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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Trilogy CD (album) cover

TRILOGY

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.13 | 1587 ratings

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Neo-Romantic
3 stars If someone were to ask me to name the first album that comes to mind that embodies the "good, but non-essential" rating indicated by three stars, this is the one. It sits at the very middle for me; it exhibits good musicianship, variety from song to song, and it demonstrates a certain degree of growth and maturity in the band's sound an style, but no track on the entire album to me is particularly memorable or ground-breaking in any way, shape, or form. That's not to say I'd say it should be avoided, because it's not bad and serves as a good early album given its accessibility, especially for those new to the prog world. For me it just became uninteresting very quickly and never rebounded, and it's been in my collection for years.

The Endless Enigma starts off the album in a more subdued mood than its predecessors. Everything from the sparse pockets of activity to the less edgy instrumentation indicate this opener will not possess the same degree of bombast that "The Barbarian" or "Tarkus" had in spades. The vocal delivery is very clear, theatrical, and brings a unique energy to the foreground, which I do enjoy hearing. I think it's one of the better vocal tracks from the group's catalog. The Fugue passage was also really cool. As a classical composer, I know fugues are phenomenally tough to write and perform. From a classical perspective, this one doesn't exactly play by the rules. Fugues by definition are marked by staggered, imitative statements of a principal motive called a "subject" that is transposed and repeated throughout the piece, often featuring episodes of either free material or sequential passages used to modulate the music to a new key. The reason I say it violates fugal tradition is because the subject isn't quoted and staggered among each voice throughout, which is a trademark of fugal writing. The development happens as the subject is clearly repeated verbatim, and this piece only mildly references it from time to time, never providing a complete reentry. With that being said, the development of the subject's harmonic and rhythmic gestures was interesting and enjoyable to listen to. Even though it doesn't quite encapsulate each of the most integral features of what constitutes a fugue, it was a bold shift that provides a nice contrast and a unique breath of fresh air between its enigmatic bookends (pun intended). I would have loved to hear more of that though. If the album leaned more heavily on passages like that, I could easily see myself giving it at least another star. But the moment is short and The Endless Enigma theme reprises before the song concludes.

From the Beginning is a really laid-back radio-friendly tune that features some nice guitar work, a mellow bass line, and smooth, emotive vocals, all contributed by Greg Lake. Carl Palmer's hand percussion part provides a chill rhythmic foundation that contrasts his usual approach to drumming, further showcasing his percussive versatility. Keith Emerson has a mild synth contribution toward the end of the song that really fits the mood well and doesn't overtake the song's established atmosphere. It's a nice tune. It just doesn't do much more than stimulate me at the "easy listening" level. If I never heard it again, I wouldn't lose sleep over it. I find myself feeling that way about a lot of these tracks.

The Sheriff is another silly song of theirs, similar to "Jeremy Bender" or "Benny the Bouncer" with more emphasis on form and instrumentation. The drumming is better and the keyboard work is also unique, but it's still lighter fare, much like both of the aforementioned tracks.

Hoedown is a quotation of a composition by Aaron Copland. The fast tempo, intricate figurations, and duration considering just how physical a piece this is makes it a noteworthy effort. I respect just how difficult it is to pull off this type of piece and make it sound as clean as they did. I really do. I just...don't really care about it all that much. As stated in my comments about "From the Beginning", a lot of these tracks are take-it-or- leave-it numbers for me, and despite the piece's great balance between technical prowess and strong melodic content, it just doesn't stir my emotions on a deep level.

Trilogy, another offering unique to ELP's canon, is a highly theatrical number, evoking thoughts of a sentimental show tune in my mind. Not that it's cheesy. It just has a certain character about it that lends itself to a stage performance in a dramatic context. Lake's singing and Emerson's piano work at the beginning are stellar, and the transition into a more chaotic middle section with a densely layered sound in a heavily displaced 9/8 meter announce the first traces of ELP's unique blend of prog on the whole album (based on my interpretation). Another stylistic change blends the theatric with the progressive in a more easily counted 6/8 meter. This section alternates between vocal- and synth-driven passages until its conclusion. These passages are pleasing to the ear, but don't necessarily develop any ideas beyond the mere statements of their principal material, minus Emerson's solo. He plays well, and the instrumental tone is quite unique, but I sometimes find my interest waning as it labors on. It's no secret that the more times you hear something, it becomes more commonplace in your auditory memory, but this isn't true in all cases. Sometimes the figurations are too dense and intricate to decipher. Sometimes the solo just isn't interesting enough to remember beyond the first few bars and possibly some obvious characteristics such as a change in instrumental color or a temporary rise in intensity. This solo falls under the category of the latter.

Living Sin is a decent track. The organ and synth tones are a great contrast to the previous tracks, and Greg lake's vocals have a lot of bite and drive to them more similar to tracks from the previous two albums. The drum breaks are also nice devices used to delineate the repetitive motive following the first chorus. This short track may not contain their most intricate work as a band, but at least it has some energy to it. An energy that up until now has been conspicuously absent. That's a red flag in my book, considering we're on track eight out of nine, and it's not even all that ground-breaking a song. I wouldn't even say it's one of their better tracks. Just a nice contrast to an otherwise vanilla collection of tunes.

Abaddon's Bolero is a track I was pretty crazy about on the first few spins, but its magic has faded. What initially captivated me was the patient layering of textures and the unique tone color of the synths, particularly when the drone comes in during the last progression. But this is a truly repetitive track that only stacks layers upon layers; what I once considered development I now merely call stacking. It has a nice crescendoing effect all the way to the end, which supplies the listener with a satisfying release, but doesn't necessarily challenge or surprise you in any way. I still think it's a good track and one of the more enjoyable ones on the album. It just didn't offer anything to me beyond what I perceived at the surface and is as forgettable to me as much of the rest of the album at this point in my life.

With ELP's first two releases, the musical world was treated to a highly talented group of musicians whose technical prowess, dark material, and utter bombast catapulted them to iconic status, as exhibited by the sheer size of the crowds their shows attracted and how well-received they were internationally. Additionally, their skill as arrangers in both longer and shorter compositions was never overshadowed by their virtuosic displays, as evidenced by the intricate, yet focused monster of a song "Tarkus" and the concise, yet logical formal design of shorter selections such as "Knife-edge" and "The Barbarian". These strengths are demonstrated on this album just as well, proving they didn't lose their inherent talent or focus. What I feel is lacking, however, is the energy and excitement the other albums released in their golden years demonstrated on overdrive either in parts or throughout. What some may consider a demonstration of maturity in their compositional style I interpreted as a regression. That wow factor, that willingness to push the envelope, that "if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing" attitude their other releases from their peak of creativity possess, seems to in shorter supply here. It's still there, but not enough to hold my interest. And the more masterpiece-quality albums according to my taste I hear by any band, the more this lighter entry in the prog canon becomes overshadowed and displaced. A moderate 3 stars for a moderate album. Nothing less than good, but quite a far cry from even excellent status.

Neo-Romantic | 3/5 |

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