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"Roll up! See the show!"

Class C

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Jazz Rock, Synth Pop
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day





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Yup, I've just underwent a terrible battle within myself. There was a great part of myself cryin' out loud, 'hey, these guys are cool! They deserve at least a three!', while the paranoid skeptical side was sneering, 'are you crazy? These pseudo-intelligent, pretentious, snub-nosed popularizers of classical music? A one would be too much!' So the original ensuing rating was some kind of a compromise between myself and the other myself (a two, that is), but in the end the pretentious side of me got the best of me, and the rating was upgraded to a three... where it will stay forever.

Indeed, ELP is not one of my favourite bands, but some, if not most, of their early albums can be qualified as great, entertaining rock music taken to the very heights of artistic creativity. These guys arrived at the prog rock scene rather late... wait, that is, they teamed up rather late, otherwise, all of them stood at the very origins of prog: Keith Emerson came from the Nice that were the first true prog-rock band, Greg Lake came from King Crimson after helping to cut that band's groundbreaking debut album, and Carl Palmer came from Atomic Rooster, a band that's somewhat forgotten over the years but which was nevertheless quite daring for its time. Thus, while not being prog rock's first band, they were prog rock's first and best supergroup: three astute professionals that gathered together to show the world the true boundaries, or, rather, the limitless boundaries of "progressive" music, and whoever dares to ignore or despise their output from 1971-73 as a whole is seriously limiting his or her own musical vision through biases that are at best unclear and at worst stupid and irrational.

Unfortunately, sharing all of prog rock's advantages, the band members also began quite soon engaging in all of its nasty sides, the primary one of these being negligence towards careful and inspired songwriting and reliance on overblown, overcomplicated, but not that fascinating arrangements and song structures. Also, the band really didn't have what I'd call a 'salvage formula' - there's really nothing in their musical output which you could hold on to and claim it to be meaningful, entertaining, serious and significant at once. They just ploughed on with one series of senseless, imageless lyrics after another, setting them to Emerson's highly artificial synths and Palmer's eminently skillful, but just as well soulless drumming. No wonder they've earned the hatred of every cheerful, beer-drinkin', rockin'-all-day-long, simplistic music lover, as well as of almost every critic and reviewer in every music magazine or on every web site, and no wonder that they were one of the most hated bands among the punk movement, with the Sex Pistols burning Emerson's effigy onstage and suchlike. They're overbearing, pretentious, self-indulgent, snobby and humourless.

But on the good side, I reiterate that they are highly professional - every one of them. And yes, I know that professionalism is not really a serious criterion when we're speaking of prog rock which is deemed to be professional par excellence (even though we do have bands like Genesis), but not only did these guys know how to amaze music specialists with tricky chord sequences and other weird stuff, they also knew how to entangle the listener in them instead of boring him to death. Keith Emerson's keyboards playing is the most renowned part of their schtick, but that's not the only high point. I should mention that Greg Lake is arguably the most powerful and vocally gifted among all classical-influenced rock singers (with Justin Hayward a close second), and his guitar/bass playing is no slouch, either. And Carl Palmer, soulless or not, did epitomize prog drumming, with his technically perfect style and clever contributions to the band's sound.

All of these things, however, could be forgettable, if it weren't for just one more moment: the band did some truly great songs in their early days, possessing at least one highly talented songwriter (Lake) and having the guts to bring out the best and tastiest bits of these songs to the surface (unlike, say, Yes, who really knew how to write a good song but also knew how to render it close to unlistenable). Just listen to any of their first three studio albums and you'll see what I'm talking about. These guys were cool. Who cares about pretentiousness these days, anyway? Would you like to ascribe to the Rolling Stone Guide philosophy?

Lineup... wait, I've mentioned everything above already. Why should I repeat myself? Let me just tell you that I have all of their studio albums, including the newer Nineties' stuff, and almost all of their live albums, because, strange enough, ELP is one of the easiest bands to be found cheap (yeah, and pirated, too) in Russia. Strange world we're living in... I haven't yet given everything a proper listen, but come back in due time and you'll see more and more...

PS. Just one more thing. Lots of people around the web seem to share the opinion that ELP were the worst of the prog lot. This opinion is understandable - nobody messed around with classical music as much as the three dudes did - but it also comes either from a serious bias against the group, or out of incompetency or just dislike for classical music (heck, I know people who hate all classical music because they say it's pretentious.) Whoever really thinks ELP are more overblown than Yes, just clear your ears. Yes have a pompous, universalist musical style which might easily seduce people but which turns out to be incredibly shallow on closer analysis. All of their multiple symphonies, soaring anthems, 'emotional' chants and ultra-long mantras either have no meaning or just say in twenty minutes what some of the more listenable hippie groups said in one word in 1967. ELP aren't really that pretentious. Even Brain Salad Surgery, their most 'bloated' album, sounds more carnivalesque than serious. And ninety percent of their output is just lightweight jams, grooves and Emerson's attention-drawing gimmicks. They may be boring, and, quite often, they are, but pompous? C'mon, those who don't see the hilarious joke beyond Tarkus and prefer to see it as a senseless pseudo-serious self-indulgence just take life too seriously themselves!



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Wouldn't it be fun to see Pete Townshend whack these guys over the head with his guitar? Oh, wait, wrong story.

Best song: TAKE A PEBBLE

Track listing: 1) The Barbarian; 2) Take A Pebble; 3) Pictures At An Exhibition; 4) Rondo; 5) Nutrocker; 6) Interview.

Don't let people bug you with their mass mentality. The front cover of this CD may have the number "1970" written on it, but those of the superior intellect who will bother to do a little undercover research will quickly find out that ELP's debut album - and this is their debut album, as it's their first big-scale live performance, which even hardcore ELP fanatics will have to admit - was, in fact, released in 1997 (although my particular edition, extended by means of a later interview with the members of the band, is actually dated 2002). 1997! History is being rewritten right under our eyes, and falsifications of the band's catalogue swept to the wind. Instead of a groundbreaking, pioneering, innovative prog-rock outfit we find out that we actually have to deal with a bunch of charlatans, a secondhand forgery, a dumb Radiohead-influenced pack of phoneys... yeeh, how disgusting. Is there anybody we can still trust in this world?

Now, if you be so kind as to receive the $200 salary, I would kindly ask you not to blow it all on the Reading Railroad and advance directly to the next review (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, the so-called "debut" album by the band), which will guide you through the setup process, install all of your Plug and Play devices including an outdated version of the Moog synth (please disregard the "Driver unsigned" message), crash your computer once or twice, and finally, if you're patient, give you a blurry, fuzzy, muddy, and grubby impression of what a Russian reviewer thinks of the Six Hands That Drew Blood From Rock'n'Roll. On the other hand, if you decline to play by the rules, you might as well stay here and, like Bob Dylan ingeniously noted once, "watch the sunrise".

Actually, if we are to believe the interview, ELP took the stage not exactly at sunrise, but rather at around 15:30 P.M.

One thing that has always fascinated me about the August 1970 Isle of Wight festival was that it really represented the "meeting of two epochs" - it was just as much of a classic Hippie Era romp as it was of the upcoming Seventies Spirit, with an overall darker, heavier atmosphere. You had Tiny Tim out there, on one hand, and you had ELP, on the other one. Looking back, it is very suitable to call the whole event a big fat So Long to the Sixties and an equally big fat Welcome to the Seventies, but that would be a gross overgeneralizing of the picture. Fact is, the people present just didn't see it that way. They were content to listen to anybody, be it the newly-born representatives of the "pretentious wank scene" like ELP or Jethro Tull or the good old boys of basic rock'n'roll like The Who. No friggin' "generation clash" out there - more like a friendly evolution of traditions. Those were the days.

Today, the "Cannon Story" of ELP is having the "Spinal Tap-like" attribute to it. That's very true, but who knew about Spinal Tap in 1970? Nobody. The cannons were stupid, I'll admit that. They just dragged two of them onstage and fired them at the pompous ending to 'Pictures At An Exhibition'. On CD, it doesn't make much of an impression: just two loud "bangs" which, if I weren't aware of the situation, I could have mistaken for some extra Palmer devilry. On video - and I do own the Message Of Love video which has a few bits of ELP's show on it - it looks plain ridiculous, with Keith and Greg totally "falling out of synch" with the performance igniting these behemoths (I mean, it would have been more suitable if they had footmen to ignite them while they were still playing, but apparently they wanted to make the grand gesture personally). But I'm pretty sure that it made a great impression on the audience anyway. Cannons! Onstage! Woohoo!

Sorry, where was I? Isn't this a pretty bad way to begin an ELP page? Perhaps it is, but then again, perhaps it isn't. The world is changing. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in the water. I smell it in the band's rip-roaring take on 'The Barbarian', which would nearly blow away the studio version on the self-titled album hadn't it been so crappily recorded. Since they were young and inexperienced, the setlist is mostly dominated by the first couple of songs they had time to write and rehearse, most notably, 'Take A Pebble', and a sprawling thirty-five minute version of 'Pictures At An Exhibition', a collaboration between 19th century crazy Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky and 20th century crazy British stuntman Keith Emerson, more details on which you will find in my review of Pictures At An Exhibition, an album mostly famous for its receiving one of the few one-star ratings out of the hand of late 20th century crazy American atheist Mark Prindle, although I do believe it has a few other merits as well.

Actually, it's not like the performance is really atrociously recorded: the main problem is that they seemingly forgot to hook some of the 30,000 sets of keyboards (the ones that Keith likes to play simultaneously while at the same time igniting a pair of cannons with his wildman stare and spitting out a handful of knives that cut through a Hammond organ like butter and occasionally decapitate an audience member or two for sheer gut pleasure) to these pitiful little Seventies-style amps. So there's, for instance, a section towards the end of 'Take A Pebble' where it looks like all that Emerson is doing is playing a few "base level" jazzy chords on his piano, like a little kid would do upon his fifth or sixth piano lesson, when in reality he's only doing that with one hand and his other one is playing some kind of presumably delightful romp on a nearby organ/synth/Mellotron/what-the-fuckin'-ever, but I can't hear a note of that.

