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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.15 | 2032 ratings

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5 stars Get Me a Ladder, The Only Way Is Down

I tried, I really did, honestly (to find a weevil in these martian fire-flowers) but have to confess that this is probably the closest you will find to the unattainable perfection we all search so futilely for.

ELP had learned the lessons from its predecessor Trilogy, i.e don't write anything that you can't reproduce on stage and end up touring just half an album of new material. No weak tracks here, and I can say that every one of them has been my favourite at one time or another.

We were still ascending when we made Brain Salad Surgery, we were enjoying a sensational amount of success, and I suppose we felt as if we could do anything and we certainly tried. Musically, lyrically and visually, we really went for it.' Keith Emerson in 2014

Interestingly, the band was not allowed to perform Jerusalem in the UK, presumably on the reactionary advice of the censor who hesitated at the idea of some dirty long-hairs 'butchering' a national hymn. Shame really, as this version is completely respectful to the original and Lake's vocal is one of his best ever. Palmer's drumming is sublime, and manages to be incredibly busy AND utterly supportive despite the plethora of spectacular rolls throughout the track's short duration. Not sure if fatboy actually plays bass on this as the bottom end, to my ears at least, sounds as though it comes solely from Emerson's Minimoog bass?. Keith had tried an arrangement of this piece with the Nice in the late 60's but it never came together to his satisfaction and was abandoned.

Tocatta - Ginastera's music is something of an acquired taste and certainly not for the feint-hearted so Emerson has done a remarkable job of transforming the 4th movement of the Argentinian's 1st piano concerto into a format that displays the band to best effect and convinced the initially reluctant Lake to climb on board. This is the closest ELP came to abandoning conventional tonality altogether and certainly a close run thing with The Barbarian as the heaviest and most challenging piece they ever recorded. For years I thought the electronic 'oscillator epilepsy' that comes near the end was contributed mainly by Emerson's modular Moog system, but I have been advised that most of the sounds here come via Palmer's electronic percussion. The composer's publisher Boosey & Hawkes originally refused permission for ELP to release the track which forced Emerson and the group's manager Stewart Young to fly to Switzerland and obtain the maestro's blessing in person.

Yep, we need a soothing ballad now after that onslaught, and they deliver in style with Lake's Still You Turn Me On being a contender for the best song he ever wrote. This would have been the perfect single from the album but rather pedantically, the performing rights 'bean counters' deemed that as Palmer does not play anything on this track, it could not therefore be released under the name ELP. Keith's harpsichord part on this is simply stunning and displays a subtlety and restraint to which he is seldom afforded due credit

The intro to Benny the Bouncer contains one of the first instances of a polyphonic synth being used in recording history, and on reflection, this hilarious vaudeville parody seems an odd choice on which to debut such innovative technology. The track gets some flak from ELP fans, but I love it to death and the piano solo is one of the most exhilarating sections in popular music EVER. Very funny and witty lyrics from Lake and Peter Sinfield which serve to undermine the charges against the latter of being a pretentious dilettante and ELP as humorless. Greg's approximation of 'arry Champion as a cockney doorman is mercilessly accurate.

Karn Evil 9 on its own must be deserving of being considered Prog's equivalent to Pop's 'Sgt Pepper'. Emerson had misgivings about using the 'Roll Up' part in the lyrics with a ringmaster inviting the audience to 'the show' due to the inevitable Beatles comparisons but relented in the end. In it's 30 minute span it encompasses everything that visitors to this site value above all else. Fantastic playing, innovative technology that ENHANCES the music as opposed to DISGUISING same.

Economical solos and breathtaking exploitation of dramatics and accents?. (Check)

Key changes, tempo changes and timbral diversity? (Check).

Humour, Irony, Wit, Gravitas, Good and Bad Taste, Irreverence, Anarchy and Conservatism? (Check)

There is no noodling over a riff for 10 minutes here and the music is meticulously conceived right down to the last high-hat stroke to be faithfully reproducible within the live environment. If proof were needed, the resultant tour and triple live album Welcome Back My Friends is testimony to this artistic rigor. Similarly, the description 'Symphonic' is usually a lazy misnomer when applied to the majority of Prog giants.There is very little formal symphonic development in Yes, Crimson or Genesis. However the term is perfectly apt for this triumvirate suite where themes and motifs are developed with the conventional academic discipline as deployed by the likes of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Copland, Bartok, Janacek et al.

The lyrics in Prog are normally one of its weak points but Lake and Sinfield really make a great effort here to explore the ramifications of the dawn of a dystopian technological age where our inventions ultimately come to destroy us and our human values. Some may now consider the corrupt 'circus' analogy as somewhat cliched but in 1973 this was thought provoking and extremely prescient, so full marks to ELP for that.

It is strange however, that the mainly acoustic 2nd Impression avowedly inspired by Chick Corea, is based on themes contained in the following 3rd Impression which has led me to believe it was composed AFTER the 3rd part of the suite? At times jazzy, eerie, haunting, genuinely scary and 'silent movie' scary this latin influenced track (the Minimoog marimba) runs the whole gamut of Emerson's many stylistic influences.

SUMMATION: At least 30 years ahead of its time as evidenced by polyphonic synths, electronic percussion and sequencing (the classic swept filter effect that segues side one and two of the original vinyl)

From this point on, there was nowhere else for ELP to go, (electronically at least) as they had taken analogue technology to beyond the limits dreamed of in 1973. It would be another 8 years before MIDI appeared and thereafter the digital revolution of sampling.

Best album by the best band in the best genre with the best cover. (A Full House)

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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