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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 For the sake of reviewing this much celebrated ELP album, which I have known since from around the time I got into prog, I listened to it a few times again. And found myself liking it a lot less than I used to. Today, when I eventually got down to write the review after a gap, I find my impressions continue to be similar. So, that's how it will be then. I confess that while I like Brain Salad Surgery and think it is a good album, I would personally no longer rank it essential listening.

The music on this album seems to be quite apt as a soundtrack for a science fi-fantasy or comic superhero flick. It then depends on you how much you warm up to that idea. Me: not very much at all. Quite frankly, this is a niche within rock music that I don't really dig and as such am not very receptive to fantasy in rock music. I make my exceptions and to that extent am guilty as charged of hypocrisy. But then, I guess music appreciation is about one's tastes and perceptions. At the end of the day, I am not quite so fond of how ELP specifically do it.

A good example of this is Toccata, based on the fourth movement of Alberto Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto. Independent of the original composition, this is actually my favourite track off the album. It's very interesting to hear ELP grapple with dissonance in a piece of relatively loose organization. But it's not THEIR composition and is quite faithful to Ginastera's so far as the musical passages performed are concerned. Not so faithful is their interpretation. I find Ginastera's composition quite spine chilling while the ELP adaptation has the aforesaid superhero flick soundtrack quality. At the most it induces a chuckle or two from me and that's it. It is the flow and direction of the music, rather than the mood it evokes, that keeps me hooked.

My favourite passage of music off this album, though, is Karn Evil 09 1st Impression Pts 1 and 2. ELP mount a rollicking "show that never ends" as the music moves at breakneck pace, in terms of both tempo and development. I am not so keen on that guitar solo or as such on any of the melodies in the said tracks but am all ears as far as the arrangements go. Greg Lake's style of singing is very appropriate for this kind of track and gives it a kind of macho appeal that is more associated with rock than prog. At this point, the marriage of rock and prog seems perfect.

But the 2nd and 3rd Impressions seriously mar my overall, um, impressions of the epic. Standalone, the 2nd Impression is entertaining but presents precious little progress from where we left off in the 1st and feels redundant. The 3rd Impression has some very interesting moments but overall most strongly evokes the superhero flick feeling for any track in the album. If I said it reminded me of the music that accompanied B-grade Bollywood action flicks from the 70s or 80s, that might put my dislike for the 3rd Impression into perspective.

That leaves us with a trio of short tracks. Benny and the Bouncer is okay but doesn't really gel with the rest of the album and feels like a throwaway. Jerusalem is more sincere to the original but this time, I am not so keen on the original to begin with. Nice but not very memorable in my opinion. Still...You Turn Me On makes the strongest impression of the short tracks. But I am essentially looking at 17 minutes of music I enjoy without any reservations and 7 or so for which my appreciation is qualified, out of a total 45 minutes of music. My rating as far as my personal enjoyment goes is then easily explained.

But what about the influence and importance of this album and its place in ELP's discography? For a better appreciation of ELP, I would recommend their first two albums rather than Brain Salad Surgery. The more controversial question is how representative is it of what a proghead likes in his music. Well, seeing as no two progheads can agree on what is prog (!), that depends on what YOU like in your music. If you look for dazzling technical virtuosity and tons of energy in your prog, you won't be disappointed. But if you regard prog as music that unfolds and explores interesting musical possibilities for rock music, my recommendation to you would be much more reserved. In fact, if as a listener, you are more interested in the compositional aspects of music rather than performance, I'd not recommend this as an album to start your prog journey with and rather suggest the most loved albums of either Genesis or Yes.

Thus, in spite of its immense popularity in prog circles and its place among the top ELP albums, I give it three stars.

rogerthat | 3/5 |


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