Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
Because If It Hadn't Been Alphabetical, There'd Have Been Bloodshed
The Lineup Card 1970-1994
Keith Emerson (keyboards) also of the Nice
Greg Lake (vocals, bass, guitar) also of King Crimson
Carl Palmer (drums) other than 1987 also of Atomic Rooster, Asia, and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Cozy Powell (drums) 1987 also of Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and others
Forever writing the guide for What Not To Do In Rock 'n' Roll, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer started out on the top of the world and ended up owing everyone in the world money. The number of moronic missteps and bad ideas perpetrated by this triumverate of evil is probably right up there at the top of the Top Idiots of All Time chart, right next to Kiss and, um...well, probably Kiss. They took the idea of the power trio, supergroup, and progressive rock band, and did their darndest to sully all of them, all due to a complete inability to tone down their impossibly large egos. It's not just that they play solos, it's that they play solos that serve little purpose other than playing solos. They play fast, but they don't play well, not when they're busyin their way of blabbering on and on, through scale after scale of synchronized mishmash. Then, they lost their focus, and they actually got worse. More pretentious (let's write us a concerto!), bigger and badder ideas (let's tour with a hilariously expensive symphony orchestra behind an album that didn't even sell very well...in the summer of punk rock!), and they even gave up on playing quite as flashy as they used to. So what was left after that deconstruction? Nada. Just enough time to go crawling back on their squeaky treads, back to the rock from which they crawled from under, and rest their weary phallus-guns until time to go commit some more Brain Salad Surgery on some newly-geeky mid-90's prog-nostalgia freaks.
But, since I, as of yet, do not like reviewing bands that I hate, I still like this group of pasta-heads (got noodle on the brain, see!! haHAAA! I could write for Mad! Or, better yet...Cracked! It's Mad's more expensive, less sophisticated younger cousin, kinda like ELP is to King Crimson!) in a very weird, hard-to-pin-down way. It's subversive, is what it is....downright scary KGB shit, is another way to put it. Okay, now, listen...maybe it's just that they're so far out there in the Cosmos of Ego, that my brain just can't comprendo how pretentious and stunted they really are, and I just see them as a pretty hilarious rock band with a penchant for lots of piano solos and good singing. It's not like they made really bad records, not for awhile, anyway, and their best work gets itself all puffed up and whirly-birded enough that it's really irresistable to listen to. What, exactly, makes the Three-Headed Monster so darned acceptable? It sure isn't the songwriting, which is a pretty obscene word in the ELP camp, though Greg Lake can spin out some great, beautiful ballads once an album. And that soloing, while crazy fun sometimes, is just as easily a big, jerky bore. They don't do lyrics too goodly (Crimson's old poisonous hack Peter Sinfield came on board and things improved...improved, you hear me?)...hell, they don't even look all that cool (not unless you think chubby lead singers and horse-faced keyboardists is just too hot to resist).
I think it just has to do with 1) how damned energetic things are when they get their spunk and vinegar to a rolling boil, and 2) the sheer chutzpah it takes to take a classical piece that's been played more-or-less the same way for centuries and molest it in front of a rock audience until it comes out shamed, bulimic, and writing ABC Movies Of The Week (starring Meredith Baxter Birney in 'Stop Me Before I Inhale Another Entire Package Of Oreo Cookies In The Supermarket Aisle and then Proceed To Ralph It Onto The Checkout Girl's Hair' or Barbara Eden in 'I Used To Be The 9-Inch-Tall Obscene Subject Of Your Schoolboy Spank-Fantasies, Now I'm Gonna Play A Rape Victim And Ruin It All For You Forever...Other Than You Fucking Sickos') for crack money. It's just the untold quantities of balls these three guys had to name a lengthy three-LP live set (is there any other kind?) Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, Ladies And Gentlemen...
Balls, pure, un-adulterated, British Art-School, too many blowjobs at a tender-age BALLS, I tells ya.
So anyway, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer started out as Jaworski, Minh, and Htumbe, but quit their respective bands and decided that, through long hours of numerology and discussions with a ghost called Flo over an Ouiji board, that the best way to gain fame and fortune as a progressive rock band was to travel back two years and call themselves Yes.
That not being an option, they went with the least obvious choice of all, and had their names legally changed to John Paul, George, and Ringo, but after a fairly weighty lawsuit that was resolved out of court for many millions of dollars, the band instead reverted to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, which was the name of their high school gym teacher who made them cut their hair.
Or not, but whatever happened, you need to know this: Greg Lake is one of the finer, and definitely one of the least annoying, voices in progressive rock. He started his fine career with King Crimson's debut In The Court Of The Crimson King (talk about starting off one's career at a peak...whatever they did, ELP never came within the same ballpark of Crimson King) but left after a year, taking a majority of the melodic sense with him. He's also a decent guitar player, and a better bass player, but of the three he's definitely the one whose chops get mentioned the least.
Carl Palmer is a technical drummer to end all technical drummers, a walking paradiddle who never met a tricky drumbeat he didn't complicate. Palmer was, to say the least, probably the whitest drummer since the guy who used to play on the old Association records, a man more fit to playing march rhythms on his snare than getting down with the fonky double bass-pedals. I guess I'll say this much about Carl...though I don't much like his playing when I separate it out from the unit, he definitely fits in perfectly with the ELP sound as defined by his two bandmates.
Keith Emerson is definitely the dominant personality in the band, for good and bad. He's 'the composer', not of pop songs but of progressive suites and classical interludes, and he's also, more often than not, 'the melodic/harmonic instrument', and thus acts as the engine of the group in a strange inversion of the usual rock-band dynamic. Keith also stabs his keyboards with knives and sets them on fire and yanks all the cords out of his Moog and then puts them all back in in completely random order, resulting in a sound that resembles Donald Duck having his beak Black and Deckered down to the bone. He's also the source of all things Classical in the alleged Classical-Rock that this band plays (I, really, hear one or the other most of the time, not a great and wonderful fusion of the two) And, strange things never end, the sex symbol of the band. Oh, those wacky proggers.
So, though I'm probably supposed to take this band dreadfully seriously, I really prefer to view them as a funny joke that delights and annoys in equal measures. Welcome Back, My Fiends, to the Band That Overweens!
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer - Atlantic 1970
They've sure got 100% of their chops already to show off to the methadone labs where all their 60's rock friends hung out, and as such give out what I would say is a state-of-the-art progressive rock in a year where most people didn't yet have a clue to the disgusting heights this genre would very quickly bound. King Crimson had already laid down the framework the previous year with their Court Of The Crimson King breakthrough. Which, of course, Lake had a lot to do with, so what's the lack of surprise that this very album hits off (on 'The Barbarian') with a fuzzed-down bass and a blacker than black atmosphere of gloom and doom that just totally recalls the Crims? Well, I guess when you already have a fully stocked bag of proven tricks like that one, why not just toss them in the ring? Shit, I wish Lake'd kept in this Crim-thing for a bit longer than he did. Palmer does his best tippy-tap Giles impression, but with flashier rolls, and Keith, erm, keeps the melody coming, I guess.
