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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover

TARKUS

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.05 | 1794 ratings

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Syntharachnid
4 stars Alright, now things are starting to pick up. "Tarkus" shows ELP in the form in which the general public knows them best: pompous, self-indulgent, flamboyant (in a proper manner of speech), and completely ignorant to musical trends. ELP confesses to being guilty as charged, but they frankly don't care. And they shouldn't. Because what the nay-sayers are missing out on is one of the most energetic, virtuosic and genius bands of the 70s. And unlike their contemporaries Genesis and Yes, they sound like the 70s. They're as aggressive as any metal band of the day. Yup, this is no half- neutered "nerd-rock". This is real rock. And it's prog. And it's great. Or at least, the first twenty-one minutes are.

The problem with ELP is that they had trouble producing a consistent album. The debut was excellent all throughout, but was more like a collection of solo projects than a unified work. This is a problem that the band would apparently suffer from much more in their post "Brain Salad Surgery" albums. (I say apparently because I don't own any of them.) Their two best known albums "Tarkus" and "Brain Salad Surgery" both suffer in a similar way. Both albums feature a brilliant side-long epic and several shorter songs that are mostly filler. About seventy-five percent of both albums is brilliant, but the other twenty-five percent brings them down several notches. "Trilogy" was the only album that they released that demonstrated something even close to consistency.

But let me emphasize this: When ELP are good, they're REALLY good. And the "Tarkus" suite is good. With seven parts, clocking in at nearly twenty-one minutes, and released in '71, it predates all of the other major epics (Close to the Edge, Supper's Ready, Shine on you Crazy Diamond, Gates of Delirium, Dogs, etc.) of the prog movement. From "Eruption" to "Aquatarkus", it shows ELP at their most frantic and technical. The highlights are Emerson's keyboard solos, but Lake's beautiful voice takes the front occasionally, too. The suite begins with "Eruption", a short but frantic explosion of Hammond organ in 5/4 time. The madness calms itself into "Stones of Years" where Greg Lake takes the reins. The first line of lyrics in the song always sends shivers down my spine, "Has the dawn ever seen your eyes? Have the days made you so unwise? Realize you are." Great entry, Greg. The calmness doesn't last for long though, as Emo breaks into one of his finest Hammond solos, and that's saying something. "Iconoclast" is a brief and violent interlude reprising "Eruption". It speeds on into "Mass", my personal favorite movement in the whole ordeal, and a great rocker. It features an excellent "stammering organ" solo from Emerson, and Lake's first entry on lead guitar. Talented man. "Manticore" is another brief interlude linking "Mass" to "Battlefield". This is a haunting Greg Lake tune with a soulful guitar solo and great lyrics. "Clear the battlefield and let me see/all the profit from our victory." Greg's lyrics range from excellent to horrendous, and fortunately the whole of this suite has some of his best. The concept may be about the life and times of a mechanical armadillo, but Greg doesn't approach it in an obvious way, thus masking the weakness in the storyline. The finale is "Aquatarkus", a Moog Modular bonanza that shows the main riff to "Battlefield" in a completely different light. A reprise of "Eruption" takes the suite to the end of its twenty-first minute, and the listener wonders where the time went. The first time you listen to "Tarkus" from start to finish, you won't believe that you've been listening for over twenty minutes.

The second half of the album is scattered and directionless, and much as it has its undeniable moments of brilliance, it doesn't equal the raw power of the title suite. "A Time and a Place" is a great, albeit short, organ rocker. "Bitches Crystal" is kind of cool too, but nothing spectacular. In place of the customary ELP classical interpretation, there's a "The Only Way/Infinite Space", which has quotes from J.S. Bach. Once again, it's okay but not great. The remaining songs "Jeremy Bender" and "Are you Ready Eddy?" are more or less completely worthless. Pure unadulterated filler. The excuse that ELP used was "Well, our music is generally so dark and menacing; nobody'd be able to get through the whole album if we didn't include a little comedy." Anybody who thinks that this album is dark needs to listen to some Van Der Graff Generator.

Don't get me wrong, the album's still great, and the "Tarkus" suite alone is more than enough to launch this one into the stratosphere of prog rock classics. However, for every swan there's a crow, and not everything ELP did was as good as everything else. Even if it's on the same album. Buy it anyway.

Syntharachnid | 4/5 |

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