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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.07 | 2098 ratings

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4 stars Tarkus, as you may already know, is the exciting tale of an adventurous armadillo tank popping out of a volcano and going to war with some other Greg Lake (presumably) drawings you can see on the album's inner sleeve.

Actually, as goofy as that concept is, NONE of it comes through in the lyrics - and I actually consider the lyrics among this band's best. They seem to be about war, I guess, and hypocrisy, to some degree. Probably they aren't possible to take in any kind of literal way, but who can't get down with lines like "Clear the battlefield and let me see / All the profit from our victory"?

The suite, and entire album, is definitely pretentious, as is the entire ELP catalog, but strangely enough ELP's pretention has always been far easier for me to swallow than so many pretentious contemporaries (including Rush). Something about the personalities of the members, the way the whole thing comes across - it might be pompous and overblown, but it is so intentionally. There's a whimsy behind the whole thing; however grim the music and lyrics sound, it never sounds as if the band members themselves place so much dire importance in the "message" or "concept" or any of that. It's just fun. Playing huge, outrageous, overblown music is fun. They have fun doing it, and I have fun listening to it.

Of course, all that you've heard about Side 2 being worse is true. But it is far from without its charms and positive numbers. Jeremy Bender is a throwaway, but it's short and not unpleasant. I actually really like "Are You Ready Eddy?" and "Bitches Crystal", and "A Time and a Space" rocks as hard as anything ELP ever did or ever would do. But "Infinite Space" is definitely the best song on the side, with a great piano riff and a believable 7/4 (what do I mean by that? Ever hear a band that clearly wrote a riff in 4/4 and then just dropped an 8th note to be "artistic"? I don't think that's what happened here). It's got tasty little piano lines all around - that's right, piano, not synthesizer.

But still, it's mediocre. Not exceptional songwriting. Better, though, I'd say, than the back end of "2112". And the front end is CERTAINLY better. Tarkus is long but it never drags. It's probably the most solid 20 straight minutes of music in the ELP catalog. Different synths come in and out, Lake gets some outstanding singing spots and guitar solos, the riff that comes in during "Mass" is as funky as Stevie Wonder... it's incredible. I could see giving it a five. I give it a four, simply because of some of the patchiness on the second side and the AWFUL "Hymn", which I've only been able to sit through maybe once or twice. It's truly terrible, my least favorite ELP song (aside from maybe Benny the Bouncer). On this one, the pomposity DOES come off as self-important, and that's never a virtue, especially with a song as ridiculous as that one.

KyleSchmidlin | 4/5 |


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