Apart from that, the sound quality is good, and you don't even have to hear the audience (which was, depending on the way you'd like feel about prog, either so stunned by the band's magnitude and virtuosity that they held their breath for one hour straight, or just taking a peaceful, happy, healthy afternoon nap). 'Take A Pebble' goes off smoothly and is easily the best performance, although ELP fans will probably be more happy about the exclusively rare performance of 'The Barbarian' - a track that was pretty much forever dropped from the band's setlist very early in the making, probably for "atmospheric incompatibility" with the more famous ELP material. 'Pictures' are, well, 'Pictures', and I don't have much interest in sitting through the entire piece yet another time, fine and dandy as it is. The set ends with 'Rondo', a Nice chestnut that Emerson was only too happy to do with these guys as well (in the video, you get to see a hilarious Palmer drum solo as he rhythmically drops his T-shirt while pounding the barrel with his feet, and the usual organ-slashing routine from Keith, er, I mean, Hammond organ-slashing), and they come back to do 'Nutrocker' for an encore. Fine and dandy.

I suppose I should explicitly mention that this was the performance that really threw the band into the spotlight, much like Monterey was the Publicity Stunt # 1 for Hendrix, and so has a lot of importance as a historical document as well. A general sixth sense tells me that the playing is slightly faulty at times - they didn't have time to gel perfectly yet - but that might also be the album's main charm: to show as a young, "unspoiled", enthusiastic trio of young hairy guys before success went to their head and they started worshipping the evil Karn by feeding it personal computers. In any case, I had fun listening to this album, and I hope you will, too. Provided you find it - it's got limited circulation.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Nice, cute, gentle, but also mean and angry. Oh, the lucky days when prog was still young and fresh...

Best song: TAKE A PEBBLE

Track listing: 1) The Barbarian; 2) Take A Pebble; 3) Knife Edge; 4) The Three Fates; 5) Tank; 6) Lucky Man.

Their first try, and everything works. And I do mean everything. There's not a single track on the album I'd call bad, and the only flaw I can think about is that on the second side the band slowly starts to run out of truly creative melodies; therefore, it tends to drag a little, with next to no lyrics and lots of instrumental noodling, culminating in a stupid Palmer drum solo ('Tank') which adds nothing to Baker's legacy on 'Toad' or Nick Mason's legacy on 'The Grand Vizier's Garden Party'. Perhaps Palmer did bring the 'technical' side of drumming to its peak, but amazingly enough, you can't really tell it from his solo which hardly sounds any different from the above-mentioned ones. Which, by the way, only emphasizes the point that a real good drummer can only be told by the way he holds up the rhythm, not by the way he showcases his soloing prowess - and my favourite drum solos are those that are actually rhythmic, like Bushy's on 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'. Okay, enough digressing; a fact is a fact - 'Tank' is a clone of 'Toad', and not a very good one. Another big space-holder on the second side is Emerson's three-part suite 'The Three Fates'; these can be slightly boring, too, especially if you're not a great fan of church organ which is so prominent on that track. On the other hand, it's at least cleverly and engagingly constructed: 'Clotho' corresponds to the church organ passage, 'Lachesis' is a solo piano part, and 'Atropos' is where the band finally joins in and "jams" for a bit. Fact is, I've heard much worse from these guys than this seven-minute mock-classical workout, and I'm not particularly offended.

Otherwise, though, they make the wise decision of relying entirely on Lake's songwriting, and it's a full blast. Having just contributed to King Crimson's first and best album, Greg was obviously on a high note, because memorable, solid tunes, highlighted by his distinctive and super-powerful singing, abound. Er, well, there's only three of them, to be more exact, but they're so good that they certainly 'abound'. 'Take A Pebble', my personal favourite from the album, might be bombastic, but you have to overcome yourself if you're ever gonna stick to Lake - that's his favourite cup of tea, you know. His singing is simply terrific, with the final line of every verse building on the legacy of King Crimson's 'Epitaph' and actually sounding even better; a grandiose theatrical number that's certainly "fake" according to Old Man Rock'n'Rollah standards, but quite in the European opera/romance vein which said Old Man would probably despise in its entirety. Plus, the song's twelve minute length is fully justified: they throw in a silly clap-along countryish acoustic guitar sequence, and Keith does a few nice piano solos which fit in perfectly with the mood before reverting to the grand melody that closes off the number.

Then there's 'Knife Edge' - a creepy, scary little tune with Greg adopting an unusually 'evil' tune and Keith playing up to him. This one was always a live highlight and deservedly so, as it's a great showcase for all the three band members and has something of an "arena-rock feel" to it, only more serious and gloomy than most arena-rock tunes. The basslines are killer. And finally, 'Lucky Man' is often regarded as the finest song they ever did (and it's played on the radio quite often as well): acoustic guitar, beautiful singing, and a great synth solo towards the end. 'Ooooooooh, what a lucky man he waaaaas'... The medievalistic lyrics sound somewhat silly and primitive, but one has to keep in mind that (a) this was the first song ever written by Lake when he was still a young teenager and (b) it's still miles better than contemporary Uriah Heep lyrics. At least these guys don't sound like they're taking the dungeons & dragons subject too seriously. And if there ever was a defining moment of ELP's arrival on the rock scene on this record, it might as well be the ominous, mind-boggling swoop-swoops of the synthesizer in the 'Lucky Man' coda; while the Moog synth had already been explored by some performers, this is perhaps the most early "grandiose" use of the instrument as a true force in producing powerful keyboard solos.

In all, if you throw out the boring 'Three Fates/Tank' suite (or learn to appreciate it - whichever comes first), you'll be probably left with some of the finest prog rock tunes ever written. See, they are pretentious, and if you're desperately despising all that artsy, puffed-up stuff, you'll probably be better off staying at a long distance from it. However, I really advise you to follow my example and try to like this album. I've always been thinking that overblown music might be forgiven on exactly one condition - the ambitions must be dutifully compensated with competent musicianship and songwriting, and if they are, one might pardon even the uttermost unsincerity and artificial character of the compositions. This might be the best example of such an album: beautiful, moody keyboards, fluent and memorable guitar lines, immaculate drumming and above all Lake's soaring vocals. Not that the vocals are necessary: 'The Three Fates' are indeed boring, but have I mentioned 'Barbarian'? It's a great album opener! The bass lines in the beginning sound as if they're going to scare the very life out of you, and Keith is almost jumping out of his skin so as to interest you in his playing. Gimmicks? For certain. But they're nice gimmicks, and they're only punctuating the actual value of the songs. You know - the skeleton. The essence. The pith. The core. The heart, darn it!



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Maybe armadillo tanks don't mean a damn thing, but these guys make 'em sound oh so tasty...

Best song: TARKUS

Track listing: 1) Tarkus; 2) Jeremy Bender; 3) Bitches Crystal; 4) The Only Way; 5) Infinite Space; 6) A Time And Place; 7) Are You Ready Eddy.

The goddamn peak. I can't think of any other ELP album which would be just as well balanced as this one - except possibly for the debut one. But Emerson, Lake & Palmer, good as it might have been, was still only a debut - and this means the band just didn't have the time or the guts to stretch itself out. Which it does convincingly on their next opus. Tarkus is a rock symphony ('rock opera' would probably be too grand a definition), based on an entirely fictitious, artificial and meaningless concept of a giant armadillo tank erupting out of a giant egg and giving battle to some horrible other-world creature, or whatever. A fantasy that's definitely worthy of a four-year old (although that's what I say - never underestimate a four-year old! Man, I wrote some great nifty plays and novels when I was four years old.) Throughout, it features pompous arrangements, weird synth solos, grandiose but shallow lyrics, and all the usual tricks which go with such records. And yet - it works. For me, at least. I must say that, as much as I'm not a huge lover of such things, I really enjoy most of the twenty-plus minutes of the armadillo suite - enjoy them to the point of proudly proclaiming Tarkus as the really high moment of the band's career.

Why? Well, first of all, the 'symphony' is very well structured: the sections are rather short, so they don't indulge themselves in lengthy dentist office jams, there are some wise repetitions of the main themes, and the links between the main sections are quite intelligent as well. Second, the sung parts are magnificent: at this point Lake still knew how to write a truly catchy tune, and knew how to render it moving and passionate with the sheer power of his voice, even though the lyrics still didn't mean a thing. So the three main sung parts are all fantastic. 'Stones Of Years' is a magnificent Moody Blues-style ballad with ominous synth and organ backing from Keith and echoey double-tracked vocals from Greg sounding like the death angel descending from the sky. 'Mass' is just a lot of fun - now here's a part that rocks pretty hard in addition to being ultra-catchy (I still insist that it's catchier than pretty much every melody ever written by any Yes member) and, well, poppy in its essence. And on 'Battlefield' Greg manages to convince you there's been a real bloody battle going on while it was just the darn armadillo freakin' out; the epic mood is perfectly emulated by Keith's keyboard battery and the weeping guitar solo. All of these parts are cleverly interspersed with the instrumental sections so that you very rarely get the feeling of something being overlong, and there is indeed a feel of an entertaining storyline being slowly developed and displayed in the process.

And finally, the instrumentation is magnificent: Keith makes truly good use of the synths, Lake adds tasty guitar solos, and Palmer is Palmer, as usual. This stuff really manages to rock, and it gets you going; the worst part, as witnessed by many, is the synth jam on 'Aquatarkus' that takes a wee bit too much time before the end, but it's still just a minor complaint. Just like Brain Salad Surgery, it is all destined to make you appreciate the guys' incredible technique and proficiency, and just like Brain Salad Surgery, it is all destined to convince you that rock'n'roll can be nauseatingly serious if you want it to, but, quite unlike Brain Salad Surgery, it is all also destined to let you have a good time. You know what I'm talkin' about. The ardor. The heat. The energy and passion. The youthful enthusiasm. The hooks. Just forget for a moment about the circus sides of Tarkus and realize that it's plainly and primarily good music - nothin' else needed.

