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

BRAIN SALAD SURGERY

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.13 | 1804 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I have two ears, a brain and a more than decent feel for rhythm and other musical things - nurtured by these powers, my aesthetic instincts push me to regard "Brain Salad Surgery" not only as one of ELP's masterpieces but also as the trio's definitive apex. By the year of this release, 1973, the prog rock movement had already made quite an impact in the music press (even if it were for the worst in some cases), and the most famous prog acts of that moment managed to sell out big venues over and over again. ELP being one of these, they created at the time one of the most explosive manifestos of prog during its era of maturity. The 'Jerusalem' cover kicks off the album with full majesty, respecting the original solemnity of this classic Christian hymn while providing an extra orchestral drive that takes the song's mystical essence to a more pompous level. We're continuously welcome to witness the pomposity never ends, since Ginastera's 'Toccata' gets deconstructed and reconstructed with an infinite vengeance and an uncompromising penchant for challenging the listener - what ELP create in this particular occasion is not merely music, but a cathedral of sound whose scary grandiosity cannot (and perhaps shouldn't) be grasped by words. 'Toccata' is, most of all, an exercise on catharsis wrapped under customs of unearthly fire. Emerson's constant Moog and organ aggressions find an appropriate partner in crime in Palmer's occasional drums connected to Moog effects - a pioneering act for what would later be called electronic percussion. These two pieces, while alien to ELP's thinking minds and creative pens, are turned into ELP 'genuine' classics due to the threesome's endless ability to turn tables on other people's material and reconvert them into their own musical world. So far, it would be too much for the listener to take were it not for the following presence of two not-too-transcendent songs; not too transcendent, indeed, but vintage ELP-ish all the same. The Lake-penned acoustic ballad 'Still. You Turn Me On' provides the mandatory portion of the band's feminine side (as they like to call it in interviews) in the context of a tale of frustration in a romantic relationship. There's something really tricky about this ballad: it's hard to believe how could a harpsichord, an accordion and some wah-wah guitar strumming fit into a 12-string acoustic guitar centered song. but they do, yes, they do: the accordion and harpsichord provide some gallant spirit, while the wah-wah seems to symbolize the beating of the turned-on lover's heart. The other not-too-transcendent song is yet another Cajun song, 'Benny the Bouncer' - IMHO, the best Cajun song by ELP, especially because of that pretty mute movie coda. Up to this point we've been finding genius instilled in the bombast, the romantic and the easy going tracks, but the best of this particular album's genius is yet to come, incarnated in that incendiary prog carnival that we all know as the 'Karn Evil 9' suite. Even though all three Impressions are conceptually linked around the idea of a decadent future world in which self-destruction and self-indulgent reign supreme, each Impression stands out as an individual item in itself. The 1st Impression is, IMHO, the most accomplished one, comprising two defined sections in a typical ELP-ish bombastic manner. This Impression's second section - focused on the excesses of TV entertainment - is the most famous one, but I personally enjoy the first second even more: its portrait of modern times' massive alienation is properly conveyed in the lyrics and the hyper-intense instrumentation. This is, definitely, one of the most emblematic ELP compositions ever. But the greatness of 'Karn Evil 9' does not end here. The 2nd Impression shows yet another showcase for Emerson's grand piano jazz-oriented grandiloquence; the novelty is the clever use of polyphonic synthesizer in the samba- like interlude - so much excitement in a less-than-3 minutes span!! The following four minutes are filled with a softer interlude section, displayed with a calculated texturial piano-based motif that gradually finds its way back to the opening theme. Finally, comes the 3rd Impression, the explosive closure that recapitulates the fire of 'Toccata' and '1st Impression': this last Impression is the ultimate expression of the idea of a "concerto for rock group". Mood shifts, melodic variations, majestic keyboard orchestrations, complex rhythm patterns, constant display of rocking energy, all those things that we love about the most aggressive side of symphonic prog are comprised here beautifully, turning excess into a positive source of creativity. The final conflict between man and machine leads to the latter's collapse - the price that what goes up has to pay for the heights it dared to reach. That was the same price that ELP eventually paid, since everything they released after "Brain Salad Surgery" paled in comparison, but that should be a matter for other reviews. In this final sentence, I'll stick to this album and give it the rating it deserves: 5 stars for one of those magical pinnacles of prog!
Cesar Inca | 5/5 |

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