'Take A Pebble' is just 'Epitaph 2', and while it's definitely the most professional prog track on here, probably the only one that makes a cohesive statement of, well, unabashed jazziness and mellow acoustic guitar. I always thought 1) Keith Emerson is a lot more acceptable when he's playing 'prettty' than otherwise, and that 2) Jazzy ELP is a big improvement over classical ELP. And the jazziness here comes in great waves of pleasure, and I don't even get bored over 12 minutes, especially when I note how much Steve Howe's 'The Clap' and the honky tonkin' center section of 'Pebble' resemble each other. Which came first? Who gives a fuck? (My vote for the title of the Who's long-awaited 2005 comeback studio album. Either that or Fucking FDisk Didn't Fucking Work Too Well, Did It?) Emerson's return is a lot more boring, but still acceptably mellow/interesting for a piano workout.
The further we get through this album, the more I realise how strong so many of these songs are when the band makes the attempt to put things in a structure rather than just kinda toss them off onto the floor for the roaches to lick up. 'Knife-Edge' is ELP's first attempt at arena-rocking, and though it goofily reminds me of an unholy cross between Styx and the Bay City Rollers for some perverse reason, it at least gets some of the Prog Requirements met (suitably triumphant chorus, incomprehensible-yet-somehow impressive lyrics, jumpy organ solo that sounds like a big mess of fingers). 'Three Fates' is Emerson's Grand Failure of the album, not the last time this happens, I assure you. Here the piano soloing and godawful organ pounding is just irritatingly amateurish, like he wants to mash as many notes into his section as he possibly can. I supposed there's some very impressive and, dare I say it...beautiful sections in the piano part, but a lot of it floats off all too quickly into a mass of Copland-influenced wanking around the circle of fifths. And don't even get me started on when the band skates in and makes a real travesty of all of it...bleccch. Stab it in the heart before it mutates again!
The 7-minute drum solo is, well, to quote Carl Palmer 'tippity tap tiptippity tippy tap ta tiptuputitiptptputyy tap tap'...and has no power to speak of. Carl is all wrists and no arms, playing his kit like a well-tuned grand piano rather than a beat-up Dumpster, and that's not a complement in any way, shape or form. He also lacks all form of subtlety in his playing...and by that I don't mean the ability to play really short, quiet notes. He can do that, proven amply, I'm sure. What he can't do is let the drums speak for themselves, create sentences and curse words. His drums just tippy tap, tippy tap, that's all.
Of course the finale is the gorgeous 'Lucky Man', maybe a jarring bit simple after all the conservatory-tryouts that precede it, but there's no doubt that this pretty little lilting Lake ballad is the best thing on here. The song itself is pretty enough, especially Lake's very understated (and Frippian) guitar solo (his first of note on the album? It must be, 'cos I can't remember any others). Lake also makes perfect use of his vocal abilities for once, and for lyrics that are actually comprehensible and somewhat okay...but then again, the man wrote the song when he was like 13 or something like that, so maybe all those years of smoking Robert Fripp's beard hair hadn't fractured his mind yet at that tender age.
Nah, singular moment of glory on the album: The tippy tap devil-at-play drumbeat that accompanies Keith Emerson's descent into Victorian synth madness on the outro of 'Lucky Man'. That itself, that little against-the-beat clockwork Hellian is worth the price of admission every single time.
Capn's Final Word: Pretty funny how they never get around to improving on what they do on this first album. The darkest, the prettiest, the least embarrassing.
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KeithLake7@netscape.net Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Dunno about you but my first exposure to ELP came out of my little AM transistor radio shaped like a Pepsi vending machine. One afternoon that Moog solo erupted outta the thing like a fanfare from Mars. That was a classic "whoa, hold on, what have we here?" sort of moment.
Tarkus- Atlantic 1971
Tookus is where ELP get completely off the rocker for good. What was cute and/or delightfully dark on the debut has spun far out of control here. You think they soloed long and hard on the last one, well, you haven't even gotten a whiff of 'Tarkus', a 20-odd minute ditty about a Real Life Texan. You can tell because he's an Armadillo, and there's shitloads of armadillos around here. And more than that, you can see right there on the cover, he's packing heat. Fuck yeah. Thar ain't a Real Texan who'd leave the house without at least a .38 special on his hip. And what's more, he's got himself what every Tejano really lusts after, and that's a set of monster-truck treads attached directly to his hips. Now, what the hell this redneck rock-opera might actually be about is kinda a mystery, but I'm for sure that he gets in a fight with something called a Manticore and, well, does a bunch of other crap that has absolutely nothing to do with either the lyrics or music of this song. I mean, I'm not Mr. Oblivious or anything, but I sure think that this whole armadillo thing on the cover is a big put-on, and that all we really have here is a big long song ticky-tacked together out of a bunch of other components. I mean, I didn't claim that Emerson, Lake, and Palmer was a song-suite about doves, or Dark Side Of The Moon was a bunch of physics lessons, or Sergeant Pepper was about group sex, so why does everyone think that 'Tarkus' is about this stupid half-reptile on the cover? You got me.
Good thing the song is so much darn fun to listen to. Lots of that groovy early ELP sound, now grown into itself into an entity more-or-less free of King Crimson-isms. Very jazzy interludes and meditations on tonal centers while Palmer keeps the tricky beats flowing down on us. I'm not really very interested in trying to track the different sections of the song since my MP3 file isn't split up at all (sorry, but that's what you get from me...too much work and I just seize up) but I'd say that 'Tard-us' flows along well, and reaches quite a few peaks of excitement, including one of the first Patented ELP Unison Jams, where all three members pound along some improbable time signature and sound a lot like a stuck synthesizer right around minute seven. I think Emerson really shows his best-ever side to us here, he's fluid and rarely too much, and keeps the idea on the hard-freaky rock where it oughtta be. There's a big drum solo, a cheesy 'dramatic' slow part that still beats the debut's attempts at same, and an overlong outro that features one of Emerson's rinkiest synth tones ever.
If only the rest of the album were close to that, I'd be saying how much this rules the school over the debut, but, not surprisingly, it begins to stink up the place right on side two. 'Jeremy Bender' ushers in the strangest of all ELP fetishes, the cowboy-movie honky tonk piano tune that pops up on almost all of their 70's albums. I know, I know, and it sounds as stupid as all that, too. Not only that, but they din't ever really improve. I can never remember a damn thing about 'Bitches Crystal' other than its fussiness, 'The Only Way (Hymn)' is a fairly disgusting mock religious song that ends up making a bad name for ol' JC 'Can you believe/God Makes you breathe...Why did he lose/Six Million Jews?' Yaiiieee! Moral lectures from Embolism, Letch, and Pretension? That's exactly what I want to have on my Cheerios every morning! Makes me sad to say I'm an atheist, all this sub-Jethro Tull anti-God business!