Plus, side two is good; it definitely pales in comparison to the suite, and it's obvious that the guys were too much occupied with the magnum opus to pay special tribute to what's being on the second side, but it's still good and overall not enough to detriment my rating. The individual songs may not be as colourful as the ones on ELP, but they're tolerable. The opening silly country piano boogie 'Jeremy Bender' is pure fun; obviously, it was set to deliberately contrast with the puffed-up 'symphony' - when it comes on right after the pompous closing notes of 'Tarkus', it's a hell of a shock. (Apparently, the guys loved the idea so much that they employed the same trick on their next two studio records - with 'The Sheriff' and 'Benny The Bouncer'). Then there are some more overblown pieces in the same symphony mood that sound like outtakes from the 'Tarkus' sessions, 'Bitches Crystal' and 'A Time And Place' being the best of them and 'The Only Way' being the worst (Lake really overdoes it here with his pathetic complaints about God having lost six million Jews). And the record closes with another fun pseudo-rock'n'roll piece ('Are You Ready Eddy?', certainly a parody on 'Ready Teddy'), just to deflate things a little bit.

In all, I really wouldn't know if it's that much better than the debut album, because the songs on side two are slightly more boring than the best stuff on ELP (but slightly less boring than the worst stuff on ELP. You go figure it out). But still, over time I've come to the conclusion that there's no better introduction to the band's sound than Tarkus. ELP may be good, but it also might give you a slightly wrong impression, what with 'Lucky Man' and all that stuff. Or maybe not. Aw, what the hell. Buy both. They're worth it. Tarkus is probably a better bet to see the band gel together as an ensemble, while ELP puts too much effort into accentuating the members' individual strengths (not as overtly as Works, of course, but also far more efficiently).



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Mussorgsky might have rolled over in his grave, but it's not as bad as they tell you.

Best song: nah. Choosing here is like rummaging around a closetful of identic socks trying to find the best pair.

Track listing: 1) Promenade; 2) The Gnome; 3) Promenade (reprise 1); 4) The Sage; 5) The Old Castle; 6) Blues Variations; 7) Promenade (reprise 2); 8) The Hut Of Baba Yaga; 9) The Curse Of Baba Yaga; 10) The Hut Of Baba Yaga (reprise); 11) The Great Gates Of Kiev; 12) Nutrocker.

You might not believe it, but this is actually a live record featuring the band playing a re-arranged (yeah, right) version of the famous Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's suite which everybody probably knows - if anyone does - in the orchestrated Ravel version, but classical fans normally prefer the piano-based original. This original is quite good, sure enough, and was actually quite a revolutionary piece of work for its time, as was the majority of Mussorgsky's rather eccentric oeuvres; but it's the version played by ELP we're speaking about. And this is where the case is at. I must say that I fully and thoroughly enjoy the performance - I mean, it does have its share of dull and sometimes even unbearable moments, but then again so do most ELP records. It's no reason to put down the thing as a whole.

On the other hand, the arrangements are tight, sharp and crisp, and, as usual, the band pulls out lots of tricks to hold your attention, be it Lake's half-improvised lyrics for 'Promenade' (the main theme of the suite, originally instrumental), Keith's swooping synth blasts or Palmer's short, impressive bursts and mini-solos. The multiple reprises of 'Promenade' which is, quite naturally, serving as the main link among the various sections, might seem annoying, but they're really clever since they give you a break in between Emerson's synthfests - which are not bad, but they just might seem to cause pain in your teeth after the tenth minute or so. Listener beware. I've grown used to it, but even I sometimes feel almost electrocuted by all of these gadgets; sometimes I get the feeling that Keith is OK while he's abusing the Hammond organ, but as soon as he switches to Moog synth his only aim is to stun the listeners with its abundant sonic capabilities. Quite naturally, this makes certain parts of the suite sound hopelessly dated today, although at the time being they certainly provided ELP a significant part of their huge audience.

Still, gimmickry or not, the band doesn't forget to feed us some real powerful music: 'The Gnome', 'The Curse Of Baba Yaga' and 'The Sage' (a Lake acoustic guitar spot) are all definite highlights here. They might have little to do with Mussorgsky's original ('The Sage' is a pure Lake invention), but they're certainly entertaining. Actually, I like to think of these things as a special sci-fi sequel to 'Tarkus': after all, it's like another story being told, slowly unfurling itself before the listener's eyes and ears, with alternating instrumental and vocal sections. It goes from the nasty 'sorcerer-music' of 'Gnome' to the quiet balladeering of 'Sage', leads us into some powerful jamming on 'Blues Variations', then takes the listener into the chaotic frenzy of 'Curse Of Baba Yaga', and finally delivers a suitable grandiose finale in 'The Great Gates Of Kiev' with Lake's 'There's no end to my life/No beginning to my death/DEATH IS LIFE' topping it all. In an open arena, this would be followed by the band firing off some cannons; you can see them doing that on the Message To Love video, for instance, from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 (yes, they were doing it live as early as that). Impressive, isn't it? Well - certain people don't think so.

And this brings us to a serious problem: were these guys really nothing else but lame popularizers of classical music and if yes, was it a good thing or no? This is really a very complicated question, and I would avoid a rash answer. On one hand, you'd really be off better with the original Mussorgsky and Tchaikowsky (yes, these guys also do 'Nutrocker'! It rules! As a joke, of course): it's really easy to write off this stuff as lame imitationery for poorly educated people with bad taste who don't get any music if it isn't 'rock' (not that ELP is very much of a 'rock' band, but poorly educated people with bad taste certainly won't distinguish ELP from AC/DC). On the other hand, this is certainly not the kind of Vanessa Mae rubbish which is classical music combined with modern pop schlock. This is classical music presented in a really innovative, experimental and thought out way, and it certainly might be called 'art'. I think that when you're listening to an album like Pictures, the main thing is not to get yourself carried away with thoughts like 'what the hell are these jerks doing to a beautiful classical melody?', but rather accept the fact that you're going to be presented with a daring attempt at reinterpreting the old classics and either take the entire schtick or leave it. I take it, and I know what I like about the record and I know what I don't like about it. What the hell - if you can't stand what they're doing to the original just don't listen to it. Leave it to somebody who'll like both.

Aw, I just caught myself on the fact that I'm actually writing a defensive letter to ELP's critics rather than reviewing the album itself. ELP novice, are you? In this case, don't get the album until you've had most of the others. If you're not wild about ELP, you'll probably hate it. Then again, I'm not wild about ELP and I don't hate the album. I guess it's just because I'm not biased towards it. Neither should you. But I tell you - Emerson is probably the only person on earth whose synth playing is almost entirely to my liking, and that means something.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

This is where the sprawl factor begins to annoy. The songs are slightly less interesting, too.


Track listing: 1) The Endless Enigma (part 1); 2) Fugue; 3) The Endless Enigma (part 2); 4) From The Beginning; 5) The Sheriff; 6) Hoedown; 7) Trilogy; 8) Living Sin; 9) Abaddon's Bolero.

Hey, cool album cover. Who do they think they're impersonating? Come to think of it, Keith does resemble Jesus a little, but Lake is certainly no God Father. And Carl looks way too hideous to impersonate the Holy Ghost, that's for sure. Anyway, aside from the album cover, there's really little good news about this record. It isn't at all bad, but the "bane of all prog bands" has finally grasped them: there's practically no advances since their first two albums. Everything is so highly formulaic that you could easily name a (usually superior) predecessor for each one of these tunes. Thus, Keith is still chucking at his highly polished synths, Lake is still singing his trademark beautiful ballads and Palmer is Palmer and probably will be Palmer for another thousand years or so.

The worst thing is that the songwriting has started to deteriorate. I had a really hard time trying to pick out the best song on here, my choice eventually being limited to 'The Sheriff' and 'From The Beginning'. However, 'The Sheriff', fun and lightweight as it might be, is nothing but a close sequel to 'Jeremy Bender' (although it doesn't prevent Keith from stretching even further out on the lightning-speed ragtime coda - if it isn't the tape that's been speeded up secretly, he really must be a hell of a piano player), so 'From The Beginning' takes the spot. With its discernible, inspired acoustic guitar melody and nice, unpretentious, slightly love-tinged lyrics, it is vastly different from everything else on the album, and the only thing that links it to ELP are some moody Keith synth/organ stylizations at the end of the tune, with a few 'astral noises' that would become far more prominent on the next album. It was a hit, wasn't it? Could well be.

However, most of the other material seems to be somewhat less acute and memorable than the old stuff. The title track, 'Endless Enigma' and 'Abaddon's Bolero' all have their moments, but all are mercilessly overlong - which is not a thing I could say about the twenty-minute 'Tarkus'. Emerson is clearly running out of ideas, as he recycles his stereotypical playing for the zillionth time on endless synth/organ/piano solos, and Lake isn't really any better. Even his voice seems to give way: you won't find anything here with even a slight resemblance to the mighty scream on 'Take A Pebble' or the raunchy tone on 'Are You Ready Eddie?'. And on 'Living Sin' he suddenly acquires a gloomy, evil tone which might be fun but is actually just stupid. The album has pretty few hooks, quite unlike the older stuff; it's also monotonous, with the same synths - guitar - drum pattern repeated over and over again, with little variety in arrangements or tempo.

Nevertheless, the melodies are still existent - they are still carefully structuring the songs and, well, they try to do something to capture the listener's attention. 'Endless Enigma' is, actually, quite a hoot for anybody who loves their ELP bombastic and universalist; it picks up right where 'Great Gates Of Kiev' left off, with a very similar Lake vocal intonation and pompous arrangements. But was there really any need for such a lengthy build-up? Almost two minutes into the song, and we still have no melody. And when the melody arrives, it's so close to 'Gates Of Kiev' that I'd better go straight to the source. 'Abaddon's Bolero' is definitely a bolero, and it's up to you if you'll enjoy all of its monotonous eight minutes; me, I've had my share of similar and better 'n' fresher tracks from the Nice, and I can't take it as anything more than okayish background music. And the title track is structured as a "pretty one" (although Lake's love lyrics and its complex, but rather ordinary structure don't have anything to do with the unclear title), but apart from the cool synthesizer solo in the middle, the melodical skeleton of the number is hardly all that catchy. It's no 'Mass', for sure.

In fact, the only advance over Tarkus is in Emerson's use of synthesizers on this record - the devil's boxes are much more prominent and fluently played this time, as demonstrated, for instance, by their modern classical showdown on 'Hoedown' (hey, I reused the famous McCartney rhyme, now didn't I?). While it starts out as an organ tune, eventually the synths take over and launch the number into 'cosmic overdrive' the way they never really did before. But of course, even if it is some kind of innovation, it gets quickly lost in the sea of noodling that is this record's second side.

