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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson Lake & Palmer CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.24 | 1919 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Boy, did THIS album ever grow on me. When I first got it, I basically liked it, but probably would have given it only a high ***. Then it grew on me some more, and comfortably settled into a **** range. Then when I thought it would go no further, I eventually found something that basically shocked me - not only had this album managed to sneak its way into my top 100 overall (for a while, anyway), it had managed to be an important reason in my upgraded opinion of ELP as a great band. Brain Salad Surgery may be the focus of ELP's fame (for better or for worse), but THIS is the album that makes them deserving of that fame.

Indeed, the first half of this album is just about PERFECT, one of the best sides of any prog album I own. "The Barbarian" is an astounding opener, an update of an old Bartok piece that takes on a life of its own here. If you're a cynic who says that Emerson's playing is merely self-indulgent tripe that cannot be easily enjoyed by a casual listener, you really need to give this track a listen or three. It took me a while to get into the rest of the album (to varying degrees, anyway), but this track sucked me in right away. The opening distorted bassline/guitarline is much moodier and "tougher" than one would stereotypically expect out of ELP, and once Emerson jumps in with his keyboards and begins driving forward theme after theme with his whole array of piano and organ tricks, any expectation of archetypical British "wussiness" on the album should fly right out the window. All three are at their very best throughout this track, managing to both demonstrate their huge talent AND make sure that the listener actually cares about what they can do with that talent, with the final result an unabashed prog classic.

The next track is no slouch either, and quite possibly even better. "Take a Pebble" is based around an absolutely gorgeous ballad courtesy of Greg, and what truly makes the song magnificent is the soaring and powerful vocal effort that Lake graces it with. Now, I appreciate Jon Anderson's vocal approach as much as anybody, but I will admit that prog tunes benefit when the vocalist is able to (almost) convince the listener that the bombastic and meaningless ravings are actually relevant and, well, emotionally move the listener. And Lake does just that; not that the lyrics are all bad ("the sadness on your shoulders like a wornout overcoat, in pockets greased and tattered hang the rags of your hopes," there's a good line), but they really need that extra oomph in order to make them work. In any case, there's also a really nice middle instrumental section. Parts are in typically bombastic classical motifs, but they really sound interesting (once again, Emerson is at his beautiful best, this time on piano), especially after we get to be enchanted with, of all things, a nice Mississippi-style acoustic ditty (which once again provides a perfect example of ELP's ability to deflate itself at needed times, at least in the early days of the band). As you might imagine, when they performed it in concert, they would stick tons of music between the bookends of the piece, often sticking several of their other tunes in the middle, but this 'miniature' seven or eight minute middle section is wonderful in and of itself.

Next up is "Knife Edge," which I once disliked for whatever reason, but I was a F-O-O-L. An adapation of a classical piece (the name and author of which escapes me at the moment), this track is a nearly perfect summary of all of ELP's talents, with almost none of the flaws (except possibly "self-indulgence," but that's just something you have to accept with ELP, and besides, nothing about this track is particularly self-indulgent). The basslines RULE, Lake's vocal delivery is aggressive and forceful in a manner that he didn't use nearly enough in the rest of the band's career (yup, I actually prefer aggressive Lake to bombastic Lake, even though the latter is just great), Emerson's playing is a perfect mix of jarring organ dissonance and blazing organ solos (ALL of which are interesting), and of course Palmer is Palmer. I tell you, when Lake blasts out his, "CAN YOU STILL KEEP YOUR BALANCE?!!" vocal near the end, it's absolute meaningless (but not imageless, make the distinction people) bombastic prog bliss for me, and when taken all together, it's little wonder that this is the track (along with "The Barbarian," heh) that I use to try to introduce people to ELP (and with a decent level of success, considering that it's ELP, heh).

Unfortunately, the majority of the second half of the album doesn't come close to matching the sheer brilliance of the first, and for many people this is what causes the rating of this to come crashing down like a ton of bricks. The first two tracks of this side, you see, comprise a lengthy (about 15 minutes) instrumental suite, consisting of a multi-part classically- influenced keyboard piece ("The Three Fates") and a drum solo ("Tank"). Upon first (and possibly second, and third) listen, these will come across as a completely self-indulgent mess, and it's possible you may want to dismiss them outright (I know I basically did). On the other hand, though, by making the three sections of "The Three Fates" distinctive from each other in both sound and mood, not to mention actually somewhat memorable (even for somebody who doesn't spend all day listening to this sort of thing), Emerson found a way to make me enjoy the piece much more than theory says I should, and as such I'm not at all offended by its inclusion on this album. As for "Tank," well, it's a drum solo, and I don't much like drum solos, so it does somewhat offend me. That said, I'm amused that the band employs one significant variation on virtually every other drum solo ever recorded, namely that the main riff of the piece is played by keyboards and not by guitar, and as far as the actual solo goes, I think that Palmer is better suited for "show-off" soloing than most others I've heard (just because of his incredible technical ability), so I don't hate it as much as I do other solos.

Fortunately for all, the album ends not on an ambivalent note (regarding my attitude towards it), but rather on an extremely strong one, courtesy of the radio hit "Lucky Man." The song does a wonderful job of reminding the listener that the foundation of the band's greatness lay not with all their instrumental pyrotechnics, but with their ability to create solid "normal" songs, with their playing abilities serving as an augmentation and not as a replacement for true inspiration and creativity. The ultimately tragic lyrics work well with the sea chanty-style melody, and while some might gripe that the ending synth solo (filled with all sorts of cool pitch-bending) is tacked on and completely inappropriate (not me, though), there can be no question that it leaves a major impression (for better or worse, depending) on the listener come album's end, and I'm all for leaving strong impressions. Besides, it functions well on a symbolic level as well, a sort of trumpet's call proclaiming the band's entrance into the pantheon of significant artists (at least for a couple of years).

In short, this is a solid 10, and without a doubt my very very favorite ELP album. It's the one that entertains me the most, and furthermore it's the one that interests me the most - after all, even if it doesn't define an entire genre like In the Court of the Crimson King does, it does represent an intriguing projection of modern-classical values onto conventional rock ideas, and that's definitely worth something in my book.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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