The rest of the album isn't gonna make you see Jesus either. 'Infinite Space' should be renamed 'Infinite Piano Boredom', 'A Time And A Place' should be renamed 'A Time And A Place (For This Song Is A Lot More Than 3 Lousy Minutes Stuck On The Ass-End Of Side B Because It's Really Pretty Great)'. And 'Are You Ready, Eddy?' is the other new development to be discovered on Turkey, which is the 'hey! We're just joking around and having a laugh, we don't take ourselves that seriously', or, in other words, its a retarded little excursion into over-reverbed 'rocking' wherein Emerson proves he can't, Greg proves he's got a pretty great Lennon-esque voice, and that they like to brag about the number of tracks their recording studio has. Sixteen! God's Wounds! Why, in my day, you actually had to yell so loud into the little horn that the needle on the record player simply scratched your voice right into the wax cylinder! My...sixteen tracks, those ELP boys must really be hot stuff to need a track for every other finger! Let me come right down, take my teeth out, and fellate every damn last one of 'em! Wha? There's only three? Well, I guess I'll just have to go 'round twice!
Oh, but the Yoko Ono yelling part is hilarious. Good one, guys.
Capn's Final Word: Ridiculous. Ridiculously entertaining.
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Simon B. Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: It seems that people either think this is a horrible raping and pillaging of Mussorgsky's original, or it's arguably one of the best ELP albums. I'm in the middle, leaning towards the latter. I've heard the original, and I must say that ELP's version is (in certain sections of the song) more exciting than the original. The record's sound quality is pretty good for a live recording from 1971, although the volume is low for Lake's acoustic showcase in the middle of Side One. Sometimes I think that the inclusion of "Nutrocker" after the grandiose title piece is anti-climactic but I guess they had to fill up the rest of Side 2 somehow. Emerson, Lake and Palmer excel at their respective instruments, and Lake's voice is in pretty good form.
Classical child abuse, but not as bad as people say. Hey, if you liked the last one at all, or even remotely like the early era of ELP, you're gonna do okay with this live deconstruction of Ravel's version of the Mussorgsky symphony Pictures at an Exhibition, where, you know, the sections of music are supposed to aurally 'describe' the pictures, which are of stuff like 'The Great Gates Of Kiev' and 'The Old Castle'. ELP go through all of the same movements as the original, as far as I can remember, anyway (I hear 'The Sage' is a Lake original, but you could've fooled me, and something tells me Mussy-boy didn't write something called 'Blues Variation' while sitting there in Czarist St. Petersburg) but I'll be godmothered up the fuckdamn, I can't match much of anything beside 'The Promenade' and the outro to the actual symphony. The rest of it is just Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at their most stereotypically 'prog', going 'dwonk' and 'zwooo' and 'pitty pitty tinnky tink!' over time signatures that seem so convoluted that I wonder if they're even legitimate. Ah well, who cares anyway? This ELP record is like a particularly raunchy shot of smack...definitely some of it you wonder how you're gonna pump into your veins, it'll probably cause convulsions just as much as it will nirvana, but if that's what you've got a hankerin' for, you're not gonna sneeze at it. Some folks just hate it, either for the fact that it plays fast and loose with a classic (that, quite honestly, was perverted a lot by Ravel too, who pretty much made it into a Classical Top 40 Hit from it's original grumpy piano-origins), but I don't give a fuckhole about the 'sanctity of classical music'. Not as much as I fell about 'the sanctity of a Rolling Stones song, anyway'. Other people hate it because there ain't no songs, it's nearly 40 minutes of solid soloing, and parts of it are incomprehensibly inaudible ('The Sage' always makes me think my Winamp has crashed). I see it as a really raw, unpolished, and often downright fibrous bunch of ELP showing off, but I really feel it's a lot less boring than Trilogy, for example, not to mention the late-70's albums. Just imagine that ELP was so excited that they played this thing that they rushed out a record of it, warts and all....
Oh, I almost forgot. The ending buzz through a variation on 'The Nutcracker' called 'Nutrocker' makes me wish for the end of the world. Just thought you'd like to know the extent of the badness, so you can measure against other reviewers' hatred.
Capn's Final Word: Completely amorphous, pointless soloing that has little to do with the classical original. That's the charm!
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Trilogy- Atlantic 1972.
Disappointingly dull followup to Pictures, which for all its offensiveness (it's not offensive as a whole, but it is offensive in places, I hope I made that clear in my too-short review above), certainly never bored anyone (and by anyone, I mean 'me'). Of course, we've returned to the studio, but I'm afraid that the triad of doom has left their sack at home. All those guts, all that sheer brashness of the first three releases is almost not to be found on Trilogy, which to me comes across a helluva lot more like an easy listening album than a hardcore progressive rock album from a band in its prime. The band has also been collectively bitten by the stagnation bug, meaning that unless you count hearing ELP be dreadfully light and insubstantial, you won't be hearing anything new on here. And that's not even mentioning the repetitiveness of these songs...I mean gawd, they run through these silly little riffs of theirs so many times I start to think maybe I'm listening to some sort of alternate-universe Bad Company, with Emerson on his sleepy synthesizers instead of Mick Ralphs and his draggy guitar.
And away we go...don't get me started on how someone can be as dense as to split something called 'The Endless Enigma' into two parts, but you can get me started on how endlessly boring the fucking thing is. It's all clean and squeaky, and while some of the soloing is okay, I really can't come to grips with Greg Lake's whiny, self-important vocals and the super-simplistic organ chords. 'Fugue' is just that, meaning lots of aimless piano, and then we go back into 'Endless', which right about his point seems just about fucking that. Aw, part two just sounds like the Mannheim Steamroller until yet another Greg Lake sermon, and it's maybe a bit better, besides being only a few minutes long. Lake undersings pretty much the entire album, and though I'd like to give some appreciation to his vocal melodies, which are often the most interesting part of the song, I also wish he sung with a bit more brimstone in his bowel, if you know what I mean. And I ate two raunchy Taco Hell Bean Burriters with extra packets of Satan Sauce today, so I think I know what I'm talkin' bout. Jesus, I've been in and out of the bathroom more times than a Calvin Klein runway mode at Golden Corral.
Anyway, the rest of this album is better, but not by a whole lot. I'm just talking blahs here, not outward badness. 'From The Beginning' manages to rip off both Yes (the opening part sounds just like the previous year's 'Roundabout', which is a helluva better song) and the Moody Blues (the rest of it, but then again, all of Lake's light acoustic stuff sounds like the Moodies) and wrap up the hat trick by being the best song on the album. 'The Sheriff' is a goofy improvement on 'Jeremy Bender', a real bouncy and rocking joke song that features the line 'from Kansas City West', which is exactly where I was born, which is pretty fucking cool. 'Hoedown' is pretty cool for an American Beef Council advertisement with extra fast bass. (Think 'It's What's For Dinner'). Right about here I'm thinking maybe this album is a bit better than what I originally thought, but 'Hoedown' goes on a bit long, and 'Trilogy' takes about fucking forever to get going, what with all of that Classical foreplay and ribaldry and beating around the fucking bush before the actual humping starts about minute 7, and what's worse is that it doesn't even froth up very much when it does. Not compared to 'Tarkus', anyway. The band's just way too clean, and Emerson sounds like he's happy playing the same old shopworn scales the same damn ways again. Lake (again) gives us a neat vocal or two, and Palmer's drumming is really special in places, but I never cease to lose myself in the middle of this forest.
