and did those feet in ancient times... hey, I'm in a Monty Python sketch!

 

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

 

ELP were a perfectly average prog-rock band, except they were the first prog supergroup: Emerson came from the Nice, Lake from King Crimson, and Palmer from Atomic Rooster. This incredible combination would only be topped by the forming of Asia in the early 80's. I don't have any of their 90's output, but from what I've heard, I'm not missing much.

Oh, I suppose you want some information on ELP's style. Well, Carl Palmer likes to play either really quickly, or in random patterns (it's jazz, baby!). Keith Emerson also likes to play really quickly, and rips off every composer from Aaron Copland to Zzyxz Q. Relish. (I made that one up) And Greg Lake likes to play bass rather plainly, or strum on an acoustic guitar, while singing angelically (at least, until his voice went to pot sometime between ELPowell and Black Moon). Somehow, they managed to tolerate each others' egoes in order to produce music for eight years! Heck, that's longer than the span from Please Please Me to Abbey Road! These guys totally rip the Beatles apart!

Actually, no. They shred the Beatles. 'Cause Keith can play real fast, y'see?

I've included a few ELP-related things, such as Asia, the Nice, and King Crimson's first album. Have fun!

lineup: Keith Emerson (keyboards & classical ripoffs); Greg Lake (vocals, inaudible bass, guitar); Carl Palmer (drum solos).

review index: Emerson, Lake and Palmer / Tarkus / Pictures at an Exhibition / Trilogy / Brain Salad Surgery / Welcome Back My Friends... / Works, Vol. 1 / Works, Vol. 2 / Love Beach / In Concert / The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer / Emerson, Lake and Powell

solos & sides:

Asia: Asia
the Nice: Five Bridges / Elegy

missing albums: Black Moon, In the Hot Seat, more live crap

apex: Tarkus
nadir: Love Beach
overlooked: Works, Vol. 2


Emerson, Lake and Palmer - 1970

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Take a Pebble, Barbarian, Lucky Man
Worst songs: Tank, The Three Fates

 

First album. Side one is great -- there's the hard-rocking "Barbarian" (love those opening distorted bass notes!) and "Knife Edge", and one of my favorite ELP songs, "Take a Pebble". "Pebble" is a slow, almost elegy-like number, with a strange acoustic guitar interlude in the middle -- I don't quite understand why it was put in. However, the song is saved by some excellent piano playing courtesy Keith. (Well, who'd you expect, Tony Banks?)

They were apparently short on material, so they decided to include a bunch of solo stuff, which takes up the entirety of side two. First, Keith takes up 8 minutes with his piano and organ meanderings. It's not too bad, but the premise wears thin after the first few minutes. Then Carl paradiddles on his drums for the majority of "Tank". And finally, Greg gives us the first of his acoustic ballads, "Lucky Man". This is all that redeems side two from failure. Love that synth solo. Weeeooooooooooo, oooweeeeoooweeeeooooweeeeoooooo...

Hey, don't worry if this only gets a ***1/2, it's gonna get better! (Then much worse)


Tarkus - 1971

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Tarkus, A Time and a Place, Bitches Crystal
Worst songs: Infinite Space

 

Impressive. ELP get it together and create arguably their best album.

I'll omit any jokes about the title track (suffice it to say: armadillo tank) and get to the muzik. "Tarkus" is composed of seven sections which switches between synth-filled prog jams ("Eruption", "Iconoclaust", "Manticore", "Aquatarkus") and Greg Lake pop songs ("Stones of Years", "Mass", "Battlefield"). Okay, so it's not really "pop" -- I needed a word to go in there. Surprisingly (for ELP, that is) it never gets old. And this is one of the few times you'll hear Greg playing electric guitar (most notably on "Mass" and "Battlefield").

And the second side is good too! The only crappy song is "Infinite Space", with Greg's cloying lyrics crippling what could've been a good tune. Otherwise you have a couple good synth-rockers, such as "A Time and a Place" and "Bitches Crystal" and two silly songs, "Jeremy Bender" and the 50's rock-and-roll parody "Are You Ready Eddy?" that serve to show that they're not taking themselves too seriously. Not yet, anyway.


