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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover

TARKUS

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.04 | 1253 ratings

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Postulate
2 stars I have to give the band credit in one regard - they were certainly trying to expand their sound with the title suite. It's not very successful, though, in my opinion, and despite the influence Tarkus itself has prog even to the present day, it doesn't stand up on its own merits in the same way the other classic prog epics do. It starts off fine enough, with a deliberately frustrating keyboard riff and some solid if somewhat tasteless keyboard fills dancing over it (get used to that - Emerson *dominates* this album). The instrumental work is fine, and develops reasonably well for a few minutes. And then...the album breaks down. As soon as the first vocal section is introduced, it becomes painfully obvious that the Tarkus suite is a patchwork (not a medley, mind you - a patchwork) that is no more than the sum of its parts, and its parts aren't all that good to begin. Lake's vocal melodies are completely orthogonal to the surrounding keyboard work, which gives me the impression that once again ELP is superimposing Lake's love for vocal-driven pop songs over Emerson's pomp; this band was pretty much constantly falling apart at the seams.

I find the vocal sections themselves pretty bad when taken in isolation, as well. The melodies are repetitious, joyless, and unconvincing; the lyrics are unbelievably stupid. It's interesting to note the "controversy" the band members have over the song's meaning - this is, of course, not because the song has any depth, but because they literally have no idea what they are talking about. A rare feat, even in the field of prog rock, that makes Yes look humble. But enough about that! We have an awkward transition about halfway through the song to another keyboard riff, and yet another Lake-led section, this time about a preacher - the melodies remain cringeworthy, and this time around the timing seems ill-suited as well ("hair on his head, he's dead" - gross) More of the same until the band resorts to using the 5/4 riff from the beginning again, at a faster speed and then morphed into a triple meter (9/8, I guess?) alternation of it. Structurally, I find this annoying - the song is patched together, and the band falls back on this riff whenever they're unsure to go with the song, which is often. Then more keyboard fills, a mediocre bit of guitar, and we're pretty much done. No serious interplay between the three virtuosos the band has at its disposal, no changes in timbre, dynamics, or mood to justify its length, and overall a disappointingly fragmented suite. I don't know if this points to ELP's trouble with maintaining thematic content in the absence of classical compositions to borrow from; in either case, Tarkus has its moments, but on the whole I could easily leave it. Emerson drives the sound of the band forward a bit with some interesting keys sounds, especially following the first vocal section (that popping timbre that the band probably popularized in so much neo-prog via this song alone), but this comes off more as gadgetry and flashbang than meaningful composition.

The second side of the album fares even worse. The inclusion of Jeremy Bander and Are You Ready Eddy? are extremely questionable, and frankly they're so bad that they border on being insulting to the listener - grasping at straws to fill an already brief record with any material available. They keys on the two-part (I guess it's supposed to be two-part) Hymn and Conclusion are fairly nice, but glib as ever, and the one time Lake finally comes around with a solid vocal melody ("People are stirred..." Interestingly, Symphony X copped this for their classic Candlelight Fantasia, though I believe Russell Allen has a nicer voice) it's instantly run into the ground through repetition (not to mention more lame rhyming couplets). I certainly wouldn't pay money for side 2 - given the choice, I'm not even sure it's worth listening to. The band sounds like they just do not care.

I am giving this record two stars, because of parts of the title suite. The first few minutes are promising, and it is worth your time to hear it on the whole because of its innovations in flashy prog keyboard play - both from a historical perspective and for the song itself. But no way does this record deserve any more than that, sorry!

Postulate | 2/5 |

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