The album ends on a very dark note with the foreboding 'Living Sin', which has Lake imitating a cross between David Bowie and Robert Plant, and sounding like a complete constipated fruit as a result, and 'Abaddon's Bolero', which, if you don't know what a Bolero is, is kinda like a marching riff song, a good song to fuck to. But not this one. It would just be wrong.
Capn's Final Word: Coming crashing against the limitations of their chosen style, ELP prefer to stretch out into textures and quietness rather than pressing ahead against the barriers like they damn well should. Often a very dull record.
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firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: This comment is the only real disagreement I have with a review by the good Capn; this album is worthy. I mean if I can be patient enough to listen to Bob Dylan's stretched out songs, I can listen to 'Trilogy'-- and Greg Lake is a real singer, unlike Dylan. There's little excitement on 'Trilogy', but that is the whole point, ELP wanted to take a break from excitement, in 1971 they were famous after having had made Tarkus so they could afford to release this laid-back, yes, as the Capn wrote, sometimes boring album. This is the John Wesley Hardin of ELP discs. It is nice to hear an ELP who do not have to prove they can wankathon an entire album's worth.
Salad Surgery - Atlantic 1973.
Definitely their most 'large' album, the one that sounds like the most effort was put into it. The most bombastic, probably the most overpuffed, and the one with the first set of really bad parts on it, but strangely also one of their very best, definitely equal to the debut. I just never really understand what they're so on about on here, but that's nothing new. I don't make my living trying to understand the lyrics and concepts of bands like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I value the small amount of cool I still retain from days past to dig in too deeply. You wouldn't want me to turn into George Starostin, now would you?
(That's not a dig against George, that's a dig against how George gets when he reviews prog rock albums and falls head-up-his-arse in love with them while completely ignoring the merits of a great hard rock song. That's what that crap was all about.)(And here I am giving ELP records A's and I didn't even think I liked them until I started reviewing them. So maybe George is right in all things. That's a scary fucking thought, indeed.) (I think I want a Diet Coke, but I want some whiskey in it.)
Anyway, Brain Salad Surgery means blowjob, that's an airbrushed dick on the cover right below the pursed lips of the half-corpse woman, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer may have come across like total classical conservative dudes, but when it comes right down to it, they were just a bunch of horny 22 year-olds who spent most of their teenage years in piano lessons nd were just now catching up. Not that all that junior-high-level innuendo means a goddamn thing here (the suite is about Computers Taking Over The World, fer Chrissakes), but it's still nice to know that these pretentious bastards are just as crude and immature as your humble host, isn't it?
Okay, to the album. This is the one where they solo with a purpose, and it's great. Just listen to 'Toccata' unfold. None of it is aimless, can you dig? There's even a whole bunch of synth farting going on to appeal to those electronica fans out there. Just imagine how long it took Emerson to put that little synth-noise part together in 1973. All those patch wires...must've taken him days just to set all that shit up. Space rock, indeed, like the soundtrack to some 70's Soviet cartoon about space travel, kinda corny-classical, kinda a bit too hard rocking, you know, just all the things we love ELP for. That glorious chaotic noise that you know makes sense somewhere somehow.
'Still....You Turn Me On' is also the peak of the Lake acoustic experience. What a cool song...even beats 'Lucky Man', I'd say. A these cool instruments behind him just mashing together into a very tasty whole, harpsichord, heavily processed guitars, wah-wah...I think I even hear that guy Mushmouth's rubber-band-on-a-broom bass part, but I may just be high. I wish. But it's a schoolnight, kids.
They go into the crapper with another drunken barroom shuffle called 'Bennie The Bouncer', but I suppose the anti-proggers would've strung the boys up by their over-wide lapels if they hadn't included at least a little levity before breaking into the nearly infinitely long 'Karn Evil 9', some sort of a notable piece (of shit) for this band (of morons), (not) really!
Nah, it's not that 'Carnival' is long, it's that its looooonnnnggggg, andonly parts of it are any good. I like the intro part okay, they set the scene real slick-like with the hook 'I'll be there, I'll be there....I WILL BE THERE!!!', which proceeds into one of the gayer solos of Keith Emerson's career. Then it starts into the fast, boinky part that always gets played on the radio, right before what might be the most recognizable line of the band's career: 'We've got thrills and shocks/ supersonic fighting cocks!!'
And you thought I was kidding when I said they were some preoccupied little pubescents, huh? Somebody get these guys a cold bucket of water.
No, anyway...now we get Lake as the Carnie, leading us through this sci-fi freakshow complete with Jesus being pulled from a hat (dig it! dig it!), the Gypsy Queen doing some sort of illegal wrestling act, and a real blade of grass. No, goddamn it, I have no idea what it's supposed to fucking mean...but who gives a horny toad when the ELP are bashing away at a zillion fucking hooky miles per the whole time. It's like prog Who, goddamn it. It's rock and roll! They actually do it, there's no doubt! So, anyway, the whole first impression pretty much kicks ass, other than that limp synth solo I mentioned.
So 'Second Impression' is another stupid piano solo that pisses me off followed by a synth 'steel drum' solo that makes me want to KILL AND EAT THE SOULS OF MEN!!! But is followed by a quieter piano solo which stops me from grabbing my toolbox and butcher's apron and lie down for a nap, then back into a reprise of the part that pisses me off again. I have little energy, positive or negative, by the time of 'Third Impression', which is always the part by which I begin to get really sick of this album and turn it off. (Right around the part where there's the line 'he ties a rope to a tree...AND HANGS THE UNIVERSE!!!'. That Peter Sinfield, he's a cynical asshole, you know? He and Roger Waters should do a concept album together and then die in a fiery car crash while delivering the master tape to the record company for pressing.) Listened to alone, the song mostly reminds me of parts of Trilogy, at least until that totally unconvincing Commodore 64 robo-voice comes in. ('I am your program, I AM YOURSELF!!!', oh, fucking eat it, Dell-boy) Then Keith plays a synth solo that strikes me as being completely opposite of what is called for in this part of the song. Where's the violence? Where's the drama? The darkness? He's just playing happy little jaunty chords, the jelly donut! Then it just gets chaotic and ugly for the remainder of the album, even with a short drum solo. A maddening failure to deliver on a very cool opening section, to say the least.
Capn's Final Word: So a good half of this album at least is the best work they've ever done, and the rest is very mistaken. I really wouldn't want to be without that good part, but I think you can get The Atlantic Years collection and have all the good parts.
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My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, Ladies and Gentlemen... - Manticore/Atlantic 1974.
