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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Trilogy CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.13 | 1587 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review X, Trilogy, ELP, 1972

Trilogy is one of those albums that I think you have to hear as a whole to really appreciate, and that's bizarre given how little connection there is between the pieces. The remastering job's great, I think, which only helps the album convey it's musical content well. More importantly, the original album represents a great, landmark work of one of the progressive giants, and an important step in the use of synthesisers. Emerson never had better keyboard tones, either on organ or synths, and his willingness to use frequently his whole arsenal pays off brilliantly. However, I can't see the keyboard w**kfest that some have described it as. The pieces are pretty balanced, Lake and Palmer are both supportive and active throughout, and the reason Emerson's playing a lot is simply because he's part of a trio. No filler here either, to my ears. Nonetheless... I think it's a vital album, and a masterpiece.

If there's one piece, in any genre, even in prog, which oozes epicness from every single pore of its being, The Endless Enigma is it. Demi-nonsense, speculative lyrics sung in the regal 'this-is-the-word-of-Greg-Lake' mode, grandiose organ and solid piano bass clef backing. Carl Palmer's drumming comes in bursts of energy and tension, while Lake provides a very likeable whirling bass tone. A dramatic piano leads us down into the piano Fugue (with just the tiniest slip on the transition), which is essentially a showcase for Emerson's piano range, nabbing a couple of more unusual tones in between the standard classicals. Lake provides a touch of interplay, and Palmer's entrance on chimes, percussion and finally tubular bells provides pure, unadulterated grandeur. An even more epic reprise of The Endless Enigma leads us on to the wailing synth and voice ending. Not my favourite piece ever, but the sense of scale created is nonetheless pretty sweeping.

From The Beginning sort of contrasts to the opening suite. From the utmost grandeur to a very low-key, heartfelt ballad. I've seen the criticism that this was the obvious opener, but somehow this is the order that feels natural to me... the universal context then the personal one. Besides, no way you can put the monster that is The Endless Enigma anywhere except at the start. Regardless, enough about that... the piece is a particular standout for Greg Lake, with his fantastic voice, a bubble-blowing (to nab a phrase used of a Sinclair solo somewhere) guitar solo, some fairly neat and very moving classical-edged acoustic guitar and most of all a very directional and well-aimed bass part. Palmer has restricted himself to a fairly simple hollow drum thing (sounds vaguely like a bongo), but it works perfectly for the piece, and I appreciate the effort of the drummer to contribute properly in a soft acousticy piece. Lastly, at the end of the piece, an indescribable synth part from Emerson takes the lead. I'd certainly consider this song progressive, even if it is a ballad, and, regardless of progness, it's a very moving song.

The Sheriff is perhaps the most underrated piece ELP have ever done (except some of the Palmer bits on Works side 3, but...). It opens with a loosely disguised 20-second drum solo before the killer organ riff sets in confidently and Lake enters with a particularly Elvis-y vocal and a light-hearted set of lyrics. His bass grooves along quietly in the background, as Emerson adds in a bit of saloony piano. Despite the whimsical tap-dancing-with-piano ending, a great short piece, including one of my favourite bits of organ-playing ever. Not a serious piece, but that's half the charm.

Hoedown is one of the few ELP songs I can reasonably expect people to find anywhere... I have four or so versions, I think LOL, which basically vary in how obscenely rapid the keys are. A cover of something Copelandy, with a did-you-get-the-number-of-that-donkey-cart organ part, a load of entertaining, over-the-top synths and a solid backing rhythm section. Needs to be heard to be believed. Coincidentally, there's a live version of this as a bonus track on the remaster... good, and fairly individual, but neither that nor the studio version here are as classy as the Welcome Back My Friends rendition.


