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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus CD (album) cover

TARKUS

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

4.05 | 1769 ratings

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R-A-N-M-A
3 stars Tarkus is a good album, but in my mind it is nothing but a road stop on the way to better things. The album is a technical success and it is consistently better than its rawer more experimental predecessor. It does however lack a measure of soul. The album is cold and at times tedious and preachy.

Right away, the biggest problem with the album is the title track. The 21 minute show piece Tarkus suite, is ponderous and uninteresting. It reminds me of Rush's Hemispheres in a lot of ways. It is an ambitious track with a lot of potential which ultimately remains unrealized. Thankfully, like that other core album slump from a potentially equally skilled power trio, side-B proves immensely more palatable.

Before I continue with the track run through, I have to point out one of the things that I do particularly like about Tarkus; Keith Emerson's choice of traditional piano and comparatively scaled back synthesizer tones level the playing field between him and his band mates. The album gives a better sense of Lake & Palmer's excellent contributions. They aren't always felt through reeling keyboard wails on their succeeding albums. As a counterpoint however, I have to admit that I like Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery, on which Emerson does to a degree outplay his counterparts, a good deal more. So, perhaps it isn't really a totally positive development. Onwards.

Jeremy Bender is the quirky ragtime and old-western influenced track for this album, as the Sherriff and Benny the Bouncer are on the next two. If you read the other reviews, you can find a pretty clear division in opinion over these tracks. Some find them campy and out of place others find them a welcome source of levity in otherwise very serious classically inspired environments. I certainly fall into the latter category. Jeremy Bender is definitely the weakest of the three, but it is still quite good. It is also deserves praise for its ideal positioning in the track listing. It comes just in time to pull you out of the Tarkus doldrums.

Up next is the two part hymn and anti-sermon, The Only Way and Infinite Space. This track is the centrepiece for side-B. It is also a bit cumbersome, but its shorter running length and more interesting arrangements put it a head above Tarkus. In spite of its running lenth, The Only Way manages to have both the mini-suite's best and worst moments. The mass-like organ intro and other musical interludes far exceed dreariness and lazy atheism present in the vocals. Infinite Space is a jazzy instrumental extension to the Only Way. It winds rather pleasantly around the main theme set out in the first portion. It doesn't quite management to be as exciting or dull, but perhaps overstays it's welcome just a little, so I'll give an edge to the Only Way.

A Time and A Place is the best track on Tarkus. Aside from some stilted lyrics, it possesses a lot of the rawness present on their eponymous first album, but shows the focus of their later work. When you hear a track this good, but this short, it is easy to say that it should be substantially longer. However, on an album where 3 of the 5 preceding tracks are seriously in excess of my preferred running times, I appreciate its succinct excellence.

Rounding out the album is another nod to Americana courtesy of Emerson with a hot rockabilly send up to the recording studio, Are you Ready Eddy? There isn't much to report, it serves much the same purpose as Jeremy Bender on the first half. The band throw out the pretentions and have a little fun. It just so happens they sound pretty good while doing it too.

I like this album, but it isn't ELP at their best. It does however it does earn a recommendation on two fronts. Firstly, if you're a smarty and are getting into ELP for the first time right at the beginning of their catalogue where you should, you'll really get a sense for the band's evolution. Tarkus fits snugly between the fizzling, but mostly energetic psychedelic experimentation of the self-titled and the more mature and subtle classically influenced masterwork Trilogy. Second, if you really like ELP it has a lot of content, not all of it top tier for the band but certainly to some listener's tastes. If you are just looking to sample ELP right now and aren't thinking you're going to get way into the band at this time I recommend taking a pass and going for Trilogy or Brain Salad Surgery instead. Three out of Five Stars.

R-A-N-M-A | 3/5 |

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