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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.06 | 1660 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 2, 1971, Tarkus - Emerson, Lake And Palmer


Tarkus, though it doesn't (for me, at least) have the same consistent quality and emotional impact as their debut, is the album that really fixed the future of ELP, and the title suite is definitely vital listening for any progger. Although I can see where much of the criticism for the rest of the album comes from, I think it's not as bad as some make it out to be. Even the much-maligned "filler" Are You Ready Eddy and Jeremy Bender have charm, energy and sarcasm, which works for me, and only the fairly cold 'Infinite Space' and the organ intro to The Only Way fall down a little. Lake's sometimes guilty of producing dubious lyrics, and in particular the words to the atheistic The Only Way are too confrontational and feeble for me.

The second side begins with the whimsical Jeremy Bender. The light elements might grate a little with the dark, brooding title track just before it, but if you see the second side as a completely separate entity, it opens it nicely. Lake's lyrics are amusing enough, the piano is good. Palmer is obviously able to merge his drums impeccably with just about anything, and this track is no exception. Lake's voice is good, and the clapping doesn't spoil it at all.

Next we have a winner, the unfortunately named Bitches Crystal. It enjoys a twisted sense of humour, with the nursery rhyme introduction and reprise hilariously contrasted with the main drums, bass and heavier piano theme. Lake's voice, though not as sublime as usual, and occasionally overstretched, and bits of moog and overblown lyrics thrown in for good measure. It ends well, and is a great track in its own way, and perhaps the real proof for me that ELP did have a sense of humour.

The fourth track on the album is of a different sort. There's a classical organ intro, apparently Bach, but, as with most classical organ I'm not particularly fond of it. You then have a less showy organ part subordinated neatly to Lake's superb voice and slightly tacky atheistic lyrics (I don't care, if he can write Just Take A Pebble, he can do more than brief couplets and triplets :p). They're probably too strong/tacky for some people, I've learned to tolerate them. However, that's where it picks up. Palmer and Lake come in, and Emerson switches to piano, to create a beautiful, memorable trio. If it wasn't for the opening and lyrics, this would be ELP at their best. Still a great track.

The conclusion, infinite time and space is mostly a trio, with the briefest of drum solos, and a quick piano solo too, but, without Lake's voice, sort of cold. It also feels a little too deliberate at times, but Emerson's piano overlaying over an already stand-alone part nearish the end is quite neat. Compared to Emerson's usual prominence, it feels like Frippertronics. The song's got some character. Still good material.

Hammond organ, moog and drums drive the next song to a decent synth-and-drum based conclusion that sort of reminds me of some of Toccata. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, but sound good, and Lake's voice is again strong. Unlike in Bitches Crystal, the song is serious enough that Lake over-extending his voice to what basically is screaming doesn't help. The hammond riff is solid and overblown. The drumming here's particularly noteworthy, and the heavier keyboards provide a nice break from the acoustic-dominated second side. If you're a big BSS fan, this is probably the second-side track for you.

Are you Ready Eddy is a quirky rock and roll song with absolutely hectic piano, loads of energy, excellent drums and entertaining, sarcastic lyrics. It may not be the most complex, soul-searching prog song ever, but its fun (and partly inappropriate) to sing along to. The vocal effects only enhance this. This and Jeremy Bender sort of acts as bookends for the second side, and they give a relief from the pomposity of Tarkus much more effectively than some of their other light songs.

In conclusion, I like the second side. It's got a lot of great material, and nothing really intolerable. It's not as superb as ELP, or as progressive and overblown as Brain Salad Surgery, but it shows a lot of development in the band, and their musical direction, while never being really pretentious and humourless enough to lose the listener.

Oh, and the first side's quite good.

Rating: Tarkus is a masterpiece, the rest is good. Four Stars.

Favourite Track: Tarkus (surprise!), more specifically Battlefield

--- More seriously:

The Tarkus suite is really essential listening for any progger. It feels very deep, switches mood frequently, has Lake's best lyrics, nicely used vocal effects, great bursts of lead guitar on battlefield, changing Hammond sounds everywhere, moogs occasionally added in for good measure, and the unique drumming that fits this bizarre mix. Eruption begins with Lake's voice multi-tracked and slowly rising in number to meet the cymbal crescendo, Hammond organ to fit the track's name, moog that evokes the lava depicted in the album booklet. The bass is there, but only really as an atmospheric and rhythm section addition, and that works great for the song. This moves on the quieter hammond and bass section beneath Lake's beautiful vocals on Stones of Years. Everything is here, all working together, and nothing too dominant. The bass becomes a little more pronounced and provides the real rhythm while Emerson and Palmer overpoweringly provide the main tune. There's another similar vocal section. Iconoclast is solid and instrumental, while the following Mass is a bit acquired, but good once you get into it, and the trite Moog and low vocals defuse some of Tarkus' pretentious aspects. The instrumental section in the middle is great and Lake's guitar 'solo' is good.

Manticore is a fairly intense instrumental with masses of quirks, and music that suggest a battle more skilfully than The Gates Of Delirium (*beats off Yes fans with hammond organ*) ever did. Battlefield is the best section of a superb suite. Surprisingly emotional and dominant drumming, soul-wrenching lead guitar, beautiful singing with deep, war-related lyrics, and haunting organ-work that manages to somehow lead *as well*. Aquatarkus is a good return to the main theme, sprinkled with bits of moogage, and a great conclusion. This suite is essential prog listening.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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