Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Emerson Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2129 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
4 stars Pompous? Outdated? Overblown?

It's funny that ELP have always enjoyed a bad reputation with rock critics. Punks and Rolling Stone journalists hated them, of course, but such people hated Led Zeppelin just as much - and look what an amazing rehabilitation Led Zep have undergone since the 1980s! Why is no-one prepared to judge ELP's music on its own terms? You'll hear people call BRAIN SALAD SURGERY outdated (because of its lyrics, because of the analogue synths) but surely you could say much the same about Jimi Hendrix's classic albums, which are full of cheesy wah-wah guitar and silly ditties about mermaids. Why has Hendrix remained untouchable then?

As some critics (notably Paul Stump) have pointed out, most rock writers don't really give a damn about music. In 9 out of 10 rock reviews (not to mention band interviews!) it's a band's ATTITUDES that will be discussed.

When you hear an ELP piece like 'Toccata' for the first time, it may sound chaotic and brash - but isn't brashness approved of in rock, when the performers are the Who or the Sex Pistols? I've got a hunch that most casual listeners are actually put off by Toccata's complexity. Well, some music lovers are ATTRACTED to complexity, and we can safely assume that most Prog Archives readers belong to this category. So dear reader, if you've never heard this album, and if you're not afraid of some (well-structured) musical chaos, you're in for a treat: 'Toccata' will blow your mind. It's more avant-garde than anything on Bowie's LOW or Pere Ubu's first few albums. Whether it is a convincing adaptation of Ginastera's first piano concerto I cannot say, but (in contrast to ELP's earlier treatment of Mussorgsky) it definitely works as an exciting piece of music in its own right.

And you could say similar things about BRAIN SALAD SURGERY as a whole. Listen to this album with an open mind, and you'll definitely find it exciting.

I first got to know BSS in the 1970s, when I was still wet behind the ears, and I loved it. Having read a lot of vitriol about ELP since then, I was ready to go in for the kill, but when I played the album last night (for the first time in a couple of years) I still found its piece de resistance, KARN EVIL 9, irresistible. Although that piece is half an hour long, it's well-structured, inspiration never flags, the band's playing is first-rate, Lake's singing is youthful and energetic, Emerson's use of synths is truly inventive, and his Hammond organ solos are up there with the best.

KARN EVIL's only problems lie with its SPACE ODYSSEY-inspired theme (do YOU believe our lives are about to be controlled by an evil Super Computer?), and with the fact that it never really stirs the listener's emotions (even though it's a helluva ride). Therein lies the main difference with 'epics' such as SUPPER'S READY or THE GATES OF DELIRIUM: I just can't imagine anyone will find ELP moving. And for that reason I can't call BSS a true 'masterpiece'.

I also have a problem with the album's opening track, 'Jerusalem'. If this number truly fulfilled its role, you could say BSS is perfectly structured : (1) Majestic opener - (2) complex instrumental - (3) cool acoustic ballad - (4) bar room brawl - (5) thirty minute epic. Unfortunately, Lake's singing on 'Jerusalem' is glib and insensitive, and Emerson's synth embellishments (during the song's final verse) simply sound ludicrous.

The original 'Jerusalem' is a slow and solemn hymn, set to wonderful words by the visionary poet William Blake. ELP's vulgar treatment is a throwback to their (ridiculous) PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION. I find it every inch as insensitive as Madonna turning Don McLean's wistful 'American Pie' into generic radio fodder.

Fortunately, the unconvincing album opener is followed by 40 minutes of hugely enjoyable classic prog.

fuxi | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this EMERSON LAKE & PALMER review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.