Rather predictably, though, some might even prefer this to Tarkus because there's seemingly less bombast, and most of the songs have lyrics which are, well, not exactly understandable, but at least 'acceptable' - with themes of love and romance overshadowing Lake's usual pretentions. However, it's the music that counts, for me at least. And this is certainly the crucial point. If I were allowed the liberty to say so, I'd state that Trilogy is probably the first ELP album which clearly and definitely shows the limits of prog rock. 'You've reached your top and you just can't get any higher', to quote Ray Davies. With the well having run dry and the formula having been fully and definitely established, the only thing to do is to stretch themselves even further out on endless jams and bog themselves in tuneless, derivative 'epics' - and it's not difficult to understand where does this path lead to.

To Brain Salad Surgery, that's where.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Sprawl! Sprawl! Pretension and technocracy abound! But hell, nobody beats these guys at sound producing, after all...

Best song: STILL... YOU TURN ME ON

Track listing: 1) Jerusalem; 2) Toccata; 3) Still... You Turn Me On; 4) Benny The Bouncer; 5) First Impression - Part 1; 6) First Impression - Part 2; 7) Second Impression; 8) Third Impression.

I still don't know why I gave the album a 7, and later on upgraded it to an 8. I thought I'd hate it, as an expected and legitimate 'climax' to ELP's bombast and pseudo-epic jamming - and yet, strange enough, I don't. Maybe it's just because of the incredible musicianship, after all. That Emerson chap is so cool, after all...

On the technical level, this is certainly the culmination of the band's self-indulgent efforts. The album is built around the lengthy suite 'Karn Evil 9' - ELP's answer to 'Thick As A Brick' and 'Supper's Ready' (although, to be fair, these two were both answers to ELP's 'Tarkus', so it's more like "the show that never ends" - an infinite competition in bombast). With its three 'impressions', the suite occupies all of side B and part of side A and is really boring. The lyrics are partially decipherable: the first part revolves around the imitation of a mastodontic 'show' advertised by Lake's famous voice, and the third part presents the crucial idea of the concept - the battle between humans and computers, in which the latter overcome their former masters and take over the world. The concept sure fits in with the global character of the album - sci-fi "space rock", with synthesizers playing an even larger role than on any previous album, but it doesn't help anyway.

The few sung parts in 'First Impression' don't hold a candle to Lake's masterful renditions of 'Tarkus' or 'Take A Pebble': they do sound like circus advertisements, and I don't care whether it was the desired effect or not. I don't like it. Greg is trying to outroar himself with his frantic bellowings ('Roll on! See the show!'), but I'm not impressed. If there is somebody who saves the day, it's Keith (as usual). His gentle piano solo on 'Second Impression' sounds really nice and soothing, even if it, too, is overlong (as nearly everything on the album, by the way). But even so, they manage to mess it up again on 'Third Impression' which is even less memorable than the first one. Interminable jamming, unstructured verses, lame pseudo-operatic passages, all this is to be found in abundance. They do sound powerful from time to time, but not any more powerful than they ever sounded before: familiar ad nauseam, with nothing truly innovative. I realize I'm alone on that one, but unfortunately, time only worsens my attitude towards the suite.

The obvious comparison to 'Karn Evil 9' is 'Tarkus' - another ultra-long piece with a similar structure and similar instrumentation. But the thing I like most about 'Tarkus' is that its parts are mostly short, catchy and melodic - let's admit it, with some minor arrangement changes they could have fit in on any first-class pop album. 'Karn Evil 9', on the other hand, is nothing but a bunch of lengthy, undiscernible and thoroughly uninspired synth jams which Lake probably had little to do with (or, if he did, he must have been changed a lot since 1971 - for the worse, that is). If it were not for 'Second Impression' and the fact that 'First Impression' is at least, er, 'impressive', I'd probably have to reward the suite with the title "Overlengthiest Song In The World" (as it is, the honour falls to tracks off Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans).

Fortunately, the disc is saved by four 'introductory' songs in the beginning, some of which can be rated among ELP's best work. Heck, all of them can. Except for maybe 'Jerusalem': as fine as the piece looks, it's a little too overblown, and not just overblown - generically overblown, sounding like a Russian hymn. Plus, Greg's voice, which could have saved the song, is buried deep under the instruments. Still, it isn't a bad song, and it is indeed an anthem, so we should expect a little pomp. And 'Toccata' is a good song... sorry, it isn't a song, it's a toccata, and, well, it isn't even a toccata, because somewhere in the middle Keith goes totally nuts and does this astral, 'spacey' kind of thing with all the weird noises popping out as fast as lightning, plus it all manages to sound kinda melodic, so you can't help asking yourself how the hell does he manage to do all that? God only knows! While the piece is certainly gimmicky, and its main aim is to simply demonstrate all the technical tricks that the band still had left up its sleeve, I love the heck out of it - this is what prime 'astral rock' should sound like, not like the amateurish sound collages of 'Interstellar Overdrive' or something. Next comes the beautiful ballad 'Still You Turn Me On' (it is even far better than 'From The Beginning', and that's a huge compliment) which features the only clear and tasty acoustic guitar on the whole album, and finally, right before we go off into 'Karn Evil 9', we have the third part of the band's 'country-western' trilogy: 'Benny The Bouncer' is, both musically and lyrically, the direct successor of 'Jeremy Bender' and 'The Sheriff'. It's just plain fun.

So, if you ask my opinion as a whole, I'd rather say I like the album than not. The fact that it is not in the least memorable does not prevent the fact that it's actually fun to listen to - in parts. Its main problem is that Emerson and company seem to have forgotten that music should entertain - and manage to combine lyrics like 'welcome back my friends to the show that never ends' with absolutely 'non-show' music. It's not the pretentiousness that counts - it's the lack of hooks and original ideas. If you want original ideas, go further back. Here the only thing you're going to find is technical virtuosity and immaculate production. You like it? You go and get it. You hate it? You go back and sell it. Oh, for the record, this was the album where they were joined by Pete Sinfield as qualified professional lyricist. Maybe that's why I hate 'Karn Evil 9' so much - but then again, it's the same Sinfield that wrote the lyrics for In The Court Of The Crimson King, and I can easily tolerate that one.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

SPRAWL! SPRAWL! But it's beautiful sprawl, after all. Hey! Great track selection, too - for a live album, that is.

Best song: TARKUS

Track listing: 1) Hoedown; 2) Jerusalem; 3) Toccata; 4) Tarkus; 5) Take A Pebble; 6) Piano Improvisations; 7) Take A Pebble (conclusion); 8) Jeremy Bender/The Sheriff; 9) Karn Evil 9.

By 1974 ELP's positions in this musical world of ours have seemingly begun to wane. Oh no, by golly, it wasn't their fault at all. It was just that the star of prog rock was definitely collapsing: the critics' love towards 'intellectual' bands was long gone, the public, spoilt by glam and proto-punk, would soon be embracing Donna Summer and the Sex Pistols. So, one by one, the prog bands began to 'lose face': Jethro Tull lost theirs in 1973, with Passion Play, Yes lost it with Tales From Topographic Oceans, Genesis never even had a face with the critics, and King Crimson would disband in a year's time. What was a band in such a risky position as ELP to do? Why, release a live album, of course!

I think this album was as much a curse for the band as a blessing in 1974. On one hand, this is always considered as a kinda etalonic 'wretched excess' record: a triple live album, full to the brim with lengthy, long-winded, complex, brain-muddling suites (yes, both 'Tarkus' and 'Karn Evil 9' are here, and they're even longer than on the original releases). It's a record that almost cries out to be hated, spit on, tramped on, thrown out of the window or even worse - and then you can safely go on and put some Mott The Hoople or Big Star on. Same should apply to Yessongs, of course, released a year earlier (and probably serving as the model for this record), but somehow ELP did not seem to fit the timing perfectly (Yes did). On the other hand, one can only imagine the reaction if ELP tried to come up with a new studio album - surely it would have been at least as monstruous as Tales seemed to be, what with Brain Salad Surgery already nearing the dangerous level. So a live album was just the only thing they could present with enough safety - after all, everybody knew the songs already.

Now I know a triple live album isn't the easiest thing in the world to get excited about, but try to embrace it in small portions (like, say, twenty minutes per day?) and you'll manage it. And why? Just because the performances are great! All but one, actually - they do perform 'Karn Evil 9', and it takes up thirty-five minutes. I've deprived them one point for it - after all, when I never liked the tune in the first place, why should I enjoy it here? The good parts of the suite are just as good, and the bad parts bore me just as they bored me before. So much for my constitution.

Apart from that, though, there are no serious misfires. They do almost everything from Surgery, but that's alright by me - I got nothing against 'Jerusalem', and 'Toccata', dang it, is far superior to the original: just listen to that 'spacey' section with Palmer going nuts again on his electronic percussion drumset! It seems slightly extended to me, but that's all right: the way the song moves from one avantgarde groove to another sci-fi gimmicks in an instant is still amazing. Meanwhile, 'Still... You Turn Me On', together with 'Lucky Man' and some nice Emerson piano improvisations (I can't help but love hear Keith playing the piano; far more, in fact, than the incessant synth noodling on 'Karn Evil'), are all incorporated into 'Take A Pebble', and listening to these great songs is an unforgettable experience. Like a greatest hits compilation, but with a 'genuine', not artifical feel to it. While some critics complain that ELP's live album is vastly inferior to Yessongs, I really don't hear any significant weaknesses - the band is in top form, and, well, they don't deviate from the studio arrangements all that much, but neither did Yes.