Pictures at an Exhibition - 1972

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: The Sage, Blues Variations, Promenade
Worst songs: Nutrocker

 

ELP go classical, with mixed results. The good parts: Mussorgsky's "Promenade" theme is a classic classical piece (though repeating it twice wasn't the smartest idea). The two songs originated by the band, "The Sage" and "Blues Variations" are probably the best tracks on the album. "The Sage" is a Lake solo piece, with a gorgeous melody atop a light acoustic guitar backing, and "Blues Variations" is pretty much what the title implies -- a blues jam. An ENTERTAINING blues jam. And "The Gnome" is okay, but the spastic start/stop parts and Keith's synth caterwauling get annoying quickly.

As for the second side... Well, "The Hut of Baba Yaga" starts out okay, with an "evil" mood, but it just kinda drags on and on, until you get to "The Great Gates of Kiev" and the whole thing comes to a bombastic ending.

But it's not over yet! The absolute nadir of this album comes at the end, a cover of "Nutrocker", a bastardization of Tchaikovsky. Thanks a lot, Keith. I'll stick with Tarkus.


Trilogy - 1972

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Trilogy, From the Beginning, The Endless Enigma,
Worst songs: Abaddon's Bolero, Living Sin, The Sheriff

 

Another good one. ELP generally stick to their guns on this one, creating another "grand"-sounding epic ("The Endless Enigma"), a pair of gorgeous ballads ("From the Beginning", "Trilogy"), and a classical adaptation ("Hoedown"). Some of the material, however, wears thin, such as the "Jeremy Bender" retread "The Sheriff", the moronic pop song "Living Sin", and the nine-minutes-of-wasted-space "Abaddon's Bolero". Still, it's a good buy.


Brain Salad Surgery - 1973

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Jerusalem, Still...You Turn Me On, Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part One
Worst songs: KE9 2nd Impression, KE9 3rd Impression

 

This is usually revered as the peak of ELP's career. I dunno about that. The first half is really good, with still more classical adaptations ("Jerusalem" and "Toccata", the latter featuring a weird synth percussion solo) and another great Lake ballad ("Still...You Turn Me On"). Also on side A is "Benny the Bouncer", aka "Jeremy Bender III", but it's not just another retread -- it fits right in to the carnivalesque atmosphere of the album.

Then things get complicated. I really like the "Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part One", but after that... well, the second part of it is a decent retread, but "2nd Impression" is a dull jam, and "3rd Impression" is a rather silly 'computer/person battle' thing. Ah well, side 1 still rocks.


Welcome Back My Friends etc etc - 1974

Rating: **
Best songs: Hoedown, Jerusalem, Tarkus
Worst songs: Karn Evil 9, Piano Improvisations

 

Can I say it again? Please?

I hate reviewing live albums!

And this is one of the worst live albums I've ever heard. For one thing, the last two sides of the album are taken up by the "Karn Evil 9" suite, which was bad enough the first time. Also, half the middle is taken up by Greg's acoustic solo spot and Keith's piano solo spot.

That leaves us the first two sides of the album. Which are actually somewhat good. "Hoedown" is performed incredibly fast -- God only knows how Keith kept his hands from falling off. And "Jerusalem" is as good as it was originally. "Tarkus" is also well done, except it starts to fall apart near the end, with Greg interpolating a minimalist version of "Epitaph", and the band jamming for too long on "Aquatarkus".

The coolest thing about this is (if you get it on vinyl) the big "ELP" in the triple gatefold. Three 1/2 stars to Michael Ross for "package concept and design"!


Works, Volume 1 - 1977

Rating: **
Best songs: The Enemy God, Lend Your Love to Me Tonight, Fanfare for the Common Man
Worst songs: Pirates, Nobody Loves You Like I Do, Closer to Believing, New Orleans

 

Guh. Rather than release three solo albums (which would've flopped), they decided to do a double-album with three solo sides and one group side. So, howzabout we break it down into four parts?

Side 1 (Emerson): See my Five Bridges review to understand my inability to review 'classical' music. It's okay, but I mean, you can't exactly hum it in the shower, can you?

