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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.16 | 2093 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

The Dark Elf
4 stars I am well aware that it is fashionable to denigrate ELP for their arrogance and ambition. I know, for instance, that if ELP were a species of dinosaur, paleontologists would likely name them Pompousaurus Rex. Really, I get the aversion. However, most of the negative reviews here neither take the band's work in context to the time period their albums were released, nor do they appreciate the audacity of the band. And they were certainly audacious...and talented. And that is the fatal flaw in ELP: they were simply too talented, too ambitious and too immersed in the classical form to adequately maintain an equilibrium within the rock vernacular. What the hell am I actually saying, you ask? Their attempt to graft classical and jazz forms onto a simpler form like rock failed as often as it succeeded.

Rather than play about with classical and jazz music and tease and tantalize rock fans with such virtuousity -- like more endearing progressive rock bands such as King Crimson, Procol Harum, Yes and Tull -- ELP went off the deep end and made the ill-fated assumption that 'classical-rock-fusion' could actually work long-term as a musical form. No. Sorry. Too weighty to maintain a forward impetus. The band eventually collapsed under its own leaden pretension on the album 'Works I'.

But let's look at the parts and pieces that make up 'Brain Salad Surgery'. It is not a flawless album, certainly, and side one is far better than side two (perhaps because there is more variation), but the overall sound and delivery is cohesive and there are many great aspects of the recording. And few rock bands will ever outperform ELP. Say what you will, these fellas can flat-out play. They make regular 4-chord rock bands sound junior high music class (complete with the geeks in band hall).

First, and as with all important albums of the 70's, the album cover itself is notable. Designed by H.R. Giger of 'Alien' fame, the cover was disturbing for the time period and still an arresting piece of art viewed almost 40 years later. Giger's biomechanical cover theme translated beautifully to the Karn Evil 9 sections of the album, particularly the 3rd Impression of Part 2, a sci-fi rock opera featuring computers taking over the world a la The Terminator. Overblown, perhaps, but the final lines, Man: 'I am all there is.' / Computer: 'Negative! primitive! limited! I let you live!' / Man: 'But I gave you life!' / Computer: 'What else could you do?' / Man: 'To do what was right.' / Computer: 'I am perfect! are you?' speaks to the fundamental concept of science fiction and science ethics regarding computers and artificial intelligence currently (and certainly throughout a film like 'Bladerunner' and the 'Star Trek' and 'Terminator' series). Fairly groundbreaking and perceptive from a rock 'n' roll format in '73 (although certainly old hat for the Asimov/Arthur C. Clarke crowd).

Second, what's not to like about bringing the poet William Blake to rock? The overarching grandiosity of Blake's 'Jerusalem' is perfect for ELP, isn't it? Who else in rock can pull off building 'Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land'? It is one of those successes in the classic form (like the enjoyable forays into Aaron Copeland's work, like 'Hoedown' and 'Fanfare for the Common Man') that allowed ELP to rise above pedestrian rock groups. This is followed by 'Toccata' an adaptation of a Ginastera piano concerto that the composer himself found compelling, and it is perhaps the intriguing interpretation of a classical composition by ELP. Carl Palmer's use of synthesized drums is groundbreaking on this piece, and really his drumming throughout the album often proves to be the most awe- inspiring aspect of the release.

Third, 'Still...You Turn Me On' is a great reflective song, full of subtle sound and wry lyric, and the 1st Impression of 'Karn Evil 9' (Parts 1 and 2) is on par with the greatest rock operettas, like The Who's 'Tommy' or Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Is it pompous? OH GOD YES! But it is self-deprecating and the most fun song on the whole album ('Pulled Jesus from a hat, get into that, get into that'). Where else but perhaps Tull's 'A Passion Play' are you going to find a line like 'seven virgins on a mule'?

Finally, the last two Impressions of 'Karn Evil 9' are okay, but perhaps mirror the type of excess that those that berate ELP have fertile ground for contention. It is overlong and not particularly as inspired as the rest of the album.

All in all a very good album, really, in parts absolutely amazing; although, as is the case with most of ELP's efforts, their reach exceeds their grasp. Or however that saying goes. Four and 1/2 stars (the extra 1/2 being for the album cover).

The Dark Elf | 4/5 |


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