Well, now WHAT do you want me to say about this obese lump of plasticene, huh? Three records, or two lengthy CD's, of ELP at their live proggiest. They play 'Tarkus' AND 'Karn Evil 9', both several minutes LONGER than their studio counterparts. But okay! 'Karn Evil' is a bit tiresome, sure, but that was true of the studio version, so maybe it's just carrying on some sort of tradition. 'Tarkus' is rad, though. No complaints there. In fact, I think this album's pretty cool, but listening to it all at once is akin to taking poison and then following it up with a shotgun blast to the stomach...probably a bad idea to take both parts at once. ELP weren't a whole lot like their sister-proggers like Yes who stuck it close to the book except for very-precisely-planned 'solo sections', or like Crimson, who'd just group improv on their atonal shit until the speakers rotted closed. ELP solo, no doubt, and they solo until the soloing's done. And when the band solos as a whole, it's a snazzy gimmick. When they solo, er, solo, it's not quite so satisfying.
Anyway, they pretty much only do really long songs here. 'Toccatta', 'Take A Pebble', 'Jeremy Bender/Sheriff', all long. 'Tarkus' takes longer than my sophomore year in college. And 'Karn Evil?' well, let's just say that somewhere in the world, it's still playing. And you know what? ELP never once do anything awful. Longwinded and boring, sure, but I wouldn't claim that any of it sucks. Except for all the parts where Emerson and Palmer play by themselves. Those parts eat it all the way down to the pelvis, I'm afraid.
ELP still have a lot of sack, to put something like this out. By 1974, prog was already a very bad word in most households in America and Western Europe (the Eastern Bloc wouldn't join them until something like 1994, as horrible as that sounds), what with Yes releasing 5 sides of music in just under a year and all. Ladies and Gentlemen seemed to generally be about a year too late, Yes, Genesis, hell, even Caravan released a live album before they did, I think. But despite the critical guffawing and scarfing of random handfuls of Quaaludes to help them give 5 star reviews to Carly Simon albums, the fans didn't relent. They still wanted more ELP, even after living through this particular endless exercise. But ELP didn't give it to them, not until 1977, anyway, and by then, not too many wanted it anymore.
Capn's Final Word: Yeah, I spent more time telling stories than reviewing this album. Trust me, you'll have plenty of time while you're listening to this one to make up some stories of your own. The 'Epitaph' cameo is classic, by the way.
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KeithLake7@netscape.net Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: They should have gone out at the top of their game with this one. Basically a documentary of a show on the Brain Salad Surgery tour, it would have been a fitting capstone on a more-often-than-not amazing career. To come back after years of absence with a symphonic thing right in the middle of the punk/disco craziness of 1978 was so not the right thing to do. I knew times was a-changin' when my issue of Rolling Stone featured Johnny Rotten snarling away on the cover, with ELP inside the front cover advertising Panasonic car stereos. Those two images literally back to back made me stop and think a bit.
Works - Atlantic 1977.
Because ELP took time off during the last viable years of progressive rock, and returned only when things were pretty much dead and stinky for the genre (an old-guy 70's rock in general, but let's not go and proclaim the death of classic rock quite yet, shall we? Maybe 1980 is a good year for that one.), Works was considered an odd egg when it was released, and not just by scoffing music critics, those who'd latched hold of Patti Smith with both hands and weren't gonna let anything get in the way of their over-arty tastes, but also by ELP's fan base. Though the album still sold reasonably well, it was clear that watever had happened in the years 1973-1977, it hadn't been good. ELP had gone from a ridiculous, bombastic young makers of delightful noise to just being ridiculous. The first, and most glaring, sign of trouble is that old Ummagumma formula, aka 'We can't get along enough to even decide on two sides of music together, so let's split a record up into equal-sized solo sections so all our egos get stroked in the same capacity', aka 'The Asshole Wanker God Complex Syndrome' that seemed to infect all the major prog bands at one time or another. Well, lemme tell you, here we have an even deeper problem than usual: the three solo sides are just about as good as the band material on side 4, and that stuff very much sucks ass. There, you can stop reading now, because that's all you need to know.
It's interesting to see, however, how each of the bandmembers reacts when given a whole 20-odd minute side to fill up. Keith, as could be expected, writes a goddamn symphony (no joke), featuring himself on piano and what sounds like the RKO house orchestra playing movie-soundtrackish classical music. For a movie soundtrack to a Hollywood mystery/thriller film circa 1965, it's decent. In comparison to any decent composers, it's a laughable joke. For one thing, Keith attempts to cram every little slice of classical theory he thinks he knows into one song, including the quiet chamber-music section, the march, the fanfare, the minuet, the part where the castrato takes out his floppy scrote and whaps it around as a percussion instrument, the part where the dancers get so excited at a perfect pirouette that they pop their codpieces, it's all here, and it's all banal. Sorry Keith, keep to the piano solos where you can bore without involving an army of other people into your sick classical fantasies. Emersons is a part of ego gone mad, and completely disappointing to anyone expecting a rock album.
If Emerson fancies himself a modern classical composer, Lake apparently sees himself in the same light as Neil fucking Diamond. His overblown, overdramatic bombastoballadry is probably a whole lot more accessible to ELP fans than the previous section, what he's giving us is pretty fucking far from giving us 'Still, You Turn Me On II'. Again, there's so little rock content on this section, I wonder exactly who Lake is writing this for. 'C'est La Vie' at least holds onto some of the smoky, moody and blue atmosphere of his previous acoustic ballads, but 'Lend Your Love To Me' is limper than a soggy loaf of Wonder Bread. 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' is jazzy and noisy, and maybe a little more interesting, but Steely Dan do this so much better, what's the point? 'Nobody Loves You Like I Do' strangely invokes Desire-era Bob Dylan, and is acceptably jarring and successful. The thing is, I'm almost convinced he stole this melody, but I can't place from where...maybe some old country song? Aw, it's my favorite song on the record, hands down. Am I a retard or what? Wait, just don't answer that.
Palmer's section is definitely the most traditionally proggy, and probably the most in keeping with the spirit of the old group. It's also the hardest rocking, but since this is coming from a guy who thinks drums are melodic, ain't real winning on the song side of things. When Lake doesn't contribute his melodic and structural sense, and Emerson isn't there to make sure the orchestrated parts don't just fly all over the room, what you get is unmelodic instrumental weirdness with so many jumping string parts and tempo changes that the words 'avante garde' don't even fit any more. What we have here is 'a big, honking, mess', and not too much fun to listen to, neither. The first 'movement' is a heavily orchestrated pit of chaos, of course heavy on the percussion. 'L.A. Nights' is nearly heavy metal, and Palmer gets to show off more of his fast-but-powerless drumming style against some near Brand X/Miles-Davis jazz fusion backing. Except Phil Collins did fusion drumming thirty times as good as Palmer, who is happy playing the same old way as he always does. It goes nowhere quick, but it's got some of that old fuck-the-devil guts that I totally miss from the rest of Works Vol. 1. 'New Orleans' is 'funk' (!), and a real insult to the style. I have no way of accepting this Joe Walsh bullshit into my life if it ain't Joe Walsh doing it. There's more fusion, even more busy and worse than before, and then a completely fucking unnecessary rerecording of 'Tank', for fuck's sake. Palmer's section may be interesting as an ELP intro to jazz fusion, hopefully pointing progheads to the ways of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, but as music it's hopelessly inept. Maybe it's too much to ask 20 minutes of good music out of a drummer (the Peter Criss excuse), but I figure that Palmer probably pushed pretty hard for this solo section thing...he made his bed of bullshit, now he gets to roll around in it.