Side 2 (Lake): Greg writes one good song, the opening "Lend Your Love to Me Tonight", and a decent song, "C'est La Vie", but quickly runs out of steam. "Closer to Believing" is sentimental tripe, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" has stupid lyrics and the orchestration is really bothersome, and "Nobody Loves You Like I Do" is just bad. "You can change the world / but if you lose control / they will take away your t-shirt"?! What the hell is Sinfield on? And why is the acoustic guitar so tinny? Sounds awful!

Side 3 (Palmer): Lots of dicking around. "The Enemy God" is a butt-kicking orchestra rock tune, but Palmer runs out of stuff to do, so he covers Bach and ELP (!). Oh, "The Enemy God" is a cover too. "LA Nights" has some nice guitar work courtesy Joe Walsh, but this side gets tedious after the first couple songs.

Side 4 (ELP): The cover of "Fanfare for the Common Man" is an enjoyable synth-rocker (though it starts to get old about halfway through), but "Pirates" is just plain terrible. It sounds like Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote it or something!

So, as you can see, this could easily be pared down to a more single album. Too bad they didn't release solo albums, then I wouldn't be obligated to review them!


Works, Volume 2 - 1977

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Watching Over You, Maple Leaf Rag, Honky Tonk Train Blues, Tiger in a Spotlight
Worst songs: Brain Salad Surgery

 

Ah! This is more like it. More Lake Ballads™ and a bunch of ragtime covers! And some weirdness! Don't ask questions, just go get it.

Now!


Love Beach - 1978

Rating: *1/2
Best songs: For You, All I Want Is You, Love Beach
Worst songs: Taste of My Love, The Gambler, everything else!

 

Whatever. After succeeding with simpler material on Works, Volume 2, they make a contractual obligation album. Have you seen the cover of this album? Why the hell did rock musicians in the 70's think their bare chests were something that people would want to look at?

Anyway, Greg contributes three decent songs: the melancholy "For You", "All I Want Is You", an okay opening number despite the stupid synth noises, and "Love Beach", which is silly, yet also catchy. The rest of his stuff is just plain awful ("The Gambler"? "TASTE OF MY LOVE"?!). They also do a cover of something called "Canario", which features more stupid synth noises.

Side two is a boring side-long Emerson thing. "Tarkus" this ain't. Thank God they broke up after this.

This is funny, though: I bought this on vinyl, and inside the album was an advertisement for official "Love Beach" t-shirts, jogging shorts, and satin jackets. I would love to know someone who bought a "Love Beach" jacket for $69.96 plus shipping (in 1978 dollars!), so I could laugh at him. Also, I expect somewhere there's a warehouse with thousands of pairs of "Love Beach" jogging shorts which have never seen the light of day.


In Concert - 1979

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Peter Gunn, Tiger in a Spotlight, The Enemy God
Worst songs: none, really

 

Not Welcome Back My Friends part 2, but a rather enjoyable single-LP live album. Includes energetic performances of "Peter Gunn" and "The Enemy God", and a few other good songs, such as "Knife Edge". The performance of "Pictures at an Exhibition" is disappointing, however -- some of the best parts ("The Sage", "Blues Variations") are missing. Who cares if they used an orchestra? I would rather have heard a couple more Works, Vol. 2 songs, or heck, even "For You"!

This review is rather pointless, as this is now out-of-print. Works Live was released, which contains this as well as some more stuff. It undoubtedly has a bunch of solos in it.


The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer - 1980

Rating: ***
Best songs: most of them
Worst songs: Fanfare for the Common Man

 

Not to be confused with any other "Best of" ELP compilation, this is a post-breakup record-company cash-in that's now out of print. So, let's imagine a hypothetical situation: you're looking through a box of records ($1 each), but don't see anything. Yeah, yeah, there's all the Fleetwood Mac albums, but you've got all those already, and Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, but you've always hated that guy, and six million Glen Campbell records that aren't even decent as coasters. You do come across two albums that strike your fancy: the Xanadu soundtrack, and this. But you only have one dollar on you! Which one should you get?

Well, let's see here: there are three songs from BSS, two from Trilogy, and one each from the two Works albums, In Concert, and the first album. This means nothing from Tarkus (their best!!!) or Pictures at an Exhibition, not to mention Welcome Back My Friends to the Album Title that Never Ends. The track listing includes radio favorites like "Lucky Man", "Karn Evil 9", and "Still...You Turn Me On", but inexplicably leaves out the only actual HIT they had, "From the Beginning". Instead they include stuff like an awful edited version of "Fanfare for the Common Man", and "Peter Gunn"?!

