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


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2127 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars 8/15P.: Sometimes less is more - and more is less.

Unfortunately ELP's albums became uninteresting for me after Trilogy which in my opinion was a terrific record filled with many highlights. Brain Salad Surgery is sheer megalomania, to a very big extent blown up and not the real music for me. I know Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends (the 1974 live album with 15 minutes improvisations framed by parts of other songs), the California Jam film (here, Emerson plays his piano solo while spinning around with the piano in the air) and the Works albums (including Emerson's piano concerto, lots of honky-tonk classics and loads of Greg Lake ballads), and each of these recordings is in a way symptomatic of the decay of the progressive rock genre. Brain Salad Surgery is where it started, and it proved that music theory doesn't help you make a good album when you aren't inspired. Or rather when you want to be bigger than you can be.

Brain Salad Surgery's breaking point, in my opinion, is definitely the "Karn Evil" suite which just doesn't captivate me. But sadly, side one isn't better.

Jerusalem is my favorite song of the record, appealing with mighty Hammond organs and Greg Lake's superb vocals which create a beautiful British feeling. Everyone who knows the original version of this British hymn (for example from the Last Night of the Proms transmissions) knows that ELP have changed the piece a lot; especially the Moog synthesizers during the stanza in the middle are really uplifting and pleasant.

Toccata is interesting, too, but in a different way. Ginastera, the writer of this piece, is known as quite an experimental composer, and Emerson captures this manic, frantic mood very well with distorted Hammond organs and futuristic synthesizer effects (by the way, Ginastera approved of Emerson's adaptation quite a lot). The second part features Carl Palmer with his composition for drums and percussion, making use of both untypical percussion instruments (tubular bells, bells or gongs) and futuristic drum synth effects which were somehow invented by him in those days. This is not music to listen to every day, but a thrilling try at more experimental music, somehow continuing what has been begun with the Gnome and Old Castle parts of Pictures at An Exhibition and the beginning of The Endless Enigma Pt. 1 on Trilogy. But admittedly this music is by far better on the paper than on the CD. At least I regularly catch myself feeling that this music is a total mess while thinking that it is challenging and hence good.

Still... You Turn Me On is Greg Lake's ballad which in my book is less spectacular than comparable pieces like The Sage or the beginning of Take A Pebble which were simply more charismatic; Still... sounds a bit thin, something which may be also due to the minimalistic and 'futuristic' production. Emerson is featured on the harpsichord here, a nice timbre, but it doesn't change that Lake's previous ballad were better. An okay song, but no stand-out track. And I better don't mention the lyrics...

Benny The Bouncer is a joke, I know. But Greg Lake's voice is annoying here, the music isn't appealing in any way and the composition is forgettable. The keyboards, whatever this exactly is, are dull, too. Dull and thin, to say the least. The Sheriff from the previous album had a full and powerful sound, fat Hammond organs, an interesting rhythm and more relaxed vocals. Unfortunately, a really weak track which should have been replaced with the at that time unreleased title track of the album, Brain Salad Surgery.

Now we arrive at the last track, Karn Evil 9, stated by some as the best work of ELP and of music in general. Until now I didn't make it listening to this track in total because it is so overdone, but still quite empty in its core.. The main riff of the pretty rock'n'roll part 1st impression, Pt.1 wouldn't be bad when being integrated into another track, but I think that it simply lacks substance to be stretched out to a complete longtrack. From time to time there are nice passages, but for me this track is pointless and doesn't really go anywhere. Pt.2 isn't any better, the vocal melody (and how it's delivered) and the whole design sometimes are very straining and I don't get much listening pleasure from it. The chord progressions sometimes remind me of Focus (especially Sylvia), but Focus are more successful since they take their time and do not race through the composition. It seems the band has lost its complete feeling and emotional resonance by concentrating on the more shallow aspects of music, i.e. the athletic and record-establishing aims which too many metal and progressive rock musicians of today also share. The Second Impression, entirely instrumental, is the part which I like most of Karn Evil. Here we get superb keyboard improvisations by Mr. Emerson, especially on the Moog synthesizer and the grand piano, and Carl Palmer (employing shakers and other groovy percussion instruments) and Greg Lake accompany these improvisations in a very skillful and playful manner. Doubtlessly, Lake and Palmer are a superb rhythm section, and one instantly hears that the music gets more impressive when they are allowed to play more freely. Finally, the Third Impression is quite similar in mood and sound to the first one, and again the melodies aren't really fitting with my taste; the computer voices may have been very progressive in 1973, but I don't get the use of this science fiction thematics at all, as much as I'm not interested in the see the show!-theme which is present everywhere in this track. The instrumental part in the second half of the third impression is also a bit too directionless, although the ending with the sequenced synthesizer melodies is an unusual, but nice way of ending the album.

So, all in all a really weak 3 star rating from my point of view for a doubtlessly important and significant, but ultimately overblown record which I just am not able to listen to all the way through - and this statement comes from someone who adores Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. Those who do not know Emerson, Lake and Palmer should, in my opinion, start with Trilogy, which has a more 'organic' and rich sound and more concise compositions. It would have been two stars had it not been for the big effects which this album had on the music scene.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |


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