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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

2.90 | 696 ratings

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2 stars A million copies of the double-LP "Works Volume 1" shipped in the first week after it was released in 1977. Clearly the then-large ELP fan base was 'hungry' after waiting more than three years for the band to release a new studio album to follow the excellent "Brain Salad Surgery". Three of the four LP-sides of "Works Volume 1" were each allotted to an individual band member; the fourth LP-side was a collective effort. The double-CD release puts Emerson's and Lake's works on the first CD, Palmer's and the collective works on the second.

For 'his' LP-side, Emerson decided to write a classical concerto for piano and orchestra: 'Piano Concerto No. 1'. Whilst it's impressive that Emerson was even able to attempt a substantial classical work, he only partially succeeded in my opinion. Listening to the result it sounds as if Emerson, consciously or subconsciously, emulated Copland, Sibelius, Elgar and Gershwin. The music seems to jump in fragmented fashion between these composers' styles and between different themes. Near the end of the piece the music even sounds to me a little like a Hollywood movie soundtrack. Ultimately I find 'Piano Concerto No. 1' mediocre, I'm sorry to say.

Lake's five contributions are all pleasant enough songs, albeit not up to the standard of his writing on previous ELP albums in my opinion. I feel the five songs are over-orchestrated; the violins in particular are over the top. I get a picture of Lake in a white tux crooning with a big band behind him. Try getting that image when you listen to any of the band's previous albums!

With the orchestral backing (plenty of strings to the fore), 'Lend Your Love Tonight' to me is pure pop and sounds like the sort of thing one could hear playing quietly in an elevator, hotel lobby or restaurant.

'C'est La Vie' is probably the most similar in style to Lake ballads on earlier albums. I can certainly hum along to his pleasant tenor voice and to the catchy tune, laden with strings and plucking acoustic guitar, but again this sounds to me like elevator or restaurant music (not a sin in itself, by the way!). The very Gallic-sounding accordion in the middle of the track does border on the corny, though. Clearly that famous Frenchman Johnny Hallyday thought the song was worth covering, and his version with lyrics completely in French was a no. 1 hit in France. Could you envisage Hallyday covering an earlier Lake piece?

'Hallowed Be Thy Name' is again a pleasant enough song, but I do find the prevalent strings irritating. The sawing strings are presumably intended to create an effect, but to me the song could have been much better with a completely different arrangement.

'Nobody Loves You Like I Do' is a song that I would not have been surprised to hear ROD STEWART singing. Yes, it's that sort of song, complete with harmonica backing. I can almost see an audience waving their arms in the air from side to side in unison to this song.

Lake's tenor on the ballad 'Closer To Believing' is as good as it is on 'C'est La Vie'. A pleasant, harmless love song, it would probably have made a nice backdrop in Pretty Woman II. Or perhaps it's even too twee for that; maybe a children's movie would have been a more appropriate vehicle. Actually, cynicism aside, this song could easily be played to a baby or young child at bedtime to lull it to sleep.

The Hollywood-style musical arrangements continue with Palmer's 'The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits': it reminds me of one of those John Wayne movies with the Indians (or should I say "native Americans"?) on the warpath. Ironically, this piece sounds more genuinely classical than Emerson's concerto, which turns out to be the case as Palmer borrowed it from the 2nd Movement ("The Enemy God And The Dance Of The Dark Spirits") of Prokofiev's Scythian Suite (which Prokofiev rescued from the ballet score "Ala And Lolli" commissioned, but subsequently rejected, by Diaghilev). The musicianship is very evident but the arrangement not quite right somehow.

The first part of Palmer's 'L.A. Nights' sounds like it was lifted straight from an episode of Miami Vice (if it weren't for the "L.A.", that is). The second half turns into an R&R ditty, complete with sax and JOE WALSH guitar (and I really do mean JOE WALSH: he played on this track). Quite a foot-tapper: think THE EAGLES. 'New Orleans' is another rocker, which would have been more at home on a JOE WALSH album. It comes complete with wah-wah bag (a.k.a. talkbox) accompaniment, which JOE WALSH made so famous on 'Rocky Mountain Way' (great track, by the way).

'Two Part Invention In D Minor' is Palmer's percussion arrangement of the Bach piece, with Harry South's arrangement for the strings. It's pleasant enough. Palmer taps away on the xylophone and vibraphone while the violins meander baroquely behind.

'Food For Your Soul' sounds like a big band on steroids. Trumpets blaring, some fat synth sitting in the background and Palmer bashing away (expertly, it should be said) on drums and other percussion. I could happily sit and eat my popcorn in the intermission listening to this stuff. Whoops, there I go again about the movies.

For his final piece, Palmer resurrects 'Tank' from the band's eponymous first album, but it gets the 'big band' treatment this time around: trumpets, sax, flutes and violin instead of synthesizer. My ears only briefly breath a sigh of relief (!) when, half way through the track, Palmer's spacey drum imitates the original track and Emerson's synthesizer, albeit in a somewhat twee fashion, sounds like the long, marching ending to the original track.

And so to the band's joint works: an arrangement of Aaron Copland's 'Fanfare For The Common Man', and the band's own 'Pirates'. I recall the former getting a fair amount of radio airtime when the album was released, which is no surprise as it's by far and away the most accessible track on the two LPs/CDs. Copland's original is wonderful, and ELP didn't do too bad a job on the arrangement. They turned it into a rocking foot-tapper all right, although the album version does drag on and there's too much distortion for my liking in the synthesizer further into the track. As I mentioned in my review of "Pictures At An Exhibition", ELP (well, Emerson, really) did not set out to copy a chosen classical composer, they just wanted to give their own interpretation of a piece they liked a lot. Well, they did that here too, but perhaps not as successfully as on previous albums in my opinion, although I know their version of 'Fanfare For The Common Man' is popular and is still trotted out occasionally on radio and TV.

'Pirates' must have been the band's subliminal preparation for "Love Beach": it reminds me quite a bit of the music on that infamous album. Again heavily orchestrated, and with both swashbuckling lyrics and music, parts of this sound like the soundtrack to a National Geographic documentary on the Caribbean. Aha, me hearties, shiver me timbers. From what I have read on this and other Web sites, 'Pirates' actually has quite a few fans who rate it highly. Well, I'm sorry to say I'm not one of them. I can listen to this track but find it over the top and rather corny. Some of the old ELP magic surfaces briefly here and there, but overall I find the track bland and slightly cringe-making in places. "Now open wide sweet Heaven's gate, Tonight we're gonna see if Heaven burns, I want an angel on a gold chain, And I'll ride her to the stars, It's the last time for a long, long time." Not exactly one of lyricist Pete Sinfield's best efforts, and a portent of far worse to come on "Love Beach."

To sum up then, a mediocre release and the beginning of the end for this band. Creativity had clearly waned after "Brain Salad Surgery", possibly because of the long and tiring concert tour following the release of that album but also, in my opinion, because the band's fame and wealth had reached such a level that they had lost much of their earlier drive.

To me this is a 2-star album (Collectors/fans only). It's tolerable, but that's about the best I can say for it. A curate's egg if ever there was one.

Fitzcarraldo | 2/5 |


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