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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover

TARKUS

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.07 | 2096 ratings

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Neo-Romantic
3 stars Albums like this are far from my favorite to review. By "albums like this," I mean ones in which there is an exemplary track that stands alone as a masterpiece and the rest of the material is not up to snuff. This isn't only because the other songs aren't as good by comparison, but also because they as a whole are objectively very weak and unconvincing. It really feels like they were so happy with the song Tarkus that they thought they could afford to bring their B game for the rest of the album and the fans would still buy it. And the worst part of that is if that was truly their intention, it totally worked.

Tarkus the song, as I said, is a monumental track. Truly a marvel, and wow is it interesting! So many contrasting musical ideas, virtuoso musicianship on an unparalleled level, and an attitude unmatchable by most other epics. You've got to hear this!

But then there's the others. With the exception of track two, the shortest on the album, these songs are short by prog standards and their run times progressively decrease as the album goes on. It's actually kind of nice, like it's trying to wrap itself up, self-aware and insecure of the minimal contributions that can still be made after facing such a giant. There was no way to re-order this album to make it better, though. The others were doomed from the start.

Jeremy Bender is a pretty ho-hum sing-song number with some occasionally attention- grabbing fills by Palmer that add something but are quick to be memorized as minimal and calculatedly placed at the end of each phrase as they are. The honkey tonk piano by Emerson is decent, but very minimal by his usual bombastic standard. Nothing new here, really.

Then there's B*****s Crystal. Slightly more energetic, but a pretty unconvincing, bland track only spiced by a few cool moog sounds and emphatic vocal swells from Lake.

The Only Way is a song that features some good organ work, but it pales in comparison to what can be heard in The Three Fates, so again a listener familiar with their first may feel like Emerson is doing less-than-exemplary work in favor of appropriately accompanying a less-than-amazing song. What he does works, don't get me wrong. It's definitely fitting. The problem is the medium itself that causes the listener to feel unsatisfied. Lake's vocals are accurate, but pushed into a high portion of his register and do not come down often. I personally don't care for the sound, as it does not have the same level of depth I appreciate in the sung passages of other songs of theirs. The melodic contour does this few favors, as he continually bounds upward by big leaps, giving little respite to the unconvinced fan. The instrumental interlude that follows the first half of the sung parts is the most interesting part, and even then, if you never heard it in your life, you wouldn't be missing much.

Infinite Space...it's good. Gets a little old after a few listens, but it's still not bad. The piano interlude after the drums pause in the middle is the most tasteful part. The reduced texture really lets those wonderful piano sonorities come out, and the melody he plays is very interesting. It's a shame it was so short...I would've rated this album a masterpiece if it contained Tarkus and an extrapolation of this section into another side-long epic.

A Time and a Place isn't bad either. The frantic drums, mood and hammond attacks, and emphatic vocals make it unique. It's effective as a short song. I don't know if it could've been justified to extend it, but including it as part of a longer composition that allowed for the deletion of most of the earlier tracks would've made a much stronger case for this album as well.

Are You Reddy Eddy? is a novelty song. Funny and quirky, but does nothing to reconcile the album's flaws. I'm not too critical of this song, as I know it was meant to be a joke. And honestly, it's not like the technical playing has anything wrong with it, so I won't deduct anything from there as far as a review goes. But again, sort of a joke/afterthought and not a serious contribution.

My conclusion is this album gets 3 stars. Tarkus is the good. The rest is the non-essential. The rating is easy to assign when viewed that way, and a lot less painful. The song Tarkus is just so awesome. It's a pity the rest of the album buckled under the weight of such a monolithic track.

Neo-Romantic | 3/5 |

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