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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson, Lake & Powell: Emerson, Lake & Powell CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

3.13 | 557 ratings

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3 stars Heather Arsonists Foiled by Mid Atlantic Storm Clouds

There is a story attached to this album that posits the original master tape recorded in England was destroyed in a fire/accident and forced the band to reconvene in the USA to start all over again at the behest of Polydor. Another anecdote often retold by Carl Palmer (he ain't nicknamed 'Porky' for nuthin') is that he advised Keith and Greg they would have to wait another four weeks for his contractual obligations with Asia to end before he could join them on this project. 'Fingers' and 'Spud' apparently weren't prepared to postpone for just another month and recruited Cozy Powell instead. Whether there is even a grain of truth in all this is debatable, but I must admit to being more than sorry that a more 'anglicised' version of the album is not in existence. It might also help to explain why we are left with a document that loses much in the botched transatlantic translation of 'ELP' into 'AOR'.

What does seem abundantly clear however, are the internal tensions at work between the three protagonists and their anxious record label i.e Emerson and Lake were never exactly prog's 'Ken & Barbie' and we have the late Cozy Powell's testimony to their relationship at that time as being somewhat closer to 'Itchy & Scratchy'.

All the ingredients were now in place for an album that would make Love Beach sound heavier than a tone row poem by Schoenberg, but surprise surprise, the results are considerably better than we had even dared to hope. Apart from the engineered lapses into corporate 'rawk' territory to appease their paymasters, most of these tracks sound just fine and dandy to me.

Powell's proven abilities as a heavy rock drummer are well documented, but he is very much an 'in the pocket' player in contrast to say, a 70's Carl Palmer or the late Brian Davison, and this approach does have a commensurate effect on the music from Keith and Greg. Therefore it should not surprise you to find a stripped down backbeat beneath many of these songs. Keith has stated in interviews that he found this 'liberating' in his playing, knowing that Powell was always there, never allowing the pulse to get lost.

'The Score' - Keith often uses brass fanfares in his work and these are what drives this piece along so dramatically. There is a lengthy instrumental section before the vocals enter and we notice immediately he uses synth chording more frequently than the organ of previous years. (Remember this was 1985 and polyphonic synthesizers were commonplace) Greg's voice is ushered in bathed in about a swimming pool's worth of reverb, and like all the elements of this heavily processed recording, sounds artificially ENORMOUS. I suspect the track was originally intended to be entirely instrumental as apart from the reprised 'You're welcome back my friends' tagline, the remaining vocals appear utterly superfluous.

If you like your prog both pompous AND bombastic (with a hint of Camembert) then you will require at least one change of clothing long before the end of this.

'Learning to Fly' - With one foot in the stadium and the other in the cinema, Emerson straddles quite admirably two competing disciplines here and the result is a deceptively simple but dynamic song of which his own parts carry the melodic interest considerably better than Lake's. (After running repairs to another instrumental?) For those who collect the salacious and dissolute anecdotes attributed to their musical heroes, just be aware that Keith is on record as identifying the musical seed of this piece as the 4 note melody produced by a squeaky iron gate on his Tudor Sussex home. It just goes to show that 'well oiled' and lubricants do not always beget great Rock'n'Roll...

The pace changes abruptly at the end and Keith's exposure to the soundtrack industry is evidenced by a quite magnificent piece of orchestral writing realised on unaccompanied synths that segues into....

'The Miracle' - OK I admit it, the lyrics here would probably even embarrass Fish when he was but a tadpole in short pants, but the music is thrillingly cinematic and for once, carries a truly spellbinding chorus. We get a rare glimpse of the Hammond from the front of the mix in an inspired solo that entails a visit to 'Goosebumps R Us' for me every time.

'Touch and Go' - Perhaps one of the only post 80's tracks by any permutation of ELP deserving of classic status. The harmonic structure is as basic as any simple folk tune, but the periodic injection of 'that' stupendous fanfare stated by Emerson, clever use of a choir pad and Powell's industrial percussion effects, transcend the humble foundations of this piece. For what it's worth, I think the fanfare 'hook' bears more than a passing resemblance to something I have heard before by composer Vaughan Williams? Whatever, just when you think Keith has run out of harmonic variations to put under this motif, he comes up with yet more to bring us to a giddy and swaggering conclusion.

'Loveblind' - Oh dear....why is there never a power failure when you could really use one? Apart from a decent synth pitch wheel excursion on the fade out, this is all the reason a man needs to throw some of his fellow creatures off a bridge. It sounds like a bad Asia song covered by an REO Speedwagon tribute band after their guitars had been stolen from the equipment truck. (If you play this song backwards you will NOT hear any Satanic messages, just Polydor purring)

'Step Aside' - This is one of those little hidden gems that seems to have fallen beneath the ELP radar. A very atmospheric and brilliantly composed jazz setting of a memorable tune featuring Keith's patented Oscar Peterson impersonation and some tangy harmonies on the classic intro. Although this is hardly Cozy's forte, he sensibly plays well within himself and contributes a tasteful if somewhat rudimentary swung groove. What little jazz the drummer may have had in his soul, it completely dwarfs that possessed by Lake, who just sounds ill at ease with this material.

'Lay Down Your Guns' - Keith and Greg have an unfailing knack of coming up with twee sub Elgar whenever they attempt 'majestic' paeans to pacifism. A similar, if slightly better attempt is represented by 'Farewell to Arms' from the Black Moon album. Do they have to write a pro war song before they eventually nail this sucker?

Whoops, that was clumsy as it's now time for......

'Mars, the Bringer of War' - Emerson has stated that he hesitated before embarking on an adaptation of this Holst piece as he felt it was 'just a bit too obvious' for a band like ELP to tackle. Regardless of his misgivings, I am glad he went ahead and, although I do share some of the reservations expressed by other commentators, do feel that this is a largely successful attempt.

As with all arrangements of music composed for scores of performers, much is going to be lost in transposing said parts for just three players. Keith has therefore learned to his cost, that he will we judged not only on what he does play, but also on what he chooses to omit and is forever trapped in a classic 'no win' situation. I believe he has to his credit, identified all the appropriate 'obbligato' parts on Mars and does a damn fine job of capturing the relentless fury and incendiary aspects of Holst's composition.

My only criticism would be that the palette of sound colours he chooses are predominantly synth heavy and without recourse to the more 'organic' elements like Hammond, piano, and clavinet with which to provide contrasting relief, the 8 minutes or so of unremitting synthetic textures can be something of a strain on the listener.

This is a very robust and often neglected album and, although it was transparent that this line-up would never endure, we should instead just enjoy a record that still manages to fan some progressive flames despite Polydor's strenuous attempts to douse the fire.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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