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

BRAIN SALAD SURGERY

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.11 | 1277 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars If further explanation is required, check your Webster's under 'Fellatio' - Liner notes from the '96 remaster

The Story

My tale with this legendary effort from Emerson, Lake & Palmer [ELP] begins the same way a lot of my tales with classic albums do. In my younger days my father had bought me a magazine seeing that it featured articles on Pink Floyd and Rush (two of my favorite bands, then and now), but it also featured a lot more, since that particular issue was a special edition, The Story Of Progressive Rock and had articles on many other artists whose name was completely new to me. Among the sea of reading about bands that I was familiar with already, but hadn't heard (Jethro Tull, Genesis), and bands that were completely strange and new (Hawkwind, The Soft Machine) I found one group to be particularly interesting with the stories and essays about them - ELP. Not to mention that within the magazine's top 40 progressive rock albums of all time (I had only two of them at the time - Dark Side Of The Moon and Rush's A Farewell to Kings) number five sported a chilling cover art and the same name of the band that had entertained me without even having heard them. Naturally, when I returned home from the trip that we were on when I received the magazine I set out to buy these classic albums, now fallen in love with the genre that I had come to finally give a name to - progressive rock.

I'd find the album rather quickly, (much to my surprise in hindsight, since I've only ever seen about 2 or 3 copies of it over the years) and on first listen I was more than impressed. A young mind such as mine would have trouble comprehending just what it was that I was listening to, but I knew that I liked it. There was no doubt about that. I remember sitting around with some friends at home one day when an unfamiliar person approached me, he had been playing poker a couple of rooms over with my father and had heard Toccata playing loudly. He came over and said, ''ELP?? Man, you listen to them?'' I proudly proclaimed, ''yeah! they're great!''. He gave an approving nod and we chatted for a moment before he had to return to his table and we continued to groove to the tune of Still... You Turn Me On. Looking back on that moment shows just how universal the music is for the people who know it. It moves through generations and is just as fresh to new ears as it was to the people who knew it from the genre's heyday.

It's funny to note that before the discovery of this website it seemed that progressive rock was a perfect mystery to everyone I met, except for some of the most random people that I would meet in record stores or friends of my parents who had followed the genre since it's inception. For a young King By-Tor and his friends though, the genre offered unlimited possibilities, and this album was just a scratch on the surface.

But let's get to the music:

The album

What makes Brain Salad Surgery as legendary and generation transcending as it is is a combination of many things. The bombast and virtuosity of the players on the record make for a larger than life sound, and the album's themes make for a wonderful combination. An album which features a 31-minute epic about a dystopian future can only be accurately represented by such music, after all, can you imagine any other band attempting this project? Carl Palmer sets up the frantic pace as only the founder of heavy prog legends, Atomic Rooster, can and Keith Emerson puts his alumnus skills of The Nice combined with his already rampant talent to use making the album as creepy as possible with his key work. All the while Greg Lake seems to have learned from his time with King Crimson and he puts the lungs and the bass to work in ways some might not have thought possible.

Who in the progressive world can honestly forget or deny the wonderful opening of this disc? All three members attack at once at the queue of Emerson's keys on the (somewhat maligned) Jerusalem, the band's chosen single for the album which would never be released in Britain thanks to it's content. Lake's vocals are immediately noticeable on the album thanks to the power they already present (yes, not everyone is a fan of his, but still - it's hard to deny the emotion he was able to put behind his vocals) and singing such a wonderfully constructed poem as one written by William Blake (And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time). Emerson shines immediately as well, soloing to his heart's content over the frantic drums and relatively simplistic bass that keeps the beat and makes the song more approachable on the whole. A wonderful piece.

Of course the album would not be without it's signature interpretive instrumental. Story tells of Emerson playing in The Nice and hearing a piano piece that absolutely wowed him to the point where he had to grab the player and ask ''what the hell'' he was playing. Toccata is the adaptation of Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto, 4th movement, of course the manic drum section coming into the middle would be an original segment as written by Palmer. Each member of the band is absolutely furious in this track. Emerson lets loose on the keys and stirs up some of the creepiest sounds ever made coming into the section half on which Palmer continues to absolutely fly on the drums. This is easily one of the most impressive instrumentals in the history of prog rock. Is it over the top? Yes. Is that a wonderful thing? You'd better believe it.