What did I forget to mention? 'Hoedown' rocks and is even faster than the studio version; and 'Jeremy Bender/The Sheriff' are hilarious, although for some reason they left off 'Benny The Bouncer' to round out the trilogy. Oh wait, I know. Had they included 'Benny The Bouncer', this would have made the whole Brain Salad Surgery album completely superfluous. Smart guys. And the lengthy rendition of 'Tarkus' is as entertaining as could be: to sweeten things up a bit, Lake even includes within 'Battlefield' a short snippet of his timeless King Crimson epic, 'Epitaph' (although I truly miss the line '...but I feel tomorrow I'll be crying...' Oh, never mind, it ain't King Crimson, eh?) In no way is the piece inferior to the album version, although I personally could do without the extended final of 'Aquatarkus'; by the way, 'Aquatarkus' here does deviate a lot from the original. But that's no big problem, considering the length of the album - any brief short moments are easily compensated by an overabundance of goodies.

I mean, in many cases you could be just as happy by sticking to the original studio versions, but this album works perfectly well on a 'greatest hits' level. If you like 'Karn Evil 9', that is. What this album does essentially prove, though, is that ELP weren't just a bunch of technology-crazy, machine-programming electricians: the songs are performed with relative ease, and Keith is as good at classical piano as he is at these corny Arp synths. Moral? Whatever you do, you just gotta be inspired.

Which they were. As this album demonstrates. They wisely went their way afterwards and released solo albums for a couple of years.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

The main advantage of this record is that there's so much to choose from, you're sure to get what you like...


Track listing: 1) Piano Concerto No. 1; 2) Lend Your Love To Me Tonight; 3) C'est La Vie; 4) Hallowed Be Thy Name; 5) Nobody Loves You Like I Do; 6) Closer To Believing; 7) The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits; 8) L. A. Nights; 9) New Orleans; 10) Two Part Invention In D Minor; 11) Food For Your Soul; 12) Tank; 13) Fanfare For The Common Man; 14) Pirates.

Or, wait, no. Actually, they didn't release solo albums (wasn't Lake the only one of them to release a couple of singles?) They were just fidgeting around, tidbitting and puttering and digressing, until they suddenly decided to emerge once again and hit the world smack right in the middle with a bombastic double album featuring solo material from all three members, plus a 'common' side. This couldn't but result in a really diverse album, probably the most diverse they'd ever released up to that point. The approach worked, with the album becoming yet another bestseller (mind you, it was January '77 - no 'classic' punk yet, but what an atmosphere, eh? They were brave lads...) Unfortunately, this diversity is not what I'd call 'exciting' diversity. Let's see...

Emerson opens the album with a full side occupied by his 'Piano Concerto No. 1' - a pure classical piece with no rock'n'roll for miles around. Now I don't know that much of classical music so as to make a detailed and serious analysis of this work (in other words, I don't know whether he was original or unashamedly ripped somebody off). What I can say, though, is that this stuff is quite complex and certainly influenced by such 'uneven' geniuses as Stravinsky or Mahler (even though a part of it also sounds suspiciously close to 'March Of The Meanies' from Yellow Submarine. Oh). I enjoy it, but just as much as I enjoy any decent piece of classical music - tolerate it without getting too excited. The main drawback to this thing was that soon afterwards they embarked on a mega-tour, accompanied by an orchestra that left them broke in a week. They dumped it. Bummer. Ting!

Now Lake's side is probably the best of the lot. However, none of these pop rockers or ballads rank among his best work, because by this time his skill at melody writing had clearly diminished. A lot of effort has been put into lyrics, ranging from unsophisticated love songs ('Lend Your Love To Me Tonight') to somewhat flat and cheapy philosophical tracts ('C'est La Vie'), moreover, some of the songs display a strong religious flavour ('Closer To Believing'). In all, interesting. Listenable, too. But no 'Take A Pebble' or even 'Mass' quality here. And that's a bad point: when I listen to a Lake ballad, I can't but subconsciously level it to that standard. As it is, these ballads are enjoyable, but certainly bland and unmemorable. And as for the rockers, only the stomping 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' gives us the Lake, I mean, the same Lake that did 'Bitches Crystal'. What was he - drawing his energy from religious inspiration? Whatever, anything but leftist views...

Palmer has the strangest set on the album - a bunch of instrumental compositions with a naturally heavy accent on drumming, but not only that: the instrumentation is superb throughout, and the arrangements are weird. Unluckily, they just sound experimental: 'New Orleans' has a good groove going on, and 'The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits' is as spooky as its title suggests, but the lengthy suite 'L. A. Nights' just isn't suit-able (ha! I'm getting good at these puns). He even resuscitates 'Tank' from their debut album, and it's not that I was a big fan of it in the first place...

Finally, the 'band' side is comprised of but two compositions. Aaron Copeland's 'Fanfare For The Common Man' has probably to rank as the best track on the album in its nine-minute entirety. I can't really remember how it goes, but it's good: fast and bouncy enough not to lose you, and the band's chemistry is right there, in the middle. The same cannot be said, however, of the thirteen-minute long 'Pirates', with lyrics from Pete Sinfield again. The attempt here was to recreate the atmosphere of the Caribbean, with appropriate music, lyrics and singing, but I feel they fail miserably. In trying to make the attempt, they dilute the music with unnecessary instrumentation, orchestration and synth noodlings, and manage to totally forget about the one thing that always made their music so accessible for so many listeners (your servant included) - the 'entertaining' factor. There's just nothing to grab your attention here, 'cause you've heard all the good parts before and you wouldn't hear the bad parts, now would you? As for the lyrics, they sure are piratish (banal as hell, too), but the subject seems so hardly connectable with ELP it all seems like a big joke. Ever imagined Greg Lake wielding a cutlass with a patch on one eye?

So I guess you've all got my drift by now. Two years of rest haven't made them any good. Not that the album is bad itself. It is fairly original, with quite a chunk of new ideas showing they weren't all washed-up. But most of this new stuff - be it Emerson's newly-found 'classical' side, Lake's newly-found 'religious' side, Palmer's newly-found 'extravagant' side, or the band's newly-found 'privateer' side - just isn't very exciting or interesting. The album is entertaining, diverse and professional, but on a very much 'pedestrian' level. If you know what I mean. If you don't, E-mail me in private, because I really don't want to talk about Works Vol. 1 no more. Especially since I also have to review Works Vol. 2 and Works Live. Let me save my inspiration for later.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The 'groove' album: the only reason why it shouldn't be your first ELP buy is that it's totally atypical of their 'sound'.


Track listing: 1) Tiger In A Spotlight; 2) When The Apple Blossoms Bloom In The Windmills Of Your Mind I'll Be Your Valentine; 3) Bullfrog; 4) Brain Salad Surgery; 5) Barrelhouse Shakedown; 6) Watching Over You; 7) So Far To Fall; 8) Maple Leaf Rag; 9) I Believe In Father Christmas; 10) Close But Not Touching; 11) Honky Tonk Train Blues; 12) Show Me The Way To Go Home.

Don't let the title fool you. In spite of looking like a natural sequel to Vol. 1, Vol. 2 sounds nothing like it. Apart from a couple Palmer jams and maybe one or two sleazy Greg Lake ballads, none of these tracks would have fit in on the Vol. 1 album. History explains us that most of these songs were nothing but outtakes, some of them dating even much further back, to the days of Brain Salad Surgery. History also condemns most of these outtakes to the wastebin of time. But this is where me and history won't reach a consensus. This album is terrific!

What I feel from listening to these catchy, hilarious ditties is that the only way they could have written and performed them was while having some unintentional fun and relaxing in the studio, in between the 'serious' recordings of 'Tank' or 'Pirates'. This is by far the most diverse ELP album, and the effect of diversity is increased in that the songs are no longer grouped into 'solo member groups'. Instead, Emerson's ragtime improvisations are interspersed with Palmer's eccentrities and Lake's ballads, and you'll never be able to predict the next number's nature. Moreover, everything you ever hated about ELP seems to miraculously have disappeared on this record. Meaningless, pretentious lyrics? Nope. Emerson's pompous and gimmicky keyboards? For the first time in his career, he seems completely restrained and limits himself to a couple spooky synth lines, mostly contributed to Palmer grooves. Lengthy perversive jams? None of the tracks go over five minutes (heck, only two out of twelve go over four!).

I tell you, whoever you are, you'll enjoy the hell out of this record. It's probably ELP's equivalent of The White Album (come to think of it, this one is also white as snow. Of course, Vol. 1 was white, too, but let's just pretend it never existed, okay?) Of course, Emerson and Lake are no Lennon/McCartney, and Palmer, ten times the drummer he might be as compared to Ringo, couldn't ever come up with a song as brilliant as 'Don't Pass Me By', but, hey, that's why I gave them a rating of 2 as compared to the Beatles' 5. Never you mind. You're going to get a couple of swell boogie-woogie numbers, like the opening 'Tiger In A Spotlight', which, although it is nothing but a rip-off, still manages to combine that old trusty ELP sound with the 50's vibe, and it's cool. As cool as 'So Far To Fall', with a bizarre structure that successfully marries the atmosphere of 'Karn Evil 9' with more boogie-woogie (it also has the most gross lyrics Lake ever came up with. Or maybe... wait... it's Pete Sinfield who wrote the lyrics! Hmm. The guy was clearly off his head). Emerson suddenly falls into a silly Twenties nostalgia, coming up with brilliant and intoxicating ragtime shuffles (Joplin's 'Maple Leaf Rag'), old-fashioned jazz tunes (Lewis' 'Honky Tonk Train Blues'), and he even makes up a little nostalgic fantasy of his own ('Barrelhouse Shakedown'). All good. All have that swing which good ol' Keith always had hidden in his sleeve next to the knife he was going to shove into the Hammond organ. Unlike the knife, however, he only let the swing out on a couple numbers (like 'Benny The Bouncer' or 'The Sheriff') before suddenly telling all the world he always dreamt of being a cabaret piano player. We suspected it, didn't we? Well there you go!

Palmer's numbers are the least surprising here, and yet they're still more attractive than on Vol. 1. 'Bullfrog' is funny, and 'Close But Touching' suddenly displays Lake's talents as a wild maniacal soloist, Hendrix-style. A thing you'd never have guessed from the actual Lake numbers. They mostly fall in the same acoustic ballad category, but they're more simple, more straightforward and more interesting than the ones on Vol. 1 (except maybe for the album closer 'Show Me The Way To Go Home', which is kinda conventional). But 'I Believe In Father Christmas', re-recorded after his original solo version, is charming and sincere, if you manage to disregard the fact that the main melody is a faithful copy of the Hollies' 'Jennifer Eccles'. Oh, maybe it's just a coincidence. The best number for me, though, is his tender, but not oversweetened, 'Watching Over You' - one of the best examples of 'rock lullaby' I've ever heard, superated only by the Beatles' 'Good Night' and Lennon's 'Beautiful Boy'.

