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ELP: In Defense of Tarkus over Brain Salad Surgery

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Emerlist Davjack View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Emerlist Davjack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: ELP: In Defense of Tarkus over Brain Salad Surgery
    Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:08
In threads here and elsewhere on the web, I have found Brain Salad Surgery cited much more frequently than other ELP records. Be it on those 'top prog album' lists or archive polls, our beloved armored armadillo seems to be forgotten in favor of BSS, a phenomenon which I find puzzling, to say the least (eg: Rolling Stone's 2015 top 50 list named BSS at #12, while there is no trace of poor ol' Tarkus). To me, Tarkus is the most solid album by ELP, and the one which had the greatest influence on the genre. BSS is, no doubt, a classic album as well, but I believe that Tarkus has an edge over it. Additionally, I find these two albums more suitable for comparison than any of ELP's others, as both Tarkus and BSS have roughly comparable sidelong suites along with a handful of unrelated tracks. In defense of Tarkus:

In short, the Tarkus suite is awesome. Let me explain. The sonic structure varies from heavy electric edge to lyrical bliss, which informed the sensibilities of both the metal and arena rock of its time. Keith Emerson's keyboard is at perhaps its punchiest ever, sounding much more relaxed on both the preceding ELP and the succeeding Trilogy. I might argue that the trio is at their virtuosic peak here as well. 
Comparatively, Karn Evil 9 feels slicker overall, with fewer of the sharp edges that give Tarkus its unmistakable character. While Tarkus had a relatively uniform hard-hitting synth sound, Emerson begins to experiment with other settings on Karn, occasionally playing with a synth voice that sounds . . . well, silly. A high-pitched whine coupled with tremolo weaves in and out of the first impression, while a cartoony Sega Genesis-esque faux horn carries the day. The second impression approaches musical brilliance, and instead of feeling out of place, the distorted synth sound works well here contrasting with the acoustic piano, but by the third impression, the goofy sounds come crashing back in. Some of the playing on the third impression is pretty damn impressive, however. 
As far as the concept of the two suites are concerned, I feel Tarkus is stronger still. I've heard theories about the tank-beast representing the Western military-industrial complex, which is quite possible, but not confirmed as far as I know (someone please tell me if you know!). My own reading is simpler: it's an indictment of war machines in general. Perhaps not a terribly original concept, especially in the time it was written, but my, what a creative way to express that sentiment. 
Karn Evil 9 bounces all the hell around and I can barely figure out what greater message the band was trying to send. We begin, in the first impression, with a grim carnival, followed by a wordless second impression, and the third finishes in a showdown with an AI supercomputer. What? Now, the speculation goes that it's a tale about entertainment blinding people to the reality of their enslavement, which I suppose is valid, but I think the execution could be cleaner.

The other tracks on their respective albums are pretty varied, so I'll just mention the standouts, as I see them:
Jerusalem opens BSS, and I love it. It's orchestral and beatific and terribly British! Everything wonderful about ELP, one of their best. Toccata follows, and while an absolute technical showboat, never really goes anywhere or develops much. Benny the Bouncer is great . . . but feels oddly out of character on such a serious, almost dark album. Perhaps a bit of comic relief is necessary, eh?
Jeremy Bender and Are You Ready Eddy? serve as bookends to side B of Tarkus, and both exemplify ELP at their most lyrically frivolous: fun tunes that don't say much. One more track needs to be addressed: Regardless of whether or not you agree with the humanist (atheist, borderline anti-religious?) sentiment of The Only Way, I feel like a bit of respect is necessary for coming forth with such an unpopular opinion, especially during the 70s, all while singing about the Holocaust over Bach's compositions.

So, fellow ELP nuts, what do you think? Am I totally wrong? Is Tarkus or BSS the better album? Your own interpretation of the suites? Or maybe do you prefer Trilogy, ELP? Love Beach LOL ?? 

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micky View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote micky Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:28
nice!

I am a bit mystified by the legacy of BSS over the others.  Personally I rate it 5th best of their... first 5 albums haha.

That said Toccata rules and smokes 99% of what anyone has done in prog.. few had the talent to carry it off, few had the creativity.. none had the combination of both.  Problem was..  it had the most insipid of Lake Ballads.. and then there was KE9 which at least was better than VDGG's overreaching artistic failure. But unlke that one which fell off the cliff half way through and veered into the realm of unlistenable sh*t.. KE9 waited till the last 3rd and while not sh*t... nor unlistenable.. it still failed and was not near as good as the first two-thirds of it. 

Judging ELP albums is like judging women... boy oh boy.. when they are on... man.. look out... but when they are offf.... man... look out. You don't judge them on consistency because there is no such thing when it comes to them. The beauty is the contrasts...

That is suppose why I love ELP.. as much as I do women.... one minute they are rocking your world.. the next they are f**king your world. With women.. and ELP it is the journey...enjoying the ride... not the destination that matter.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Atavachron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:35
I completely agree that Tark is superior, probably their best, and easily one of the most fresh and innovative rock offerings ever (prog or otherwise).   I also note the vitriol the record has taken increasingly over the years.   Further, I take issue with the almost universal idea that the second side is "weak" or "weaker" than the title, as an excuse to criticize the album.   The second side rocks.

Brain Salad is also wonderful but it was their Sgt. Pepper's and so it gets the attention.   Trilogy suffers from a poor mix, erratic material, and experimental nature.

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."   -- John F. Kennedy
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote micky Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:46
amen to that man.....Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tom Ozric Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:48
^^ David hits the nail right on the head - again !! Well explained

Edited by Tom Ozric - March 24 2017 at 19:48
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Emerlist Davjack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:53
Originally posted by Atavachron Atavachron wrote:

Further, I take issue with the almost universal idea that the second side is "weak" or "weaker" than the title, as an excuse to criticize the album.   The second side rocks.

