphonous fashion full of technical tid-bits, and dramatically stirring in many ways - but a little too short of melody for me.

The Three Fates section starts off with Keith donning heavy duty boxing gloves for his duties on the Royal Festival Hall organ, playing pretty much what he likes, with virtually no direction - believe me, I've played church organs, and know only too well the temptation to just pull out all the stops, stomp on the really low pedals and the swell and see what drops out - it all sounds very impressive, so you temper it with some softer noises in between. It only impresses me if someone can produce great music that way - listen to Saint-Seans organ concerto to see what I mean.

Clotho is the youngest of the Three fates - the spinner and daughter of the night (OK, technically one of the oldest godesses in Greek mythology, and daughter of Zeus and Themis, but I digress). I would have expected less Bombast and more "dark", less showing off and more tempered, yet slightly out of control spinning in the music.

However, the piano section that follows is full of Scriabin-like drama tempered with Debussy-esque soft chords and shows that Keith can find his way round a keyboard with both hands - very convincingly. He's also well played (as in the sense of well-read) - hark! Is that Beethoven I hear? After another burst of organ, we get a deliciously dischordant piano riff that builds up with bass and drums into a mesmerising section full of minimalist devices a la Steve Reich, and a peculiar rattlesnake noise coming from Palmer's direction - if only the rest of the album were at this kind of quality!

Lachesis is the apportioner, decider of life duration for mortals, and Atropos the inevitable cuts the thread at the end of your existence so it's more difficult to have a preconceived idea for the music - but this works. Maybe I haven't heard the section beginnings and ends correctly, as this suite is well blended, but no matter - the first goddess is the only one I have issues with (musically...!).

"Tank" features a drum solo. For us non-drummers it's OK on the first couple of listens, but gives me nothing lasting except a desire to skip past this bit every time I listen to this album - which is a trifle unfair on Palmer, as it is an excellent solo. I'm not sure what they were thinking when they wrote the section after the drum solo, as it is stodgy and generally horrible - especially that ridiculous shrieking... Sorry. I have nothing nice to say about this section.

"Lucky Man" rounds off the album with a nice acoustic intro and more of those dodgy lyrics - although we can more easily take these as tongue-in-cheek. A standard kind of verse-singalong chorus structure makes a real contrast from the more progressive music which makes up the rest of the album - replete with FM rock guitar solo, it has to be noted! Pleasant enough, although the keyboard solo at the end is an odd touch... still, proves we have a geniune prog album on our hands - even if it's not a masterpiece!

Worthy addition to your prog collection, but don't expect magic.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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