The band section is the real letdown of the album. Three-plus years away and the best they can come up with is a synth reinterpretation of fucking 'Fanfare For The Common Man' and the bizarre Broadway cast recording of 'Pirates', a song that makes Andrew Lloyd Webber sound like Keith Richards? 'Fanfare' is directly responsible for the rise of Mannheim Steamroller and all other forms of sterilized synth-orchestrated New Age-with-a-beat crap that used to be so fashionable in the mid-80's around Christmas time. Ooh, but 'Pirates', (I mean 'Butt Pirates') now there's a real turd in the swimming pool. I can not, for the life of me, see how anyone could like this 13-minute, show-tuney crapcake. Lake sounds like he's trying out for Oklahoma!, Emerson is busy playing the most idiotically simple synth parts you never imagined him wasting his time and talents with, and Palmer....oh, God knows what Palmer was involved with on here.
My Christ....from 'Tarkus' to this? This is very demoralizing. What everybody must know about this double stack of trouble is how little it has in common with good ol' Emerson, Lake, and Palmer music. It's hardly the same band, thought the names haven't changed. Strangely, they were able to milk two more records out of these same sessions...and those sounded a whole lot more like ELP that this. Well, I guess this is what happens when your band begins to eat itself alive.
Capn's Final Word: Emerson attends Remedial Orchestration I, Lake indulges his inner cheeseball, Palmer makes a mess, and together, the band strikes out completely. By attempting to break out of their mold, they're left spineless.
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Susan Hardison Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Some of the greatest rock/classical fusion music ever created by three of rock and roll's most talented and innovative musicians. Can't wait for their future works!!
(Capn's Response: You might want to pull up a chair and grab something to drink...you may be waiting for a long-ass time.)
Works Vol. 2 - Atlantic 1977
Better than the first volume, sure. ELP play stripped-down rock, as if these compositions were the warm-up demos from the Works Vol. 1 sessions, right before they invited the orchestra in and ran through 'Pirates'. Well, thanks be to those above us (my neighbors, who luckily haven't called the loony bin on me, what with playing all this shitty latter-day prog rock and all), ELP save us from another bastardized, overlong suite, and are content just giving us obscene little pop-rock songs wrapped in a fresh coating of weirdness. 'Tiger In A Spotlight', 'When The Apple Blossoms Bloom', 'Bullfrog', 'Brain Salad Surgery', 'So Far To Fall', and 'Close But Not Touching' all fall into a similar vein: very band-oriented compositions based on some goofy jazzy playing, somewhat akin to Steely Dan in places, if Steely Dan was corny instead of just bemused. It's as if Emerson had collaborated on some of the Palmer selections from the last record, tightened things down into a more controlled whole. They aren't good songs, but since when has a tune involving Emerson and Palmer in large degree been tuneful and melodic?
One thing that must be noted here is that while these instrumental (and near-instrumental) bits of jazz-prog are interesting and even at times good, the album as a whole smells like it's chock-full of material that failed to make it to the 'real song' stage. What else do you make of a little trifle called 'Brain Salad Surgery'? It's obviously unfinished, or at least way underwritten, and while in a rearranged verison might have worked on the album of the same name, as it is here, it's just an odd combination of 'Benny the Bouncer' and their usual cracked madness. The boogie woogie plays a prominent place, as you might expect on an album where the concept seems to be ELP fucking about. They always were suckers for the 1910's shit, and they even go so far as to cover the 'Maple Leaf Rag' on a zillion synths at the same time.
Listen, it's not like this album is any good, really. Fair to decent is the general sentiment, I think. It's just that the band sounds like they're relaxed, taking it easy, not too concerned with making big statements, and they come out in a good light for it. This is, for sure, their least pretentious of their 70's records, and as poofied up as they usually are, it's a refreshing change. If you really want more ELP after purchasing their early 70's records in their entirety (yes, even Pictures), I suppose I'd suggest this one next.
Capn's Final Word: Erm, you know, I forgot to add that I can't remember a fucking song on here after reviewing it. Am I being too generous to moldy oldy prog bands? Gotta get my Lithium prescription refilled.
- Atlantic 1978
A joke played on the rest of us by the members of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer before doing what everyone, including God and the Prime Minister and probably Reggie Jackson, wanted, which was break up and save us from hearing the album of new material they'd try to hose us with circa 1980. Because, somehow, they were milking the same Works sessions for a fourth consecutive album. It would seem like by now they'd be down to tapes of Emerson tuning his synths and Lake asking the producer for some tea, but, strange as it may seem, this one has sounds on it that some of the population might, on a good day, describe as being music. But only music of a very disgusting sort of early-70's Who commercial, oversynthed hard rock. Shit, even Lake sounds kinda like Roger Daltrey on here. But, just to reiterate, I'm talking about ELP sounding like It's Hard-era Who, but without the Pete Townshend guitars 'n' gizz on there.
Right, so The Yelp are now singing love songs, really trite ones, and Peter Sinfield (The fiend who once penned 'In The Court Of The Crimson King', fer fukksake) provides the lyrics. This sort of paradigm shift in the space-time continuum of the universe and all the matter and force contained within it is not enough to explain how Kosmic Klowns like ELP have allowed themselves to degenerate from the Classical-fusing, organ-raping, blazing-solo-playing cock knockers of 1970-73 to the sensitive sufferers of male sexual disfunction we see before us (and on the album cover, my vote for worst ever. I mean, ecch! I'd better watch out or I'll be liable to turk all over my laptop, and right after I just got it working again.). Do we need to hear 'I want to love you, like nobody ever loved you....get on my stallion and ride'? No, and neither do you. Who do we have to bame for this Weapon of Mass Disgustion? Peter Sinfield, surprise surprise! He of the cynical, pretentious turn of the tongue is now slumming it hacking out love lyrics for the late-70's coke-spoon set. Who needs it?
The most surprising thing of all about Love Beach is how hard they tried to fit into this new mold of New-Age Romantic Pop Singers, so hard that they actually put some successful melodies here and there, but I'll be goddamned if I want to hear them again. You have to make your way through probably the most banal, banana-cream instrumental arrangements you've ever imagined might come out of these guys. They'd obviously been listening to the way Genesis had revived their careers through the liberal use of three-note synth chords and 'sensitive' lyrics (oh God, they must've been trying for a Wind and Wuthering....no wonder this album bites it so much), and wanted to try it out for themselves. The problem is that Genesis weren't too hot with what they'd been trying (not until 1981's Abacab, I wouldn't say), and, moreover, they were always a lot better on the melody and the song-things than ELP ever was. Nah, ELP was always about the flash and the bluster, and without those two things, you're left with a big glass full of nothing. ELP just aren't playing to their strengths here.