Oh! And to top it off, they also include the forgotten title track of Brain Salad Surgery, for some reason left off that album. It's easy to see why, though. It's unbelievably funny, especially if we remember that the expression 'brain salad surgery', in Emerson's own words, stands for 'oral sex' (I didn't make that up, that's what Mark Prindle says about it, so if you think I'm wrong, direct yourself straight to his reviews). How would you interpret the words 'brain salad surgery/it works for you, it works for me' then? The tootser! The tune's good, though. Hell, like almost everything here. I deprive the album one point exactly for the fact that the album lacks a little in true and original musical value (for the same reason I only gave the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies a 9), but one thing's for sure: these guys would have done better if they'd just had fun in the studio, instead of putting on a serious face and giving out trash like 'Karn Evil 9'.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

ELP metamorphose into a power pop trio and either get hated or get forgotten. Unjustly.

Best song: ALL I WANT IS YOU

Track listing: 1) All I Want Is You; 2) Love Beach; 3) Taste Of My Love; 4) The Gambler; 5) For You; 6) Canario; 7) Memoirs Of An Officer And A Gentleman.

It was a desperate move, of course. Risky, too - it's left for everybody to guess how many hardcore fans turned away from them after this album. The fact is that the boys didn't want to get out of fashion, and since they could no longer dictate fashion in 1978, they decided to follow it instead. Of course they had to choose between hardening their sound after the punk model or softening their sound after the power pop model. They preferred the latter - since prog rock is certainly closer to pop than to punk. Maybe they wanted to share the newly-found popularity of Genesis or Fleetwood Mac... but they failed. Rather, they shared the newly found despisal of Gentle Giant, whose unfortunate pop-transition album Giant For A Day also came out the same year and shares first place with Love Beach as the most despised 'Pop Album By A Formerly Prog Band' in history.

Why it is so, however, is way beyond me. This album is much more solid than And Then There Were Three, and yet most ELP fans shun it like purgatory. Now I know that it's hard to deal with prog rock fans: whenever their idols try something a little bit more 'mainstream', they get hacked into pieces. But there's quite a good bit to be laudable even in the prog rock sense here (although this is just the bit I don't like. Keep on reading). I'll just have to guess that it's the album cover that turns everybody off - the aging stars standing with cheerful smiles on their faces and hairy chests showing through on a Palm Beach-y background. Certainly it's nothing short of a nightmare for a 'serious art' lover. But to hell with the album cover - the thing is, if you don't love it, you can just as well not look at it. Or put it up in a brown plastic bag. You know? As if they weren't sticking out their chests but their you-know-what instead.

In the opinion of the actual reviewer who doesn't emotionally or spiritually or subconsciously distinguish between prog and pop as long as it's good prog or good pop, the first side on here is excellent. There are just six short, bouncy numbers, none of which go over four and a half minutes, and they do sound extremely lightweight for ELP, especially lyricswise, of course. The weirdest thing is that all of the lyrics are penned by Pete Sinfield; you'd never expect ol' Schizoid Man go write banal love songs? Well, he does. But, dang it, I don't see why we should despise banal love lyrics and praise, say, the words for 'Karn Evil 9'. The melodies, though, totally rule. 'The Gambler' may be viewed as a sequel to 'Benny The Bouncer' and 'The Sheriff', a little more poppy and less ragtimey, but very danceable and enjoyable. 'All I Want Is You' will sure give you quite a lot of pleasure if you enjoyed Lake's ballads on Works. The boy could still give out amazing vocal workouts. And, well, of course it's an atrocious idea hearing Greg Lake engage in an uncompromisingly Adult Pop song like the title track, but it's at least funny, I mean, genuine funny. The boys also give out several Latin-tinged numbers, like the moody 'For You' and the cover of some classical march called 'Canario' (a little heavy on the synth side, but that's the general flaw with this album. Hell, it's the general flaw with ELP. Up with generaizations!).

Unfortunately, the second side is ruined with a twenty-minute long suite called 'Memoirs Of An Officer And A Gentleman' that was probably written in order to satisfy everybody's tastes but never got around to satisfy nothing in the long run. It's got elements of prog (the length), elements of pop (the melodies), and elements of classical (the general 'operatic' concept), but the problem is that it's very, very dull. And no one's to blame but Keith: somehow the flame seems to have left him. His keyboard playing which was so fascinating on earlier pieces and helped to pull off such lengthy sonic explorations as 'Tarkus' has suddenly become ultra generic. He mostly exploits short piano bits overused by classical composers a century ago, and I must admit that he'd certainly run out of his own creative ideas by that time. At least a couple technically immaculate finger-flashing solos would help; but he was probably so much afraid of the critics lambasting him for self-indulgence that he preferred to refrain from that. Too bad. Lake presents the only few moments of interest, like on the memorable 'Letters From The Front' that's rendered such by his singing; but overall I just fall asleep in the middle. To make matters worse, it ends with another droning synth-march that's simply unnecessary due to the presence of the superior 'Canario'.

An acquired taste, in brief - I'm not saying it's prime crap, but objectively, there's very little praise I could lay on the suite. I'm glad some people actually like it, as it does seem to carry a certain nostalgic and even a light philosophic message that you might want to identify with, but you may be assured that there won't be too many of you. Far too personal. Blah.

At least they were clever lads who realized that there was nothing else to do but to disband: had they carried on for a little longer, they would have ruined their reputation totally, like Phil Collins ruined the reputation of Genesis (not that he was really responsible for it, but that's another story). And I'll admit that Love Beach still remains a strange oddity among the ELP catalog, not to mention that it's a totally unappropriate choice for a swan song. Nevertheless, one has to remember that Lake was always a pop writer by nature, and if you substitute the banal love lyrics by mystical revelations and romantic ballads, the difference from the early masterpieces will not be that evident. I don't like this album very much, of course, but I'd still hate to see it underrated just because the boys decided to shift their image. It's okay. Nobody wants to sit in his shell all his life, now does he?



Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

A decent companion to 'Welcome Back', and the actual songs would probably be more ear-pleasing to the 'simpler' public.

Best song: PETER GUNN

Track listing: 1) Introductory Fanfare; 2) Peter Gunn; 3) Tiger In A Spotlight; 4) C'est La Vie; 5) Watching Over You; 6) Maple Leaf Rag; 7) The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits; 8) Fanfare For The Common Man; 9) Knife Edge; 10) Show Me The Way To Go Home; 11) Abaddon's Bolero; 12) Pictures At An Exhibition; 13) Closer To Believing; 14) Piano Concerto No. 1 (Third Movement); 15) Tank.

This was originally released in 1979 as In Concert, on a single LP, and was probably destined to look like a memento from the faded-out band. The version that's in my possession is the newer 1993 2-CD re-release with twice as more tracks. The greatest advantage is that this release has no overlaps with Welcome Back, and this, combined with the fact that the material usually ranges from great to listenable, makes this a no lesser must-have than the former three-LP 'monster'. I mean, you might just as well get this album and Welcome Back and have a clear and accurate picture of what ELP really was anyway: Works Live accounts for the 'middle years' just as well as Welcome Back accounts for the 'classic years'.

Musically the performances on here are nothing short of spectacular. Some even surpass the studio versions, and none are inferior, although, to be fair, one should admit that the material is generally easier in the technical sense than the early stuff. But who cares if the material is actually so solid? As the title suggests, most of the tracks are from the two volumes of Works, but it's not that simple: there is some earlier stuff, too, like a solid rendition of 'Knife Edge' (great song), a spectacular rendition of 'Abaddon's Bolero' (never liked that one much, but it takes on additional life in a live setting) and an abbreviated version of 'Pictures At An Exhibition'. Believe it or not, here it sounds even better than on the original LP. Somehow the band manages to sound much more tight and ferocious, and even though some of the original highlights, like 'The Sage', are missing, the versions of 'The Gnome' and 'The Great Gates Of Kiev' blow away the 1972 program. Maybe it's due to the help of an orchestra? (The one that they dared to drag along with them on tour until it stripped them of dough completely). Whatever, it's just stunning, and don't you dare getting the original until you've heard this one.

As for the Works material, it mostly concentrates on Vol. 2, which is good and further confirms my hypothesis that they were trying to get rid of their prog heroes image as violently as possible; which actually makes the album even more recommendable for goodtime pop lovers than for anybody else. The only misfire that I can think of is the stupid 'Tank' (oh God it must have been a real annoyance for the band, this 'Tank') with the usual drum solo, but apart from that, all the songs are swell and quite cleverly edited at that! There's a six-minute extract from 'Piano Concerto', for instance: were it reproduced in its entirety, it could have been a kind of a bore, but here it sounds really nice. And I would have been saddened at a real ten-minute version of 'Fanfare For The Common Man', but to see it suddenly transform into an unexpected 'Rondo' near the end is such a cool surprise! (If you don't know a thing about Emerson's 'Rondo', check out my Nice page - you might be pleasantly surprised). Especially since this is the only version of 'Rondo' played by ELP available officially (although I've heard rumours of an official release of their debut performance at the Isle of Wight recently. That might be real fun).

Elsewhere, you get your boogie-woogie stunts ('Tiger In A Spotlight'), your drum/synth mad jams ('The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits'), your beautiful Greg Lake ballads ('C'est La Vie' is not his best work, of course, but 'Watching Over You' never stopped being great, and 'Show Me The Way To Go Home' turns out to be a successful stage number), and your average ragtime fun ('Maple Leaf Rag', unfortunately, much too short). All of these short numbers are performed flawlessly, with excellent sound quality, and sound nowhere near 'strained' or 'forced out' or 'unnatural' as critics like to point out. See, the problem with critics was that they hated ELP for the 'overblown' stuff so much that they had a hard time dealing with the 'lightweight' material, having developed a strong alergy on just about everything associated with these kind of bands. Damn those narrow-minded critics.

