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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2128 ratings

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3 stars To me it seems like almost every big classic prog band from the 70s had that one album in which they pushed their ambitions far beyond anything else to create something truly grandiose and excessive. Genesis had The Lamb, Yes had Tales From Topographic Oceans, King Crimson had... well, most of their output, and Emerson Lake and Palmer had this album, Brain Salad Surgery. To be honest, while this definitely has more qualities of excess than previous works, I do find this to be much less of a drastic jump than what many other bands had, although a lot of that comes down to how bombastic this band already was. Despite the fact that Brain Salad Surgery does in fact attempt to take on even more ambitious concepts, I do feel as if just with a lot of this band's output, even from their prime, that the execution ends up being somewhat off.

The first issue I have with the album is the mixed grab bag that the first 4 tracks are, ranging so drastically not only in tone and style, but in terms of quality as well. While Jerusalem is no doubt an incredibly powerful sounding song, some impact is taken away by the fact that this is simply a rendition of an actual hymn, and does feel kinda dull by the end, despite its very short length. Toccata on the other hand is likely one of the band's best remakes of a preexisting song, showing their more avant garde tendencies to create a track that both sounds extremely dense, and also relatively empty at other points, in either case being the clear highlight of the first 4 songs. Other aspects of this song that impress me are the only Carl Palmer drum solo that doesn't bore me to tears, and the gradual build up from there, starting off quietly with bells ringing, and eventually sounding like the soundtrack to a crisis ona spaceship, the various synths sounding like an array of alarms, all signalling imminent danger. Still... You Turn Me On isn't bad, but I find it to be a fairly mediocre love song all things considered, Lucky Man is still their crowning achievement in terms of ballads for sure. Benny The Bouncer is the most overtly ridiculous joke song in an Emerson Lake And Palmer album, but it also manages to be the most enjoyable, being the only one that I actually find to be amusing in any way whatsoever, the extremely goofy ragtime sound crossing the line twice, becoming so on the nose that it manages to be entertaining.

The biggest issue I have with this album, despite the fact that it's definitely not the worst part of it, is that fact that I just cannot even consider Karn Evil 9 a proper epic, it's just a collection of extremely energetic prog songs that turn up every element of the band to their absolute peak, but honestly, they don't even try and make this a proper epic in any way other than possibly lyrics, not even having proper transitions between each movement. I also feel as if there is a disparity in quality between these sections. With this said, the entirety of the first movement is the greatest thing ever written by the band, and is definitely a major highlight of classic prog all together. The energy present here is utterly astounding, and what makes this even better is the relative lack of unnecessary instrumental breaks that can disrupt the flow of the song, most of them sticking to the central themes established. Despite the fact that the song has a combined length of over 12 minutes, I also find this to be amazingly catchy,especially with the keyboard melodies throughout being as good as they are. There really isn't a best part to this song, as every moment in it is near flawless, but the second half once the pace increases really highlights the playful nature of these tracks, with a lot of smaller moments such as a brief moment of silence to highlight a particular vocal line, the occasional insane drum fills just thrown in, and a brief moment of dramatically increased temp, all coming together to make a near flawless song brimming with energy, character and charm. The second movement unfortunately is a large step down from the previous song, being entirely instrumental and taking on a distinctly jazz approach. While the song does indeed display incredible skill from Keith Emerson, with his frenetic piano playing that jumps around to an insane degree, quite a bit of it ends up feeling less spectacular than what it feels like it should, although there are occasional moments of absolute greatness within, especially when the drumming is briefly accentuated, revealing more of the energy that the first impression had so much of. The worst aspect of this by far is quiet middle section, as it goes absolutely nowhere and pointlessly extends this track by about 3 minutes. The third movement is somewhat better, although I personally couldn't really get behind the extremely anthemic nature of this one for some reason, although the robotic voice strongly reminiscient of a Dalek was definitely a great touch. This song is uplifting and powerful for sure, but to me it's just missing something, not quite sure what, but whatever it is does stop it from being the impactful masterpiece that felt so close to hitting, and instead just being an all around decent prog song, but nothing truly mind blowing.

All in all, this was a very difficult album to solidify my feelings on, as there are some truly incredible moments to be foud here, but then there are others that either feel ill conceived or poorly executed, such as the fact that Karn Evil 9 just sounds like 3 loosely connected songs, with 1 of them being an utter masterpiece, one being great and just not for me, and one that I find to be incredibly flawed and more an exercise in technical playing rather than composition. The first half is mostly forgettable, with only Toccata really being a song that I wholeheartedly recommend, although it's another absolutely incredible one. I still personally believe that Emerson, Lake and Palmer's best album is Trilogy, as the band works far better when their excess is kept more in check, but certain moments of this definitely surpass it, despite the fuk package being one I can't always wholeheartedly enjoy.

Best songs: Toccata, Karn Evil 9 First Impression

Weakest songs: Jerusalem, Still... You Turn Me On

Verdict: This is Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their creative peak, it's just unfortunate that their songwriting didn't always match up to these grandiose concepts. If you are a big fan of this band, you'll definitely get a massive kick out of this, but I personally found a lot of elements that didn't work particularly well, despite portions of this being astounding.

Kempokid | 3/5 |


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