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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson Lake & Palmer CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.24 | 2230 ratings

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It should be self evident that reviews of such pivotal progressive rock albums as this one one must be tempered by the heights/depths a band subsequently reached after their release. Had I heard this for the 1st time in 1970, I would have been quite simply 'blown away' as they say, as there had been nothing quite like it hitherto.

Preamble over, on with the music.

'The Barbarian' - although rather cheekily not credited to Bartok on the initial pressings, this remains perhaps my favourite ELP track ever. Venomous and sinewy Lake bass, snarling and attacking Hammond plus a kit assault from Palmer that stills leaves me speechless. The piano/brushes interlude in the middle comes as a welcome respite from the unremitting carnage that bookends this classical adaptation. When the track ends, you are changed forever....

'Take a Pebble' - Emerson's musical designs dwarf what is at best, a pleasant enough but rather insubstantial Lake ballad which completely outstays it's welcome. The piano playing is as ever, masterful, but given the paucity of melodic material available here with which to improvise on, Emerson runs out of ideas well before half way. The rudimentary guitar solo in the middle, replete with the atmospheric cave sounds, is mixed far too low and served only to become an area on the original vinyl record that proliferated scratches in glorious hi fidelity stereo.

'Knife Edge' - Notwithstanding another little copyright 'oversight' re the disgruntled Janacek estate, this is a belter of the first order with a fantastic organ solo that still exhilarates 37 years on. Great singing from Mr Greg but collaborating with a roadie is more than likely to result in terrible lyrics (Fraser) The band always had a terrific knack for adapting just the right classical piece to suit their own musical ends and Bach's Italian Concerto quoted here is no exception. Like most people in 1970 I too thought my record player had melted during the 'slow down' section at the end.

'Three Fates' - Wonderful playing from Emerson throughout his 'solo' contribution after a rather boggy and sludgy intro on the pipe organ (which became de rigueur for all his subsequent imitators/wannabees thereafter). Can't help but feeling that the whole is less than the sum of it's parts on this one. Lots of great ideas follow on from each other sequentially but the overall architecture creaks a bit. Greg and Carl's entire summed contribution appears to be restricted to the latin flavoured final section.

'Tank' - Probably the closest ELP got to playing jazz rock in their careers. Brilliant harpsichord and clavinet from Emerson, and fat boy turns in a tour de force on bass. Being the early 70's, this sprawling epic could not be complete without recourse to a lengthy drum solo. I have heard and been entertained by many of Carl's solos over the years but must say that this is the worst one he ever committed to tape. When the hopelessly dated phased drumming enters, it's such a relief to hear the swung ending section after the tedium that preceded it. Emerson's ominous Moog makes it's first appearance here and at the time, was an alien timbre that we were all completely bowled over by. Ground breaking stuff indeed.

'Lucky Man' - the band's only stateside hit probably gave the yanks the impression that ELP was the UK's answer to CSNY. Lake's pretty but inconsequential acoustic song certainly milks undeserving resources from Emerson and Palmer which would have been better utilised on more group material. Similarly with Take a Pebble the arrangement is far superior to the underlying musical ideas. Much has been written about Emo's famous outro Moog solo, so I won't labour the point, but according to his autobiography he states

I thought it was shit, I still do...

Personally, I love it and it seduced me thereafter into a lifelong love affair with the synthesizer and Prog Rock in general. Having now read both Keith and Greg's autobiographies it seems their respective versions of events often contradicts that of the other as to how this track came into being. Both agree that the album was 3 to 4 minutes short of the industry standard 40 minute running time required by the record company. Greg therefore pitched his acoustic ballad written when he was barely in his teens to address this. Keith tried initially to contribute some organ but soon abandoned this and asked Lake to record the song on his own before retreating to the pub. When a 'refreshed' Emerson returned, he expressed admiration for how far the arrangement had developed with the addition of drums, bass, electric guitar and backing vocals. He suggested a synth solo over the fade-out using Advision's resident Moog which had lain undisturbed in the studio for a long time as everyone confirms they were afraid to touch it (including engineering guru Eddy Offord) Lake however, states that a Bob Moog prototype was only delivered to the studio the same day as the Lucky Man solo was recorded and that when Keith was asked 'what does it sound like' he replied 'I don't really know, I've never used it in a studio' This all begs the question: If the Moog features on Tank, weren't they actually closer to 11 minutes shy of the desired 40 minute running time? The reason for Keith acquiescing to leave his solo on the recording may be considerably more mundane than any offered previously i.e. the Performing Rights bean counters wouldn't have allowed them to release the song as a single byELP if Emerson didn't play on it.

To sum up:

The problems of satisfying such a disparate trio of personalities as ELP were manifest as early as this 1970 album. The inclusion of 'solo' tracks can be interpreted two ways: as an expediency to placate a record label anxious to meet the voracious demand for product before sufficient group material had been worked up or, ELP as an ego massage parlour. Coming full circle at the demise of their career on the 1977 Works album, the symmetry is complete, with each member getting a side each of a double album.

ELP made progressive rock possible with both their viability in terms of sales wedded to their brilliant musicianship. The history of popular music dictates that up till that point, the two were considered mutually exclusive.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


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