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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.24 | 1914 ratings

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4 stars An impressive first album from this trio, demonstrating a confidence and maturity that is, on reflection, not surprising given the previous experience of the band members. Listening to this album in the early 1970s it was not difficult to believe this band was destined to go far.

'The Barbarian' is the trio's heavy interpretation of Bartók's "Allegro Barbaro", which is itself sombre and 'barbaric' in feel. Emerson's piano and synthesizer playing really brings out the almost demonic feel of the piece, and Palmer's skill is also evident almost from the first bar. Quite an ambitious opener for a first album - the band clearly wanted to start with a bang.

'Take A Pebble' starts with piano and the strumming of piano strings, and bass, introducing the rich timbre of Lake's voice, which is pleasing. He does not sing for long before the piece turns instrumental, with some very good piano and percussion from Emerson and Palmer. The instrumental then continues with acoustic guitar that, oddly (at least to me), sounds more like something one would hear in the Appalachians than from a progressive rock band. It's certainly very laid-back and pleasing, but I'm not sure this section of acoustic guitar fits particularly well into the piece as a whole. Then Emerson comes back in with piano - again very good - and the piece feels as if it's back on track. Palmer jumps in a bit later and the piece almost starts to feel like barroom jazz. There's a pause in the track and the piano then returns to reintroduce Lake's singing for a short while to complete the twelve-and-a-half minute track.

'Knife-Edge' is the trio's interpretation of the first movement (Allegretto, Allegro, Maestoso) of Janáček's Sinfonietta for orchestra, Opus 60, but with the addition of Lake's singing. As with 'The Barbarian', this interpretation of a classical piece also works well. Emerson's keyboard sounds like a church organ, albeit a very funky one. This track is also heavy in places, but a real 'foot-tapper' (or should that be 'head banger'?), and the lyrics are manic and dark. Again I've got to say that Palmer's drumming is noticeably very good.

'The Three Fates' (the goddesses Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos from Greek mythology) starts with 'Clotho': Emerson playing the Royal Festival Hall's organ, which is such an impressive, deep, ecclesiastical sounding organ with rich reverberation. Then piano replaces the organ for 'Lachesis' - very classically inspired piano - that is very pleasing indeed if, like me, you are a big fan of the piano. Part of this sounds a little Rachmaninov-like when Emerson speeds up (not that I'm comparing Emerson to the great Rachmaninov). 'Atropos' is a piano trio in which Palmer backs Emerson with some good and varied percussion. Again there is a slight jazzy feel to this. Actually, it also makes me think of some of the music in West Side Story, so perhaps it has a hint of the Latin to it.

And then comes my favourite track of the album, 'Tank'. The clavichord-sounding synthesizer (or maybe it's a real clavichord or harpsichord?) sounds excellent, and the track fairly scuttles along until Palmer gives a two-minute solo that again shows this drummer's skill. And when the solo ends with the synthesized swishing from speaker to speaker and the marching, fat synthesizer with pounding drumbeat and high-pitched synthesizer dancing over the top almost like a flute, it's the absolute business. You could easily picture a formidable army marching relentlessly forward to this.

The last track, 'Lucky Man', is a ballad by Lake with acoustic guitar leading and ironic lyrics. Although the song has a simple structure and the lyrics might be considered slightly pretentious, the tune and chorus are pleasing, and this is something to which I find myself humming or whistling along. Emerson's Moog synthesizer 'pyrotechnics' come in towards the end and the piece ends with just that and Palmer's drums.

Well, what more can be said? The album is not a masterpiece although it is certainly a showcase for the playing skills of Emerson and Palmer, although less of a chance for Lake to shine than on their later albums. Emerson always borrowed heavily, and here a third of the tracks are the band's interpretations of pieces by classical composers. If you listen to the original pieces you'll see that the interpretations are actually quite close to the originals (and you'll also hear how good the originals are!), but at least the band has given them a good twist. To me, though, 'Tank' is the best track on this album (and much better than the version on "Works, Volume 1", but that's another story). Nevertheless, all of the tracks are good, and all three musicians produced an album that I still listen to some thirty years later, which says something.

Fitzcarraldo | 4/5 |


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