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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2129 ratings

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4 stars 1973-- what a year for music. Especially progressive rock where by now the gloves were clearly off and being firmly slapped in the face of the listening world. This was no longer an experiment gone too far or a misled product of a post-drug culture. No, prog rock was real, tenacious, and for a short while during '73, in charge of popular music's cutting edge. A fully-functioning and completely viable art form that was actually starting to turn a healthy profit and Carl Palmer, Greg Lake and Keith Emerson understood that better than most of their peers. That's not to say artistry wasn't crucial to the new high-minded atmosphere but if it could be tamed with a bit of discipline and a sense of showmanship, it could be turned into something everyone might enjoy, not just lovers of complex rock. Perhaps this is what makes Brain Salad Surgery both a pinnacle and a breaking point for the genre, a farewell to the organic explosions of Tarkus and hello to the big time of better equipment, light shows, and sold-out arenas.

But the music didn't suffer. This fourth studio LP from the trio with Giger's biomechanical eroticism gracing the cover was as accomplished as anything they'd done and in many ways better than the previous and less focused Trilogy. In fact of their studio releases this one best stands the test of time. Not as restrained as the debut but more palatable than Tarkus, the three musicians had found an ideal blend of flash, form, function and fun. Keith Emerson's compositions are as inspired as always, Carl Palmer's performance is much tighter than in the past. And Greg Lake firmly at the heart of things making it all come together and smooth out with a big, rich studio timbre and cohesive lyrical content. Considering it's nearing 40 years old, Brain Salad Surgery sounds remarkably fresh. The eternally cool 'Jerusalem' is a fine start though could've been placed anywhere in this set and worked beautifully, the sheer weight of Emerson's pipe organ, Lake's boyish vocal delivery and Palmer's soldierly drums. 'Toccata' sends in the troops and maneuvers into a drum/keyboard volley sounding quite like an old video arcade on a Saturday afternoon filled with kids feeding handfulls of quarters into squealing machines. Lake's 'Still..You Turn Me On' is a successful ballad, lovelorn and sounding of distant times, and obligatory saloon silliness of 'Benny the Bouncer' the comic relief here. Finally the huge 'Karn Evil' movements are a triumph for this band, a perfect moment where everything they did well came pouring out, their Sgt. Peppers moment, gloriously good.

A flawless album? No. A masterpiece? Could be. Certainly a summit for them and the era they represented, and an undeniable victory for prog that year along with Selling England by the Pound, A Passion Play, Tales from Topographic Oceans and many other great releases during a spectacular time for modern music. Imperfect, and quite essential.

Atavachron | 4/5 |


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