Just as good as the first, I say.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote aglasshouse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 19:57
I dunno, I always thought the self-titled was the best. After that they got pretty stale.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote KingCrInuYasha Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 20:01
I find the lyrics to "The Only Way" to be kind of dumb, but at least the band had the sense to make the delivery superb.

I don't think the second side is bad at all. "******* Crystal" takes the aggressive waltz of Arthur Lee & Love's "Stephanie Knows Who" and cranks it to eleven, "A Time and A Place" rocks, "The Only Way/Infinite Space" is a nice classical pastiche, "Jeremy Bender" is funny, and "Are You Ready Eddy?" brings things back to Earth.

As much as I like Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery, I always found the jazz fusion of their first two albums to be slightly more appealing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Emerlist Davjack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 20:02
Originally posted by aglasshouse aglasshouse wrote:

I dunno, I always thought the self-titled was the best. After that they got pretty stale.

I adore their first album too, but to me it's more classical than rock, didn't really hit the sweet "prog" spot between the two.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mechanicalflattery Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 20:50
Why anybody would defend Tarkus side 2, some of the most embarrassingly terrible material ever produced by the "classic" prog era, is beyond me. Infinite Space (Conclusion) alone is so clunky and incompetent that it usually has me cracking up, and that's not mentioning those "comedic" bookend tracks. That being said, I have no bone to pick. Enjoy what you enjoy, I suppose. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Atavachron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 21:33
^ That's a pretty big bone, my friend.

In addition to my first post, I would add that Tarkus is probably the single most imitated record of the era, with dozens if not hundreds of copycat albums and bands passionately in love with and desperately trying to recreate the new dark symphonic sound of the keyboard trio; a sound ELP invented.   They didn't take it from anyone, it was not an extension of what the Nice had done, and was so startlingly new and imaginative that you could hear the drool flowing from most musicians' mouths.  

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."   -- John F. Kennedy
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote micky Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 21:52
Originally posted by mechanicalflattery mechanicalflattery wrote:

Why anybody would defend Tarkus side 2, some of the most embarrassingly terrible material ever produced by the "classic" prog era, is beyond me. Infinite Space (Conclusion) alone is so clunky and incompetent that it usually has me cracking up, and that's not mentioning those "comedic" bookend tracks. That being said, I have no bone to pick. Enjoy what you enjoy, I suppose. 


comedy is good man..  for a group reputedly too serious.. pretentious and overblown as the haters make them out to be. Sounds like it was the haters with sticks up their asses.. not the band.

 Personally i think they worked and worked well in the contexts of the albums,  contrast man, and were often light moments to the generally 'heavy' material that anchored their albums.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Emerlist Davjack Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 24 2017 at 21:58
Originally posted by micky micky wrote:

comedy is good man..  for a group reputedly too serious..

Bang on! After the incredibly dense Tarkus suite, Jeremy Bender's absolute nonsense lyrics and frankly haphazard drumming are welcome respite for listeners like me. 

Are You Ready Eddy?, if I remember correctly, was just a little improvisation that the band threw together as a celebration after finishing recording of the Tarkus suite. Just for fun!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Blacksword Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 06:22
I prefer Tarkus too. In fact I'd put BSS behnd Trilogy and the debut. I do kind of understand why BSS is rated so high. It is very powerful. The musicianship is some of their best, and it does have 'Still you turn me on' one of their best songs IMO, but it lacks the consistency of Trilogy and the debut and the total brilliance of the Tarkus suite.

Edited by Blacksword - March 25 2017 at 06:22
Ultimately bored by endless ecstasy!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote micky Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 07:39
Originally posted by Emerlist Davjack Emerlist Davjack wrote:

Originally posted by micky micky wrote:

comedy is good man..  for a group reputedly too serious..

Bang on! After the incredibly dense Tarkus suite, Jeremy Bender's absolute nonsense lyrics and frankly haphazard drumming are welcome respite for listeners like me. 

Are You Ready Eddy?, if I remember correctly, was just a little improvisation that the band threw together as a celebration after finishing recording of the Tarkus suite. Just for fun!


Fun? THere is no FUN allowed in prog LOL

Seriously though I like Eddy myself.  No it doesn't work, nor was it intended to be, as a stand alone song. You sure as hell aren't going to find it on my portable mp3 player... but in the context of the overall album it was a perfect album closer.  Context man.. contrast.. umm hmmm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js (Easy Money) Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 08:06
"Bitches Crystal" (art) rocks like a mofo and has one of Greg Lake's best vocal performances ever.
What sets Keith Emerson apart from much of the rest of the prog rock world is that he had a sense for what could best be called "camp" or ironic "kitsch". The only other band on this site that is similar is very early Roxy Music.
No doubt Keith appreciated the kitsch exotica synthesizer records of the 60s, he quotes from Dick Hyman's 60s novelty synth song "Minotaur" on ELP's live album.

Edited by js (Easy Money) - March 25 2017 at 08:16
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SteveG Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 08:58
As consumer product, BSS worked out much better.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Blacksword Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 10:25
^^^ It has one of the best album covers of all time IMO.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote presdoug Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 11:25
Shouldn't this be a Triumvirat thread?LOL just kidding.

             I have never understood the reverence for Brain Salad Surgery. Tarkus is much better. It's side one is the best music ELP ever did. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tom Ozric Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 25 2017 at 12:07
BSS is so 'cold' sounding. Utterly awesome album, but not their best IMO.
Prefer Tarkus - both sides, and still maintain that Love Beach, no, PaaE is the best thing they've ever done
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