Nah, the real embarrassment is 'Memoirs Of An Officer And A Gentleman', 20 minutes of insufferably gentle chording and Lake unmelodically relaying some dude's disgustingly boring and banal thoughts ('We'll Have a Real Honeymoon....' 'We'll Get Whichever One You Want', oh, fuck off, you pussy...), and at no time, ever, during the course of the entire thing, does anything happen. Nothing happens! Who is this, Kraftwerk? The pussified, tossed-off likes of 'Memoirs' makes me want to give up listening to music altogether, and go through life finding my musical happiness listening to traffic and the gurge of the water cooler outside my office. Anything but to have to sit through this detritus one more time for the singular purpose of reviewing this hackwork.
Capn's Final Word: ELP attempt to remake and remodel themselves as the Bee Gees of synth-rock, and end up sounding like the Cowsills of the Synth. Banal doesn't begin to describe this vanilla wafer.
Eric Your Rating: D-
Any Short Comments?: Far as I remember your observations on this one are correct...I recall that the original LP came with an order form for similar clothing as to what the fruity little bastards are wearing on the cover...satin jackets for $75 and so on, even in 1978! Repulsive.
Works Live - Atlantic 1993
Completely boring live followup to Welcome Back My Friends that has all of the length and none of the cool songs, frenetic soloing, and highfalootin' atmosphere that made the first one so darned nice to turn off 1/3rd the way through. This performance from the late-70's Works tour (yeah, the one with the symphony orchestra touring the band for exactly a week, until Palmer realised that 60 people split among three individual tour buses still means some 70 year old french horn player has to share his bunk, and that money, once spent, doesn't magically reappear in your pocket) originally released in a signle disc format that no one liked, then re-released in the early 90's in the mondo-expando double disc version you see before you.
I dunno, I feel like live albums are pretty hard to screw up, once you have the basics of good sound and no glaring screw-ups covered. I mean, it's not like they're making you write new songs or anything. Just get out there and play decent songs with a reasonable facsimile of energy and good cheer and I'm bloody likely to give you at least a B. But ELP, contrary to all advice (like usual), liked to perform only the most recent of their material, which means shitloads of Works 2, in other words. Bitch! Like I really want to hear them bumble through 'Maple Leaf Rag' again, as if it wasn't a fucking finger warm up for Emerson in the first place. Or, for those pinheads among you who ruin pairs of underwear at the very mention of 'rare tracks', a silly run-through of 'Peter Gunn' that makes me long for the trumpet/bass clarinet version I played with my friend Mike Shumaker in third grade music class. The whole first disc of this fiasco is packed with similar songs...'Tiger In a Spotlight', 'Watching Over You', 'The Enemy God (Laughs At Those Of You Who Wasted Thirty Bucks On This Shitty Live Album)', and I keep waiting for the real ELP to show up, but they can't even make it happen on the clumsy 'Fanfare', notable for some of the ugliest and wimpiest synth-humping I've heard from Keith.
The second disc is a bit more like we expect an ELP concert to be like, but it's still about 5 steps below the energy and fanaticism of Welcome. I like the surprise inclusion of 'Abadon's Bolero' and 'Show Me The Way To Go Home' is still a highlight. The hacked up performance of 'Pictures At An Exhibition' is disappointing, but then again I'm very thankful we have at least this, instead of what they could have given us, a stab at a hideous 'Pirates' (shudddderrrr!) or even, I hate to think of it, 'Memoirs Of An Officer And a Gentleman'. Nah, I'll take 'Pictures', thanks, no matter how much this version sounds like Mother Goose compared with the '72 version.
And whose bright idea was ending the album with fucking 'Tank'? A drum solo? Besides being the third inclusion of this beaty bastard on an ELP release, it's taking up the rightful place of a 'Lucky Man', or maybe a 'Toccata'. Well, I guess the last laugh was on those sillies in ELP, who broke up for a good 6 years, not even successful enough to recoup the losses from the Works tour fiasco. Palmer went onto good fortune with Asia, and Emerson and Lake grasped handfuls of their hair and gasped 'Why? Why? Why so many halfassed releases in the late 70's? Why didn't we play to our strengths instead of trying to be something we weren't? AAAARRGGHHHH!!!!'
Capn's Final Word: A weak live album from a weak era of the band. About what could be rightfully expected from the lads, I guess. They were Plum Tuckered Out after all those records, you know?
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Emerson, Lake, and Powell - Polygram 1987
Probably exactly what everybody expected out of the band in 1987, sadly. Emerson and Lake return to the three-headed doom monster of heck, taking along Mr. Cozy Powell, fresh from cavorting through the lily fields of the Dark Prince of Effeminate Heavy Metal, Ritchie Blackmore, to fill out the 'P' part. 'Cos Palmer was off making zillions with Asia, a band that coasted even longer than ELP on the strength of an album's length of good material. Anyway, Emerson, Lake, and Powell isn't the fun field trip through the box factory we might think it would be (who, after seeing how low ELP could go with Love Beach, would expect a great album out of them at the absolute nadir of processed 80's fiberglass-rock? And who out there with your hands up right now have a $50 bill in your pocket? Okay...all you need to do to get laid each and every night of the rest of this month with a different hot Eastern European princess is just mail me that $50. I swear it'll happen. Just email me for the address. I swear, young, sweet Hungarian, Czech, Russian cootchie all the rest of this month, delivered right to your door for only $50. Such a deal...)
This album is totaly mired in oversynthetic mediocrity. I hate very little of it, because it's all so smoothed-down and avoids the gaping crevasses in the road that caused the last album to be such a stick in the mud up your ass. I distinctly remember hearing 'Touch And Go' on the radio when it came out (of course, me being way to obsessed with all things AC/DC at age 11 to have any idea who Emerson, Lake, and Powell were), which is no surprise...it's got the only near hook on here. Oh, besides their totally berzerkin' version of Holst's 'Mars, Bringer of War' at the end, which piles on those pompous classical riffs just like the year was 1853 and I have on a powdered wig and a 300 pound pale Parisian whore attached to my penis. 'Mars' kicks all sorts of ass, and gives us the first glimpse of the real Emerson and Lake to be found on this paragon of nothingness.
Not that they don't remind us of how marvellously geeky they used to be 14 years prior. 'The Score' namechecks 'Karn Evil 9' so many times it's almost enough to make me forget how much all the syndrums and horrifying 'orchestra-hit, dance-face' synth noises remind me of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Though, at 9 minutes plus, it's obvious that E and L are trying their damndest to recreate themselves in the vein of Jan Hammer: former 70's pointy synth wankers now reborn as, well, rapidly balding, Miami Vice synth wankers. With a beat. Not created by man, most of the time, which makes me wonder why they went and got Powell and not, say, Echo from Echo and the Bunnymen to do the drums. Echo'd probably gotten more of the chicks.
Well, after the 9-minute nostalgia trip (I'd like to remind you that the original 'Karn' was three times that length, so maybe they're learning....but slowly), things don't improve any. This MTV dance music could be anybody, and though Lake hasn't quite had his vocal Mojo stolen by Tom Waits and the '74 George Harrison yet, he's not really using his voice for any purpose of good, anyway. Even his balladry ('Lay Down Your Guns') is just despicable, bearing no resemblance to his great ones of the past. He's just serving the synths, that's all. And the synths are, erm....serving Cindi Lauper fans, I think.
