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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2128 ratings

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5 stars Hymns are usually written so as to be catchy and easy to sing, to enable the Faithful to belt them out in church. The English hymn 'Jerusalem' is probably the epitome of the formula: whenever it is sung, it is with gusto. It is not popular in Anglican churches these days, probably due to the dated lyrics written circa 1804 by the poet and painter William Blake 1757-1827 (not the painter Sir William Blake Richmond, by the way, who lived 1842-1921), which these days are considered by some to be pompous and silly. They are! However it should be appreciated that the lyrics date from a bygone era. Blake's words were set to music by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in 1916. Anyway, the hymn has always been a favourite of mine and I was therefore delighted to find that ELP had chosen to include it on the album. Actually, this adaptation is very faithful and respectful. Lake belts out the words, Emerson's Hammond of course sounds ecclesiastical (but not excessively) and Palmer's drumming is very evident. A wonderful, rousing song with a great tune.

'Toccata', an adaptation of the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's Piano Concerto No. 1 Opus 28, 4th Movement (Toccata concertata), is an amazing piece of rock music. Emerson's novel arrangement of this piano and orchestral work is perfect. In 1973 he visited Ginastera at his home in Geneva to seek his approval of the modern adaptation. There are a number of versions of this encounter. As Emerson recounted it in the sleeve notes of the Rhino Records re-issue of the album, on hearing the first five or six bars Ginastera exclaimed "Diabolic!" and, after rewinding the tape and listening to it until the end, said "That's incredible! You've captured the essence of my music, and nobody's ever done that before." If you listen to Ginastera's original work for piano and orchestra you'll hear that it is an excellent, frenetic piece and that ELP has done it justice. Emerson's stabbing keyboard playing and Palmer's varied and expert percussion (including drum synthesizers for the first time) work perfectly. The ELP version is a serious piece of music in all senses of the word. Fabulous, amazing, disturbing, you name it. I really like this piece of music.

'Still..You Turn Me On' is a lovely Lake ballad about unrequited, intense love, and is very good melodically and lyrically. Emerson's lovely accordion, harpsichord and synthesizer accompany Lake's acoustic guitar during the verses and he lets loose some waddling, fat synthesizer at the end of each refrain. Lake's lyrics immediately stand out: "Every day a little sadder, a little madder, someone get me a ladder." I like this song very much.

'Benny The Bouncer' is ELP's usual jokey track providing the light relief on the album. It reminds me of 'Jeremy Bender' and 'Are You Ready Eddy' on "Tarkus", and of 'The Sheriff' on "Trilogy". As usual we have Emerson's honky-tonk barroom piano in places, with Palmer's drum brushes and cymbals. It gives me the impression of a 1920's London East End pub skiffle, especially with Lake's exaggerated Cockney accent used throughout most of the track ('is Laaandon accent's doin me 'ed in, mate). Sinfield's lyrics are amusing and clever, purposely irreverent and extremely violent. The last verse is a real hoot: "Well they dragged him from the wreckage of the Palais in bits. They tried to stick together all the bits that would fit. But some of him was missing and "part of him" arrived too late, so now he works for Jesus as the bouncer at St. Peter's gate."

And then comes the album's pièce de résistance, 'Karn Evil 9' in three parts: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Impressions, totalling just over 29 and a half minutes of excellent music. According to Sinfield's Web site and the sleeve notes of the Victory Music CD, he helped with the lyrics on the 1st and 3rd Impressions (the 2nd Impression is an instrumental). However, the booklet with the Rhino Records CD only credits Sinfield for the 3rd Impression - I suppose in error.

The lengthy 1st Impression was originally split into two in order to fit onto an LP (there was a fade-out on Side A and, on Side B, a fade-in with Lake announcing the famous words "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends."). The fade-out no longer exists on the CD, but the tinkling keyboards and tambourine 'intermission' at that point in the singing remains. Personally, it's a relief that I don't have to turn over an LP anymore: I hated the interruption. The 1st Impression is full of power, with Lake belting out the lyrics with feeling in his usual clear tenor. The lyrics of the first part are very poetic and full of angst, and then they switch to the jokey, mocking circus-style caller that this album is probably most famous for: "Step inside! Hello! We've the most amazing show". The lyrics of this section are also excellent: again irreverent in places, and sometimes cynical. This really bops along and is a really catchy piece of music. Another great track.

The 2nd Impression starts off fairly sedately with Palmer's drumming and Emerson on piano sounding almost jazzy. Then they up tempo and it becomes quite funky, with Emerson's synthesizer sounding like Caribbean steel drums. The piano then becomes the predominant instrument with Palmer's drumming in support, going through a very quiet period and then upping tempo and becoming jazzy again. I enjoy the 2nd Impression but it is not as exciting as the 1st and 3rd Impression.

The 3rd Impression kicks off with Emerson's synthesiser sounding like a clarion call, with Hammond and Moog used throughout the futuristic-sounding track. It is initially reminiscent of a military drinking song, then it becomes apparent that this is the oft-told tale of mankind being overrun by machines of its own making. A computer robot-voice, sounding rather like a Dalek from the 1960s and 70s UK TV series Dr Who, confirms the accession at the end of the track. Given that in 1973 when this album was released computers were the size of large rooms, with ferromagnetic core memory, magnetic tape storage and punch-card data entry, this album is all the more pioneering. The band were using electronic instruments (albeit analogue) producing very futuristic sounds and with a very sci-fi feel to the music. Even the cover art by Swiss painter and sculptor H.R. Giger is very sci-fi in style, and appropriate given the feel of 'Toccata' and 'Karn Evil 9'. Several years later Giger's 'biomechanical' art was used for the sci-fi film Alien, illustrating that the band was indeed at the forefront of the new.

The LP I bought in 1973 is long since gone but, if I remember correctly, the front cover - a darker 'metal block' with a central hole - was a gatefold which opened to reveal the amazing pale grey face of a beautiful woman with eyes closed, sensuous lips and 'hair' looking like some form of multi-vertebral marine worm, that face now appearing on the back page of the Victory Music CD sleeve. Giger used his wife (who later committed suicide) as the model. The size of a CD case does not do the cover art justice, although the front cover of the so-called jewel case of the Rhino Records re-release is ridged like those 3D postcards and, if rocked, shows an image as if the gatefold were being opened and closed. Still, it's no substitute for the LP cover. Apparently there was a penis airbrushed up the woman's neck, with the glans just below her chin. I never noticed this on the cover of the LP I bought in 1973, and only read about this recently. Now that I look at the Victory Music CD, what appears to be a glans penis does indeed appear below the woman's chin, in the circle framed by the dark metal block on the cover, although nothing is to be seen on the complete picture of the woman's face on the back of the sleeve. I would be interested to find an original LP cover to find out if I was just not seeing the obvious all those years ago. By the way, according to the booklet with the Rhino Records re-release, the album title came from the lyrics of the 1973 DR JOHN hit 'Right Place, Wrong Time'. Apparently the album's title was (is?) a British euphemism for fellatio.

Well, ELP are famous for their musical excesses: bombastic, pompous, flamboyant, call the music what you will, ELP were the supreme showmen in a musical genre where pretentiousness and showmanship reigned. And this album is the culmination of their flamboyance. Whilst it is not my favourite ELP album ("Tarkus" has that distinction) and I find it has lost some of its lustre and excitement for me over the last 30 years, it is still an excellent, impressive album, pioneering for its time, and is in my mind unquestionably a masterpiece of the Progressive Rock genre. It's darn good music by three consummate musicians. Five stars and my apologies for such a long review.

Fitzcarraldo | 5/5 |


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