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Emerson Lake & Palmer - The Best Of Emerson Lake & Palmer  CD (album) cover

THE BEST OF EMERSON LAKE & PALMER

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

2.46 | 10 ratings

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clarke2001
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars For the sake of the accuracy: the full, official name of this compilation is "Fanfare: The Best Of Emerson Lake And Palmer - Live". It's on of the dozen live compilations published so far. What can I say about this one? It's always tricky to rate the compilations. Die hard-fans are usually looking for previously unreleased songs, takes, unusual live versions, songs that are rarely performed live, bootlegs etc. Newcomers will look for some "Best of" type of compilations, something more approachable. Perhaps no compilation could be that bad not to be a good introduction.

So, what was the purpose of this one, except for earning extra money on band's and publisher's account? According to Mr. Joey Webb's foreword in the inner sleeve (I guess he was the compilation editor), "(This compilation is) a good cherry-picking of the early ELP catalogue, taking highlights from their early albums, such as their eponymous debut, and it's follow-up, "Tarkus", and taking in chunks of "Brain Salad Surgery". Topped and tailed by two Aaron Copland pieces (...), makes a suitably high-stepping end to a punchy live distillation of their many peaks."

(taken from compilation's inner sleeve, Joey Webb, April 2003, with minor shortenings)

Well, is it a cherry-picking or a prune?

The compilation consists of twelve tracks: Copland's "Fanfare" and "Hoedown", two Tarkus' pieces - "A Time And A Place" and "Bitches Crystal"; and "Knife Edge", "Honky Tonk Train Blues" and "From The Beginning"- they were all recorded on '97/'98 tour. The rest of the tracks - "Karn Evil 9" , two unavoidable acoustic ballads, and continuous float of "Piano Improvisations" and "Take A Pebble" were recorded at concert in California in 1974.

"Fanfare For The Common Man" is...well...common opener for a concert. Correctly performed, ELP's new digitalized sound, no prolonged solos. Forgettable. Compilation continues in much better manner, with "Karn Evil 9", but the first thing you'll notice is that the sound is not perfect. It's somewhat distant, echoey, like from a barrel. After a second or two you will realise that carnival started without Pt. 1 of the "First Impression"! It goes straight-to your-face with the "Welcome back..." lyrics of a known hit and proceeds with the entire epic (except for few truncated parts, such are some nice piano jazzy parts and calypso-steel drum section).No, wait a second. There is no Second Impression at all! Although it is listed on CD. The same applies for this track as for a "Tarkus" track on their "Live At The Royal Albert Hall": is neither here nor there. It's not just a brief excerpt, but it is not a magnificent piece in it's full entirety neither. However, musicians here are in the top form, performance is outstanding. Palmer's drum solo is VERY long, spectacular, but boring. Okay, maybe that's just me, I don't love drum solos of any kind. I guess it wouldn't be boring if one is able to see Palmer's revolving drum-set and his pulling of bell's chords with his teeth, because his hands were way too busy raping the gongs. Of course, there's a lack of visual experience with a CD. The other, maybe trivial thing worth mentioning is the very end of the epic. It's ending with programmed sequence that is speeding up, and in this performance Keith pulled out the fast possible speed from the sequencer, I think above 1000 Hz! (you can't count hundreds of beats-per-minute anymore!) Painful for the ears and literally brain-damaging (salad surgery?).

"A Time And A Place" is one of those rare 70's songs that actually sounds good with modern, digital sounds. The only annoying thing, really annoying, is Lake's way of singing. Okay, his voice changed, I can accept that. But his tension to improvise all the known vocal melodies and to sing in pentatonic scales is really obnoxious. He is killing all the magic much more efficient than Emerson's digital strings are: the song that should sound nasty sounds like a blues ballad. This is present not only in this particular song or on this particular compilation, it's a ubiquitous fact in the ELP's comeback-career in a whole. I remember how excited I was when I heard this song for the first time. So raging! Reminded me of THE BEATLES' screams in "Helter Skelter". But that magic is gone for good. Anyway, I you can digest Lake's new way of singing, the rest is well-done, cleverly rearranged song.