Oh! And didn't I forget to mention the fantastic opener, the revamped version of an old instrumental rocker called 'Peter Gunn'? Wow, one needs to hear that! Sure beats the Monkees' version, that's for certain! I don't even understand how Emerson managed to play all those synths simultaneously, but somehow he did. Say, who the heck cares about punk revolution if you can get yourself a song that rocks that hard with just a fat pompous guy pounding out a repetitive bassline and a thin pompous guy bashing out some hi-tech synth riffs?

Oh, I don't really know what else to say. Seems like I'm just taking the time to offend musical criticism, punk rock, and everybody for miles around. Well, it's my site and I'll snub who I want to. Besides, no sane professional musical critic would be reading this tripe anyway, so personally, I don't care. And if you happen to be a fan of punk rock, well then... then I'm a fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Doubtful as it is. Buy this album if you're not out of money, and buy it even before you buy the studio albums. Why not?



(released by EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL)

Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A modernized re-union, with its ups and downs, but certainly not as bad as it is sometimes hailed.

Best song: TOUCH AND GO

Track listing: 1) The Score; 2) Learning To Fly; 3) The Miracle; 4) Touch And Go; 5) Love Blind; 6) Step Aside; 7) Lay Down Your Guns; 8) Mars The Bringer Of War.

Carl Palmer was still doing time in Asia (the band, I mean), so when nostalgia finally grabbed Keith and Greg by the liver, there was no old drummer buddy to hang around. Instead, they had the luck to grab Cozy Powell (a legendary figure in his own rights, but that's another story) and, seeing that they were still ELP, released this odd record. I review it here because why the hell should I devote a special page to Emerson, Lake & Powell? After all, a drummer is just a drummer, and, frankly speaking, I don't hold a high opinion of Powell's drumming on this record. The problem, however, is far more universal than just the drumming. Just like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson before them, they are trying hard to modernize the sound and the production, and, taken in a strictly formal sense, they succeed. However, where Yes managed to acquire the public's love with some generic heavy metal solos, Genesis did it with catchy dancing rhythms and King Crimson just raised the value of instrumental performing to previously unprecedented heights, ELP took a different approach. This particular record is mostly memorable due to (a) huge, bashing drums that beat the stuffing out of Alan White and (b) a technophilian update of Emerson's keyboards that overshadow every little bit of guitar Lake managed to insert on the album. On the surface - what could be better? Great Powell drumwork and the best keyboard player of all time! However, I feel it is my duty to disappoint you. The drums are generic - Powell might be a good drummer, but bashing his cymbals with all might isn't a necessary denotation for a good drummer, especially since they're all enhanced electronically. They're just brought very high in the mix, that's all. And as for the keyboards, well, they're utterly fake. I mean, you do get the impression that Keith is engaging in his usual pyrotechnics, but take a closer listen and you'll see that they're really bland and feeble. No interesting riffs, no tinkling piano solos, no moody passages - just a blank synthesizer background against which Lake gets to sing the lyrics.

So why a seven for the album? Well, you see, there are still quite a few interesting melodies on here. The arrangements are trite for all I care, but they're still cutting it in the chord progression area. The opening nine minute 'The Score' is a low point (its main advantage is Lake's nostalgic lyrics: 'It's been so long/Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends', doesn't that remind you of something), but after that you get song after song with interesting ideas, good singing and clever lyrics that show the guys weren't washed up essentially. 'Touch And Go' was the mini-hit, and it's good, built on the pattern of some nursery rhyme; but I also like 'Learning To Fly' (which probably inspired the inferior Gilmour song), the great ballad 'Love Blind' and especially 'Step Aside', a strange hybrid of a simple pop song and a moody bluesy/jazzy tune. It also distinguishes itself in my memory by possessing the only (and quite tasty) bits of real piano, with Emerson playing short jazzy licks a la Works vibe.

Now what's real weird is the contrast between the the final two tunes on the record. The first one, cheesily named 'Lay Down Your Guns', is a lush Lake ballad similar in tone to 'Watching Over You' and stuff like that. It's sung in his usual patronizing tone and, since his voice hadn't yet started to deteriorate, he pulls it off with mastery. It does sound a little gospelish and sing-alongey (in a bad sense, you know, like when you get to sing some dumb anthem at the end of a benefactory meeting), but at least he's a better singer than Elton John. But, probably so as to prove that they're not really the kind of save-the-world sissies that infest the business, they don't finish the album with it, but rather with an ominous, growling and grounding cover version of Holst's 'Mars The Bringer Of War'. Of course, it was much better done by the earliest incarnation of King Crimson as captured on Epitaph, where the picture of slowly progressing war chaos is captured almost perfectly, but the version here is no slouch, either, and it does have the most original and impressive bits of Powell drumming on record. Plus, it never gets boring as the Crimson version because they don't just build the march to a constant, never changing or altering crescendo: the song goes off into several different themes before finally resolving itself with a few terrific crunch-crunch-crunches. One smart way to end a record - first sing a spirit-lifting anthem and then suddenly break into such a dreary tune. At least, it's intelligent, you gotta admit it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I'm not gonna discuss this issue), this odd incarnation of the band only lasted for one record and, since Powell has long since died in a car crash, it isn't likely to happen once again, at least, not in the near future (if, of course, the Lord won't summon Emerson, Lake & Powell to play 'Mars The Bringer Of War' at the Final Judgement in the year 2001). Anyway, it just happened so that Powell wouldn't play for them again, while Palmer suddenly did change his mind. Lake, on the other hand, opted out, so in 1988 or around that time Emerson and Palmer joined forces with one Robert Berry to release another bastard record called To The Power Of 3. I've seen it but still can't force myself to buy it (who is that Berry dude and can he really be as good as Greg?). If you know something about it, why don't you drop me a line?



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

Eek, this is worse. And you don't imagine how hard it is to fish out the, ahem, 'pearls'...


Track listing: 1) Black Moon; 2) Paper Blood; 3) Affairs Of The Heart; 4) Romeo And Juliet; 5) Farewell To Arms; 6) Changing States; 7) Burning Bridges; 8) Close To Home; 9) Better Days; 10) Footprints In The Snow.

WHAT HAPPENED TO GREG'S VOICE? Once rich, luxuriant, majestic, rising to the highest notes and able to make even the most pretentious and the totally incomprehensible lyrics come alive? The one that made me surreptitiously add a point or two to almost every rating of classic ELP records? The one that didn't even give a slight hint of weakening on Emerson, Lake & Powell six years ago? Well, it's gone. If ever you held a soft spot in your heart for that voice, just like I did, the first verse of the title track on Black Moon will knock you out of your chair and send you rolling in despair on the floor. I don't know what happened. Maybe he just got old and that was all. Maybe he had a throat disease, like Ian Anderson. Maybe he had alcohol abuse and all that. But truth is, Lake's singing on the album, while not bad by no means, is simply undistinguishable - one of the main trademarks of ELP is gone. He just growls all the lyrics in a hoarse, rasping voice, any stretching out is out of the question.

No, wait, not just one of the trademarks. The album is credited to ELP all right, but where is Carl Palmer? The drums are all computer-processed, sticking to the familiar Eighties/Nineties beat. Why the hell did they need Carl so badly? The stupid rhythms on this record could have been played by anybody who's taken a one-week course of drumming. I even have a shivering suspicion that there have been drum machines employed on half of the tracks. It's a wonder, indeed, how these electronic monsters squeezed the life and energy out of all the fabulous drummers of the past: just look at Phil Collins, for instance, or Alan White, or even Charlie Watts (especially on albums like Undercover and Dirty Work). Same goes for Carl.

That leaves Emerson, and I wouldn't say that he's too intent on recreating the past glories either. Sure, he does get a sprawling piano solo ('Close To Home'), but it's one of his least inspiring classical pieces, and even so, it's the only thing to remind us of 'classical Emerson'. Most of the other songs just feature the same bombastic but ultimately primitive hi-tech synths that he employed on Emerson, Lake & Powell to no special effect: the days of brilliant instrumental techniques are certainly over. And his take on Prokofiev's 'Romeo And Juliet' cannot be considered anything different from a mocking self-parody: the tune is so well known all over the world that reprising it on this record in a synthy arrangement is purely offensive. 'Nutrocker' was fast and ridiculous, at least.

So? Can this really be judged an ELP album, what with the primary trademarks dissolved and abandoned? Of course not, this is just an oblique imitation. Still, there are a couple tracks that save the record from being a total flop. Lake gets to sing some interesting ballads in his famous acoustic/bombastic style: the album closer 'Footprints In The Snow' is warm and tasty, and 'Affairs Of The Heart' has some good acoustic guitar as well. If you're looking for catchiness, I can also recommend 'Paper Blood', a menacing song in the 'Knife Edge' vein (moodwise, of course, because the melody and production style are entirely different) which rocks along in a generic, but memorable way. The other stuff is totally forgettable: there is yet another overblown anti-war anthem ('Farewell To Arms') that doesn't hold a candle to 'Lay Down Your Guns', mostly due to Lake's loss of voice again, and both the title track and 'Better Days' are murky synth/drumfests that creak and fall apart like a badly-oiled machine. In their defense, though, 'Farewell To Arms' can seem impressive as one of those 'epic nostalgic' numbers performed by fading rock stars that cause a respectful reaction just, well, because of the weight of 'em; and 'Black Moon' can also grow on you after a while once you discern that behind the stupid robotic 'ba-da-BOOM ba-da-BOOM ba-da-BOOM' of Palmer's drums (drum machines?) there's actually a real melody to be found, albeit a wimpy and hideously simplistic one.

There's also a terrible six-minute instrumental ('Changing States') which is probably the most obvious and blatant waste of space on the record. Hey, I wouldn't want to waste my chance of mentioning the special banalities in choosing the tracks' names - for almost every one of them you can find an older counterpart by somebody else ('Affairs Of The Heart' by Fleetwood Mac; 'Burning Bridges' by Pink Floyd; 'Footprints' by Paul McCartney; and, well, how worse can you entitle a song than 'Farewell To Arms'?)

