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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2131 ratings

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5 stars Anniversaries have a way of "sharpening" one's mind. It was 58 years ago on Monday, 11/22/21, that the U.S. and the world witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Over these 58 years, writers, scholars, and conspiracy theorists, to name just a few, have attempted to come to terms with this dark day in our history. And, of course, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones in "Sympathy for the Devil," would later shout out, "who killed the Kennedys?" No stranger to untimely deaths, the music world had already observed the deaths in an airplane crash in 1959 of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens. In 1963, Patsy Kline was also killed in a plane crash.

So, following the "vacuum" created in the U.S. and Western Culture by the assassination of President Kennedy, in came the Beatles and British "Invasion" to "fill" this void (please see The Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner, p. 9). Those familiar with the history of progressive rock acknowledge the genre's debt to John, Paul, George, and Ringo (and George Martin). By the time in 1969 when we experience "Epitaph" on In the Court of the Crimson King, "confusion" does have the "last word."

As lead vocalist and bassist on King Crimson's first album, Greg Lake helped launch the genre in which his contributions would expand through his later membership in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. On their 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, ELP, in a sense, re-visit the lyrics of "Epitaph," especially through the "Karn Evil 9" suite. The album begins with an almost reverential version of the Church of England piece, "Jerusalem," lyrics by William Blake; music by Hubert Perry. In "Epitaph," lyricist Pete Sinfield has an ominous view of the Prophet's milieu:

The wall on which the Prophets wrote is cracking at the seams.

For William Blake, he adds the following to the end of the lyrics of what we now know as "Jerusalem":

Would to God that all the Lords] people were Prophets" Numbers XI. Ch 29.v

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the Prophet speaks on behalf of God. Sometimes, the Prophet exposes the social inequities of his/her time; conversely, transformations of the wasteland into which humans have fallen are described:

I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In Englands green & pleasant Land.

In their choice of "Jerusalem" to open Brain Salad Surgery, ELP begin with a momentous tribute to Prophecy and Imagination that recedes as we launch into Karn Evil 9.

Following "Jerusalem," Emerson continues his "making the classics familiar" in "Toccata," an adaptation of Alberto Ginastera's "1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement." In this iconoclastic version, Emerson's demonic synthesizer and Hammond organ lines transform the piece "elsewhere." Palmer's drum synthesizers are slippery and disturbing. In the "quiet" juncture of the piece, Emerson, on synthesizer, and Lake, on guitar, play a "parallel" solo that hardly seems 48 years old.

Yet, this is fitting. We are basically a half of a century removed from the "golden age" of progressive rock. Especially on the weight of the Karn Evil 9 Suite, Brain Salad Surgery remains a "titan" of the genre. For Yes, there's "Close to the Edge"; Genesis, "Suppers Ready". For ELP, we have "Tarkus" and "Karn Evil 9." Certainly no musician, I've been nevertheless affected by the intense musicality of the "golden age" of progressive rock. Now, I have the pleasure of referring to You Tube and "the Daily Doug." I certainly recommend a visit to this site of Professor Doug Helvering, who, with his musical erudition, presents his first reactions to "Close to the Edge, "Supper's Ready," and "Tarkus." Professor Helvering, may I suggest "Karn Evil 9?"

To return to King Crimson's "Epitaph,"

Knowledge is a deadly friend When no one sets the rules. The fate of all mankind I see Is in the hands of fools.

1969/2021 "The Song Remains the Same . . . ." "Karn Evil 9": "1st Impression" begins lyrically with "our" Prophet in the Wilderness:

Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare, Where the seeds have withered, silent children shivered, in the cold Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold. I'll be there I'll be there I will be there. ----------------- There must be someone who can set them free: To take their sorrow from this odyssey To help the helpless and the refugee To protect what's left of humanity.

But who is the Prophet who steps up to lead: a circus master who lays bare all of the absurdities of our modern age--

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside There behind a glass stands a real blade of grass Be careful as you pass, move along, move along

How do we attempt to transform or transcend all of these wasteland absurdities of the Human Condition? We move to Lake and Sinfield's lyrics to the 3rd Impression. Only five years separate 2001: A Space Odyssey and "Karn Evil 9". However, Hal "reprises" his role in the Third Impression:

I am all there is Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live! But I gave you life What else could you do? To do what was right I'm perfect! Are you?

My "considered opinion (hope)," as we prepare, "God willing and the Creek don't rise," to enter 2022, is humanity will be prepared for its inevitable meeting with "Hal": global warming, the continued dangers of the world's stockpiles of thermonuclear weapons, the Covid-19 pandemic, and our headlong plunge into our "brave new world" of cyber reality. Yes, 1969/2021: "The Song Remains the Same"?

Confusion will be my epitaph. As I crawl a cracked and broken path If we make it we can all sit back And laugh. But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying, Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.

ken_scrbrgh | 5/5 |


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