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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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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Many negative reviews of Brain Salad Surgery characterise it as the album where Emerson, Lake and Palmer went too far. I would disagree: for me, it's the album where they didn't go anywhere at all. Whilst most of the other major prog bands who had debuted in 1970 or before had continued to advance and develop and, in the case of King Crimson, completely reinvent their sound, here ELP seem to me to get complacent, essentially following the Tarkus/Trilogy playbook and turning the volume up a bit.

There's an epic track which doesn't even pretend to hang together as a single coherent piece (unlike the masterful Tarkus). There's a jazzy bit, this time crammed incongruously into the middle of Karn Evil 9, to the point where I almost wonder whether it was mis- sequenced there by a bumbling studio engineer and the band decided to declare it the second part of Karn Evil 9 rather than change up the running order. There's a Greg Lake ballad, which is horrendously oversaccharine and sappy and has some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard - "someone get me a ladder", Greg? Are you serious? - and of course there's a couple of classical adaptations in Keith Emerson's usual style, though by this point Keith's method of adapting classical pieces to rock group formats which had been so fresh and novel in The Nice and in the early ELP albums had already begun to seem forced and stale.

In short, this is an album which follows the ELP playbook to the letter and ticks all the boxes without taking any serious risks beyond throwing in a song that's longer than the length of a side, and since (like I said) the three parts of that song aren't really connected and could happily have stood on their own as individual tracks this was completely pointless and unnecessary - a stab at creating another epic purely for the sake of throwing in an epic, but without any of the actual effort involved in producing a coherent 20 minute song.

Whilst Yes were taking genuine risks in making Tales From Topographic Oceans, in a year that King Crimson adopted a completely new and startlingly different sound on Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Genesis brought their pastoral style to its brilliant fruition, at a point when Gentle Giant were masterfully adapting to the departure of their sax player and Pink Floyd were conquering the world with The Dark Side of the Moon, ELP to me seem to be the major band who are the odd men out - the one unit who, rather than growing and changing and developing their sound, were simply riding the prog bandwagon and complacently churning out crap. Brain Salad Surgery sounds like the out-takes from Tarkus and Trilogy, ideas which wouldn't have cut the mustard on those albums but were considered good enough to foist on the listening public in 1973, despite the fact that they still weren't ready for human consumption. There are so many points where just a bit of thought and polishing could have salvaged a composition or song that it makes me angry just thinking about them.

In short, where many see ELP's peak, I see only the beginning of the end, the moment the band project stopped being an experiment and started being a formula. The consequences of such a change in approach - from innovation to simply crafting a product to tick off the boxes on a checklist - would be fatal both for the band and for the original 1970s prog scene. I am full of love for ELP's debut album and the title track from Tarkus, but this album - this is where the rot set in, and it's what made them deserve the critical backlash that followed.

(2022 update: OK, for a while I'd left this review on the lowest rating for the sake of making a point, but on balance I was probably overstating the issue. I still stand by most of what I said about - this just isn't as tightly composed as Tarkus, and there's way too much in the way of showboating or novelty gimmicks, but I can't deny that there's many sections of the album which are enduringly memorable... but still, the material comes across much better on the ensuing live album, Welcome Back My Friends, than on here, and I still think you can draw a direct line from the messy nature of this album to the band's unravelling in the latter half of the 1970s.)

Warthur | 3/5 |


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