If I had to hold up one track as an example of what ELP did and could do, this, not KE-9, The Three Fates or Tarkus, would get my support. The mixture of beautifully-handled classical influence, rock innovation, group cohesion, moving lyrics and multiple moods are exactly what has made the progressive genre so enjoyable for me. A blissful piano introduction supports Lake's soft vocal and very touching lyrics (But though I smile/You know the smile is only there to hide/What I'm really feeling deep inside/Just a face where I can hang my pride). A suspended piano note hanging in the piece signals an impending transition, supported by a couple of Palmer swirls, before Emerson masterfully takes his piano in a juxtaposed descending cadence and defiant recalcitrant spiralling notes to a spaced-out synth solo, replete with a kicking Palmer beat, providing a sort of punctuation to the swirly web of notes, and gritty Lake bass. A bass-driven section quite reminiscent of parts of Larks' Tongues In Aspic pt. 1 leads us onto the catchy organ melody supplemented by a tongue-in-cheek synth, underlaying the positive and evocative vocals that will feature again towards the end of the piece. Lake's bass provides a couple of the directional changes, and this could possibly be my favourite bass on an ELP song... but maybe that's just me. A vital listen, if only for an example of how to do synth tones... defined and effective, not too clear to be edgy, and not too noise-clustered to be musical... not to mention, the mock-blues ending is quite amusing in its own way.

The following Living Sin is a neat contrast. A bizarre progressive pop melodies meet rock feel song driven by a range of infectious menacing organ melodies and Palmer's fantastic supportive drumming - emphatic directional bursts, mini-solos full of energy and a sort of unrestrained kick-within-the-beat thing all add lots to the piece. Over the top of these driving elements, Lake's moody, sullen vocal wails away in a Cat-Food-with--just-a-hint-of-misogyny style, while Emerson alternates between fantastic organ flourishes and synthy whhhhhowws. The best bit of the song is either the absolutely fantastic organ sound Emerson gets on the choruslike parts or the 'silence! never did warn you 'bout the one-night-lover!' (could be 'never did wanna buy a one-night-lover!'... sounds great either way, and ELP were never about the lyrics) bit, which features truly awesome organ soloing, Lake sort of holding the section at a slightly more emphatic level than the rest of the piece through his bass part and that rather poppish percussion sound that I'm embarrassingly fond of mixed with some balancing drum taps. A fairly whimsically inserted bit of grandiose synth flourish with a characteristic Palmer roll underneath it leads us up to the end. Initially, it's the sort of song which you hear the first time and think 'I probably shouldn't like that' but ...its prog credentials are certainly there inside the actually quite melodic mock aggression... and I maintain that it's a damn good tune.

To end this superb album, we have an interpretation of Ravel's Abaddon's Bolero, developing from virtually solo whispering organ with an assertive classical drum part from Palmer and some part of the original seemingly being taken up by Lake on bass to an overspilling, bluesed-out-wails-all-over-the-place, tentatively (well, on my part, not on the band's) headbanging monstrosity. The only ELP track, if I remember correctly, to feature a (tasteful and background... I'm not actually sure whether that's just a synth and the 'tron was for the tour) mellotron, played by Lake. What's so remarkable about the piece is that the synth tones are light, expansive and not particularly defined (especially compared to some of those on Trilogy or The Endless Enigma) and yet they really do manage to come together in such a way as to rock. I'm not sure if it's the blues-reminiscent phrasing or the relative strength of the synth parts, or the simple fact that Palmer's drumming is getting louder as the piece moves on, but tones that shouldn't rock do. Can't say fairer than that for successfully pulling off a piece in spite of listener pre-conceptions. Masterful work.

I'd call this album entirely essential to anyone interested in progressive rock, even those who aren't the biggest fans of ELP. The synth tones are fantastic and highly unusual for the time, the songwriting's great, and every track, even those which initially seem a bit less challenging, is a progressive gem. I prefer ELP to this one, but I'd still call this one a masterpiece by any standard.

Rating: Five Stars Favourite Track: Trilogy, maybe. A lot of good stuff here.

Edit back to five. Decided that my rating was based mainly on a desire to be a bit harsher in general, so axed it

Edit edit: Then decided I was being a bit harsher in general, and given this isn't one I'd instantly think of picking for a masterpiece list,I figured that a four was maybe more just both to other fives and other fours.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |


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