Things had better slow down about now or we're all in danger of our heads blowing clean off. ELP takes the time to chill in the next composition, the relaxed and wonderfully melodic Still... You Turn Me On. Calm keys and drum parts turn into an almost porno-groove section at the chorus and then slow back down again. Lake's vocals are soft and serene in this track, and Emerson's playing, though much more subtle, is still highly impressive. The bass parts acually play a large part in the mood of the song, even if they're barely audible at times. This is a great track to really groove out to, even if it is unfortunately short.

ELP was also very infamous for their more comical pieces. Benny The Bouncer is that piece for this album. A rather funny story is backed by saloon piano and a wonderfully jumpy bass section. Emerson's solo is still rather impressive, even if it's rather funny in context, and Palmer's drumming is so frantic that can't be missed, even underneath the vocals and piano parts. This is the shortest composition on the album and also the one that gathers the most complaints. While prog rockers tend to be highly serious about their genre with no room for comedy there comes a point where one song really can't spoil an album. This song shouldn't spoil anything as it is since the musicianship is still tight, even if the content isn't 100% serious. How a 2-minute song can spoil an album that is 45-minutes in length is beyond me as it is. Just sit back and enjoy.

Of course, the album would probably not be as acclaimed as it is without the behemoth that sits in wait at the end of the album. The song is structured the way it is since in the days of vinyl Karn Evil 9 was too long for one side and had to have part 1 of the first impression housed on the first side, but many cd remasters have the song as one complete track. And what a track it is! Truly one of the best of the many masterpiece compositions released by the classic prog artists. This one sits pretty along side Close To The Edge, Supper's Ready and A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers with it's wonderful playing, melody, solos, story and concept. The first half of the first impression features so much amazing work from Emerson that it's hardly believable! Emerson's backing of his own keyboard work sounds so good, and so impressive, Palmer is his always impressive self and Lake just belts out those excellent vocals as he does. Some purely creepy and some more comical lyrics from this one ranging from ''bishops' heads in jars'' to a ''stripper in a till'' and the show keeps going indeed until the end of the first side.

The oh so famous lines (legendary, even, by now) open the second half of the first impression along with a tambourine and some more synths ''welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends!''. Emerson's keyboard works in tandem with Lake's vocals on 1st Impression - Part 2 making for a very surreal mix while the deep synths of Emerson's first solo put that uneasy feeling back in your stomach which is later soloed on top of with a lighter sounding tone which is no less impressive. Another stellar section from Palmer reintroduces the band and the First Impression soon comes to an end, but not before getting louder for a grand finish.

Frantic drums and a soft but fast paino are all that's left for a moment as 2nd Impression gets on its way in it's impressive fashion. The keys become more synthetic sounding deeper into the song, but this is completely appropriate in context. This instrumental section does slow down into the middle of the song, but soon picks up again with more fast piano work and the ever-frantic rhythm section of the combined Lake and Palmer.

A triumphant synth and some lighter keys underneath introduce a passionate Lake and everything is back on its way after the instrumental interlude. Some wonderful lyrics (''his hands strike the flame of his soul') make for a wonderful conclusion with 3rd Impression as Lake's vocals compete with Emerson's computerized voice for domination of the song. What a truly terrifying piece, certainly not one to listen to late at night with the lights out (believe me, I've done it - and that was not smart). More classic moments come later on in the song (''I~am~perfect!~Are~you?''). Emerson's triumphant keys come back for yet another impressive solo partway into the song and after a couple minutes of rampant playing the vocals come back for one last competition and then everything fades into nothing... until the keys come back for one last strike, getting faster and faster until the song ultimately closes.

There's a lot of progressive rock in the world today and this was easily one of the pioneering albums. While many people may not find it to be perfect it can't be said that this is not a masterpiece. From skilled and highly impressive playing to the lyrics that can really make you think to the disturbing sleeve, this is one of the pinnacles of an era. There is nothing unessential about this album, and if you're going to have a progressive rock music collection this album should be one of the first ones in it. 5 stars out of 5 - there's a reason I decided to make such a long deal out of this review, the album is fantastic and anyone remotely interested in prog should hear it.

Queen By-Tor | 5/5 |

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