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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.06 | 1670 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars ELP has always been the whipping boy for anti-prog diatribes, and with good reason; the music is most often characterized by emotionless virtuosity and an unflinchingly serious, if not pompous delivery. Luckily, Emerson seems to have backed off a bit from the "look at how talented I am" moments that bogged down the debut album, and "Tarkus" instead attempts to be a modern narrative symphony. Utilizing 1971's state of the art technology and a classical music repetoire that ranges from the romantics to modern atonal influences, Emerson sketches a grinding and tumbling sci-fi soundtrack that occasionally rocks and rarely bores. Both more polished than the first album and less accessible than the following works, this is probably the band's most intriguing piece. There's less carnival in the soundscape than in most of Emerson's works - in fact, "Battlefield" isn't too far from a PINK FLOYD style. Except for a bit of irritating synth noodling in "Aquatarkus", the shorter chapters within the piece keep the energy going and the approach to composition is appealingly unique.

Too bad about "Jeremy Bender"- this album's version of the goofy hoedown in "Take a Pebble" (or even the one in "Hoedown"). The barroom piano sounds like a joke, unlike the more realistically rollicking ivories on "Bitches Crystal". The latter is an interesting mix of scuttling drums and synth sweeps, but Lake's shouted vocals ride a fine line between expressive and merely harsh. "The Only Way"/ "Infinite Space" is another in a long line of synth classical adaptations, and honestly I don't even care for it when the more innovative Wendy Carlos does it. The musicianship is beyond reproach, but the lyrics are embarassing even for an agnostic like me and I'm relatively certain the deeply religious Bach would not have approved one bit. The harder "A Time and A Place" sounds much better, in fact sharing many positive qualities with the first side's epic. Unfortunately, the album closes with the really amazingly horrible "Are You Ready Eddy" which tries to be a lighthearted CREAM/ WHO rocker and instead sounds almost scary- and not in a fun way. I'm not even emotionally attached to the band and I feel bad for them for recording this song- I can't imagine how embarrased it makes hardcore fans feel.

Second side missteps aside, this is an important and innovative progressive rock album. It completely fails to move me on any emotional level, and virtuosity alone is rarely enough to do it for me, so I don't really enjoy listening to "Tarkus"...but on the other hand there's enough here to keep most progressive fans interested for a long time. It's much more consistent than the first album, and "Tarkus" is arguably more unique a composition than "Karn Evil 9" or "Pictures". Therefore, I'll give it three stars- the highest possible rating I can rationalize for an album that I don't actually care for.

James Lee | 3/5 |


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