Everything that I said for "A Time And Place" could apply for another Tarkus' gem, "Bitches Crystal". Only the new digital arrangements are less present because song is played mostly on piano.

I guess that we, average ELP-fans are forced to listen to the two best-known Lake's acoustic ballads over and over again. Indeed, "Still...You Turn Me On" and "Lucky Man" are present on almost every compilation, live or in studio, from 70's until today. Someone get me a ladder! Surprisingly, these two are not so bad, they actually sound quite nice. Especially "Lucky Man" sounds very folkish. Lake wasn't singing pentatonic scales yet.

Mr. Emerson's piano improvisations are always astonishing, despite the fact that he's always repeating the same patterns through the stones of years. This one is including "Fugue" excerpt (bravo!) and "Little Rock Getaway" that I can stand anymore. Of course, piano solo floats into the "Take And Pebble", a very emotional performance from the trio, Emerson playing without being clumsy.

After the romantic piano melodies, the compilation is taking us back to the nineties and to the digital soundscapes again; this time with the "Knife Edge", overall not bad performance but with the little bit annoying arrangements. After that, band successfully manages to squeeze out all the sense of the "Honky Tonk Train Blues". It sounds like an average rubbish blues, not the Lewis' blues masterpiece comparable to geniuses such are Mussorgsky and Ginastera. Lewis' revolutionary interpretation of locomotive sounds inside the blues pattern is simply not working here. Pity. Well, after the worst, things can only get better and I dare to say the highlights are the two last songs: "From The Beginning", beautiful semi-acoustic ballad, to often overlooked by the band-members themselves. It's lacking loveliest electric guitar arrangements in the entire ELP's career, but features lovely prolonged keyboard solo.

The compilation closes with 90's performance of "Hoedown". If you think it's an outstanding performance, believe me it's not, actually this the worst Emerson's live performance. Keith played very clumsy the vivid country solo in the first part of the song : skipping fast sixteenth notes, hitting the wrong keys, terrible. However, I like this one the most because band sounds so sincere, like they were enjoying, not only doing their contractual obligations. As song goes, it gets much better; the keyboards are howling and squealing under Keith's fingers, utilising on of the best sample-and-hold featured works here (randomly modulated sound timbre, the best example is that bleep-burp-buzzing sound at the beginning of the First Impression Pt. 2). Again, visual component is missing and it's really hard to say is Keith raping the keyboards, leaning on them, stabbing them with knives or simply pressing one key and letting the digital technology to do the job. Even if the last one is the case, I'm saluting Keith and especially his sound technician, Will Alexander, because of the extraordinary good job done on programming the patches. I'm able to fully appreciate this because I'm a keyboard player, but I'm often wondering how many things I'm not able to appreciate simply because I don't understand the matter. I think Emerson, Lake and Palmer are three geniuses, but there must be something above, so to say. Some of my friends, who are classically trained musicians are telling me the things about ELP's music that I am not able to fully understand, and I am not a newcomer in music area. I guess most of us (including me) are able to see only the top of the iceberg.

Overall impression: this compilation is a mixture of brilliant highlights and terrible disasters, with some average moments thrown in. The set of the tracks is not bat itself, but the performances should have been chosen better. Design of the CD is nothing to die for, when you open the case you'll see the foreword printed upside-down - the details are printed in a form of the poster bended in quarters rather than a booklet. Pictures of the band itself are not very spectacular.

And the worst thing about this compilation is:all of these tracks are published before! On the same CD!! Check "Then And Now". So I guess this is some sort of a poor man's compilation, no matter if the listener is a newcomer or a fan. A nice little document, but the purpose is questionable. Considering all the "pros" and "cons", I'm rating it with 2,5 stars.

clarke2001 | 3/5 |

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