I'd get Xanadu, myself. But of course, that's because I have this album already.


Emerson, Lake, and Powell - 1986

Rating: **
Best songs: Learning to Fly
Worst songs: Touch and Go, Step Aside

 

Keith and Greg decide that they don't need that skins-pounder Carl, and recruit Cozy Powell to make an album. Well, it's better than Love Beach, at least.

The problem with this album? It's so freakin' decent. There's really very few songs that are in any way distinctive.

One song is distinctively good: "Learning to Fly" (nothing to do with the Pink Floyd song released the following year) has a great "soaring" vibe, and two are distinctively bad: "Touch and Go" is just bland 80's pop with a "majestic" synth horn line thrown in, and "Step Aside" is cheap lounge jazz.

The rest -- who cares? It's either generic balladry ("Love Blind", "Lay Down Your Guns") or 'epics' ("The Miracle", "The Score"). There's also an arrangement of "Mars" which sounds like the music to the airship stage on Super Mario Brothers 3.

Anyways, this is where I get off the bus, folks. I mean, have you heard the crap that they put out after this? "Paper Blood"? Yech.


Postscript: Solo Albums and Side Projects

Okay, none of these are "solo albums" or "side projects" technically, but it's such a catchy title for this stuff!


Asia, Asia - 1982

Rating: ***
Best songs: Only Time Will Tell, Heat of the Moment, Soul Survivor
Worst songs: Wildest Dreams, Without You

 

Hooray for pop music!

This is a supergroup formed by John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, and... Carl Palmer. They actually put their heads together to create a collection of songs that are, y'know, good. And this is no small feat considering Palmer took part in Love Beach, and Howe was partially responsible for Tormato a few years previously.What did Wetton do? Was he in UK at the time? I dunno.

Anyway, side one is a bunch of wonderful pop songs. Highlights include the hits "Only Time Will Tell" and "Heat of the Moment". Side two isn't as wonderful -- it's got some attempts to say "hey, we're still progressive!", which mainly consists of tricky intros ("Wildest Dreams") or short instrumental breaks ("Without You"). On the whole, not bad.


the Nice, Five Bridges - 1970

Rating: ***
Best songs: ?
Worst songs: ?!

 

I got this and the next album in a two-LP compilation called Keith Emerson with the Nice, which I can only deduce was the record company's attempt to cash in on the success of ELP's "From the Beginning" (it hit #39 on the charts here in America, I think!).

The majority of this album is Keith's 'classical' composition "Five Bridges", and a few 'classical' covers I don't know what to think about it, really. I don't "get" most 'classical' music. I like a couple of Tchaikovsky's works ("Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker"), and a few scattered compositions here and there, but for the most part, it's not my genre of choice. The only offensive parts are when Jackson tries to sing. Bleah! Luckily, he only does that on a few occasions. Oh, also annoying is when Keith makes a bunch of annoying noises on his Hammond organ in "Intermezzo 'Karelia Suite'".

Thank you for reading "Cole Makes Pointless Comments on Albums He Doesn't Really Understand".


the Nice, Elegy - 1971

Rating: **
Best songs: My Back Pages
Worst songs: Hang On to a Dream

 

There's a word, and the word is "jam" and it's right for this album.

A post-mortem release, as ELP had already recorded at least one album by the time this had come out, this is just four songs, three of them jammed out to the point of boring me to death. Upon starting this album, you are assaulted by 12 minutes of Keith's piano diddling on "Hang On to a Dream". Then they launch into "My Back Pages" (by Dylan), which actually has some interesting music in it -- coincidentally (or not), Keith finally gets off the piano and onto his Hammond organ about halfway through. I don't really see what's so atrocious about Lee Jackson's singing on "Pages" -- he's not a good singer, but heck, neither is Dylan.

After that is side two, starting off with another version of "Pathetique" (on the previous album as well). It's not bad, but I don't see myself listening to it very often. Finally, they throw out 10 minutes of "America". Wow, did we just switch to a Yes album? No, no, different America. l;';

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Sorry, I think I fell asleep while listening to it.


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