A point off for including a song called 'Learning to Fly', just like every album made since 1980. And not even being the worst one.
Capn's Final Word: Poor attempt to recreate the sound of Asia without their only legitimate Asian. Possibly worth getting for 'Mars' is you're richer than humans have the right to be.
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Big fat fucking deal, this sequel to the Powell album 6 years (and, assumedly, about half a billion throat polyps) later, excpet this time with Palmer's name on it. But the drum machine remains the same. Only the songs have gotten worse, now including bits and pieces of near-funk-metal style bass thumping to go with the Janet Jackson synth blares and the 10-second reverbed snare drum. I think the band was probably trying to craft themselves around the 80's King Crimson, but got everything so completely wrong the CD plays backwards. For one thing, this is for sure their thinnest record. Most of the time there's Keith playing looooonnnnnggg synth chords, there's some random, rudimentary guitar riff, and that ever-present *doink doink whap! doink! doink! whap!* of the frigging anti-drum army. They still leave little tiny scraps of progdom in their songs (the instrumental section of the title track, fer instance....home to some of the most rancid ELP jamming ever to leave their studios), just to remind you of who they might have been once, long long ago in a hairstyle far away. Because if they didn't, no one would be able to tell the difference between them and Mike + The Mechanics. And that's one the good songs.
Okay, there's maybe some material that doesn't completely suck the yak's teat here, but they're harder to find than a gram of humanity at the DMV. 'Affairs Of The Heart' is pretty despite having coated itself in a liberal layer of Lake's phlegm, and while it's really nothing more than a generic ballad, it does the ballad basics okay, so there: a highlight, you savages. I can't say the same for 'A Farewell to Arms', however, which is smarmier than an open-air used car salesman convention. 'Romeo and Juliet', (Prokofiev? Fuck knows I'm not going to go look it up, and since my well cultured Russian wife ain't here to help me but has rather gone to the mall, I'm gonna say Prokofiev) doesn't do anything at all (it has, quite possibly, the loudest snare drum I've ever heard outside of industrial music), but it at least reintroduces some of the classic Emerson synthtones. The instrumental 'Changing States' hearkens back to Trilogy, yet manages to sound ever dorkier, if that was possible.
Right. Emerson's solo piano 'Close to Home' is probably the only truly convincing thing on here....something that sounds just like what they used to be capable of, with no reservations. And all that proves is that Emerson can still play a classical/new age piano tune in a way that probably no one else can...and still bore the hell out of you with it. The rest of this album is a continuation of the process that began way the fuck back there with the Works albums: a simplification of the original ELP sound into little, easily digestible pieces of modern rock cliche that even your mother can understand. And it's not even that I can claim that they don't know what they're doing. They know exactly what they're doing: they're making an Excuse to Tour, some tunes to toss in between 'Lucky Man' and 'The Endless Enigma' on their latest summer package tour through Wisconsin state fairs and classic rock music festivals. And, for that, well, I guess they've got an album. Something to forget all about after seeing the show, buying the t-shirt, and listening to the album through once and a half times before returning it to the used bins where it belongs.
Capn's Final Word: The lack of effort is alarming, and the embracing of thin pop trappings is worse. Please understand that you're not getting an album here, you're getting an excuse to be nostalgic.
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In The Hot
Seat - Rhino 1994
Apparently recorded under contractual obligation and also under some sort of physical duress by both Palmer (carpal tunnel) and Emerson (right arm injury), this still manages to kick the ever-loving shit out of Black Moon for the sheer fact that, for the first time since, well, fucking 1974, Emerson, Lake and Palmer sound like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and not like some pale imitation of what they wish they were. 'Hand Of Truth' is maybe not the best song they ever came up with, but it's a decent try, and Emerson's sounding better than he has in decades, damaged wing and all. Even Greg Lake has grown into his newly smoky voice, not making the damn thing any better, but at least gaining a lot more comfort within its new constraints. I mean, I'm not in love with this record no way no how, but I appreciate the level of attention and effort they've put forth. It's a good show of goodwill that they don't attempt to recreate what went so very wrong on the paper-thin Black Moon, but rather decide to embrace a very lush sound, one that's almost lush enough to mask their despicable lack of melody. I don't know about you and your monkey, but when some man comes up to me, waving two records in front of my face, in one hand an album containing thin, underproduced music with nary a melody, and the other containing smooth, professionally produced hoo hoo, I'm gonna try to kick him in the kneecap and go home and put on a Rolling Stones album. But when Reviewing Duty calls, I'll prefer the thick, overdubbed and reverbed one every time, no doubt.
Argh, so maybe the good ol' Mr. Good Song and his happy bag of Magical Hooks of Melodicism fail to make much of an appearance on this one. And really, after the first couple of songs, what we have is mostly a vehicle for lots of old fashioned aimlessly hot-aired wank-a-poo, but when exactly has that not been this band's calling card? At least the solo spots don't stridently pluck at the nausea nerves like the....erp!...ballads do. 'Heart On Ice' would actually be improved had it been performed by Captain Cool Guy Michael Bolton himself. Forget the nice, effective balladry of old times...this stuff is worthy only of Lieutenant Hairdo and the garbage disposal. But in general, the songs work...in a near-complete-failure manner that makes me doubt how much this stuff actually works at all. I think most of all is that I don't seem to have a violent allergic reaction to it. The guys are just making old-guy pop music, bearing absolutely no resemblance to prog rock as long as they aren't soloing, but again conjuring up images of fag Brit prententio-pop guys gone by....your Mr. Mister, your Asia, your Calling All Stations. It's all as embarrassing as a public enema, and I wouldn't be caught dead listening to it without my headphones on, but while it's there, I don't get hives or shortness of breath or nuthin'.
Oh, but there's a 'Pictures At An Exhibition' right there on your CD version (for the third time, though only the first studio attempt) that, of course, is the best thing here. You can't beat melodies written by guys who became corpses about a hundred and fifty years ago, you know. Kind of like Greg Lake. When he attempts melodies....Anyway, Emerson shows off his new still-not-at-all-convincing synth horn samples, though some of the orchestral parts are nice and overdone with the screeching orchestras and 'sighing choruses' right there at preset number 148B. Now, of course I prefer the ragged punkadelic live version from 1972 best, but this one has some cool robotnik sections that make my hair curl, and some of the orchestral parts are pretty transcendent for a guy with one good hand, one rehab hand, and an endless number of all-digital tracks and all year to deal with. And there really are sections of real, ELP-ish beauty here, dammit. So get your ass in there and find the fucking beautiful parts, motherfucker!!!
I really can't feel too badly about this album, especially when I realise that there's entire sections of it that I actually like. But don't worry about it...by this time tomorrow I will have forgotten all about it. When something is marginally decent in comparison with concurrent piles of absolute shit, I'm not necessarily going to embrace the fucking thing note-for-note, you know? But at least they did their best before fucking off to the three corners of England to grow old and smoke cigarettes until Lake requires a trache hole to puff out of. Lots of better bands have stunk a lot worse before going the way of the Aged Rocker.
Capn's Final Word: Nothing I disrespect.
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