In all, I get the feeling that nobody was really interested in making this sound like a good record. How could this be the primal aim if everything that made the band so good in the first place is totally gone? My guess is that the guys just wanted to tour and used the album as a pretext to unfurl the old and tattered battle standart. The guess might be wrong, but that doesn't alter the fact that Black Moon is, apart from three or four songs, an unlistenable mess of primitive tunes that certainly tarnish the band's reputation as badly as possible. Lesson number One: if you're building up a band reunion, first try and find some twenty-year old outtakes. Otherwise, be warned that reunion albums do tend to suck. Pity, but it's true.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

One of their most 'normal' albums, if you know what I mean. But not in an offensive way!


Track listing: 1) Hand Of Truth; 2) Daddy; 3) One By One; 4) Heart On Ice; 5) Thin Line; 6) Man In The Long Black Coat; 7) Change; 8) Give Me A Reason To Stay; 9) Gone Too Soon; 10) Street War; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Pictures At An Exhibition.

I guess this album, just like Love Beach, is gonna hurt all the twisted and raving ELP fans ve-e-e-ry badly. But for me it works, and I honestly consider it to be much more listenable than the nearly horrendous Black Moon. What happened here is that the guys finally settled down into old age - without trying to sound hip or pretentious or ambitious, they just ditched out a collection of no-bullshit modern pop songs, some of which are on the brink of cheesy, but none of which (except maybe 'Thin Line') seem to really go overboard. The album mostly showcases Lake: Emerson, who just had had an operation on his right hand, never engages in lengthy piano solos or synth noodlings (which doesn't mean that the album is totally deprived of keyboard work, though; it's just a little more restrained), while Palmer still sticks in the background. To be honest, though, I must say that the drumwork isn't nowhere near as irritating as on Black Moon: they still use drum machines on a couple of tracks, but at least they don't stick to that mechanical four-four beat on every track, and even if the drums still do not really contribute anything to the sound, they don't spoil it neither.

As for Greg, he seems to have made peace with his new croaking voice - he doesn't even try to make it sound like in the old days, but instead tries to find a new vocal style, and sometimes it works. If you can manage not to evoke memories of his glorious past, you might even like it. Moreover, there's plenty of guitarwork on the album, and it seems that he's trying to compensate the lack of voice for tasty acoustic fills and menacing electric riffs now and then. Believe me or not, but it works - they manage to sound both contemporary and satisfactory at once. There is a 'live' feeling about most of the songs, and that's good! They managed to fit in the Nineties without losing all sheen and polish.

The main attraction, though, are the songs. Of course, this is no progressive rock for all I care, and anybody who thought ELP would really be going into recreating the weird, symphonic compositions of the early Seventies had better give up on the idea. This is solid, attractive pop, kinda like the Collins-led Genesis at their very best. A couple of tracks still stink: on 'Thin Line' they stick too much to dance rhythms, drum machines and generic female choruses, and 'Change' is a piece of overblown pseudo-metal with irritating nursery-rhyme style lyrics and singing, while a couple others are just not very memorable ('Gone Too Soon'). But the anthemic numbers are good, like the opening 'Hand Of Truth', and the ballads are convincing: 'Heart On Ice', in fact, could easily rank among the classics, if only people would broaden the horizons and let ELP get away with making solid pop songs.

'Daddy' could be considered a throwaway if not for the terrifying lyrics (was this an autobiographic event or not? I wasn't able to find anything: did Greg really lose a daughter or was this pure fiction? Anyway, the song still sends shivers down my back, and I suppose it could send shivers down the back of anyone who has a kid). And the rockers are authentic, too, especially the furious, non-stopping 'Street War' where they try to recapture a little of the ancient magic.

The best song on the whole album, though, is a Dylan cover called 'Man In The Long Black Coat'. I hardly even remember the original (from Oh Mercy it was, wasn't it? I think it was among the best songs on there, but heck, I'd rather not think too much of that period of Dylan's work), but our prog/pop combo give it a thrilling, exciting arrangement, so that the song should be considered as one of their most 'dangerous-sounding'. The grumbling guitar riff in the verses is, in fact, just fantastic, even if it's a far cry from what we consider to be 'the real ELP'.

The big surprise is the 'bonus track' (available on CD only). Guess what it is? A short re-recording of 'Pictures At An Exhibition'! Why the hell they needed to do this escapes me for the moment (it isn't even a live version), but it sure sounds different from the original. This is, of course, mostly due to Lake's voice, but amazingly he still pulls it off with decency - oh well, at least he manages to hit the right notes most of the time, and that's a big advantage already. On some parts Keith goes with a more bombastic, almost symphonic approach (like on 'The Gnome', where the opening creaky synth notes are replaced by organs and booming drums), and it works just as well: in fact, I have a suspicion some ELP fans, as well as some non-ELP fans, will eagerly prefer this shortened version. And it has 'The Sage', too! How clever of them!

Yup. In brief, if this is going to be the last ELP studio album (and if I got it right, they parted ways for good a few months ago), count me satisfied. After all, it would be naive to suppose they could have done anything better, now wouldn't it? Although a duet of Lake and Eminem would have sounded nice, I guess. Why do we always have Elton John to do all the dirty work, anyway?



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Maybe the idea of comparing ELP in 1974 with ELP in 1998 wasn't that good after all. But somehow, it works.


Track listing: 1) Toccata; 2) Take A Pebble; 3) Karn Evil 9; 4) A Time And Place; 5) Piano Concerto No. 1; 6) From The Beginning; 7) Karn Evil 9; 8) Tiger In A Spotlight; 9) Hoedown; 10) Touch And Go; 11) Knife Edge; 12) Bitches Crystal; 13) Honky Tonk Train Blues; 14) Take A Pebble; 15) Lucky Man; 16) Fanfare For The Common Man/Blue Rondo A La Turk; 17) 21st Century Schizoid Man/America.

This is a somewhat obscure release, but it's official, so completists need to track this down. The idea upon which this live album is based is a little strange, though. Basically, about two thirds of the first diskus present us with excerpts from a 1974 concert (the so-called 'California Jam', actually, quite a notorious happening for 1974 - headlined by Deep Purple, and this reminds me - please go see my Purple reviews) that nobody who's already got Welcome Back from the same epoch really needs, while all the other stuff is taken from ELP's recent (and most probably last ever) tour. Now I don't know what kind of idea the guys really had, but combining the old and new stuff on a single disc wasn't a good one. Maybe they thought: 'okay, let us just include some of the older stuff to show the world that we don't really play much worse nowadays'. In which case, the band members do not really display traces of modesty. Because it's obvious that they simply can't play as well as, not to mention better than, on their classic period concerts. Lake's voice has somewhat improved since his Black Moon problems (he quit smoking, they say), but it's still weaker, hoarser and darker than before; Palmer still relies too much on electronics; and Emerson is a little bit too hard on hi-tech synths that give the whole performance a somewhat mechanical and artificial feel. You can't help but return to the first half of the album or, better still, to Welcome Back My Friends.

Still, that's no big problem. I won't discuss the 'Cal Jam' here because all of the selections can be easily found on Welcome Back, which I already reviewed. Suffice it to say that big accent is placed on excerpts from 'Karn Evil 9' and the expanded 'Take A Pebble' suite (which is unexplainably lacking the beginning part - they plough right into 'Still... You Turn Me On'). Suffice it also to say that the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired; at times, it sounds like they're playing underground while the recording equipment is resting above.

As for the 'new' portion, it is quite eclectic, drawing on all periods of the band except the latest; that is to say, there's nothing from Black Moon (which is great) or In The Hot Seat (which isn't really terribly regrettable, either). There are some surprises, too, like 'Touch And Go' from the Powell album, here done in a slightly different arrangement that makes the song even more accessible. And the two closing medleys are impressive. First, they do a twenty-minute long version of 'Fanfare For The Common Man' which includes not only excerpts from 'Rondo' again, but even musical quotes from Rimsky-Korsakoff and dozens of little tricks that Keith is so known and loved for - the number does get a little boring in the middle, especially due to the ten millionth Palmer solo that seems to go on for longer than ever, but overall most of the sections are strong and really feel live. And then they suddenly crash into King Crimson's '21st Century Schizoid Man', a wee bit disappointing because it cuts off right at the beginning of the middle jam section - just when you expected them to really rock out - and goes off into 'America' (not the Simon & Garfunkel one, the one that the Nice covered off 'Westside Story'). Still, what fun, eh?

The other stuff is all decent, too - apart from Lake's 'From The Beginning' which I was never able to appreciate that much because, anyway, it hadn't grown itself a discernible melody since we last heard it, now did it, and apart from the obligatory excerpt from 'Karn Evil 9', all the material ranks among the group's best. And yes, Lake did manage to adjust his voice to the old stuff, so that even 'Take A Pebble', the one number that requires the most vocal efforts, does not scare me or make me wrinkle my nose at all. I repeat, though, that it was a grand mistake to put this on the same album with an earlier version.

'Knife Edge' and 'Hoedown' are among the highlights, but why should I bother myself with the setlist? It's decent, you gotta trust me. As a special b-b-bonus, Greg Lake kindly donates you an excellent (if you don't count the corny synths) rendition of 'A Time And A Place', which, according to his own words, the band had never performed live before. Oh well. Shouldn't have made it sound so darn close to the 'Tarkus' suite, I guess - people would get fidgety and not really notice when one song segues into another. Speaking of which, I'd by far prefer a little bit of 'Tarkus' on here than the endless 'Karn Evil 9' quotations, but that's just me fidgeting. It's weird with those ELP crowds - 'Karn Evil 9' sounds something like a beer-drinkin' cheer-raisin' number with them. Kinda like some other notorious band's 'You Shook Me All Night Long', understand?

So, if you're not afraid of modern production values - Keith oughta be despised for greedily grappling every last technical innovation - and the little, but noticeable modernized updates of the ELP sound which I already mentioned, feel free to track this down and grab it, because in no way is the album offensive; on the contrary, like all of the ELP live albums, it's quite enjoyable. Oh, excepting the fact that there is absolutely no reason for its existence, of course, unless you want to write a thesis on the gradual erosion of Greg Lake's voice.

But can you solve my burning question? How does Emerson play that accelerating keyboard riff at the end of 'Karn Evil 9'? It's impossible for a live person to do! Reassure me that this is just a clever programming of the synthesizer!



Year Of Release: 1972

Eeek. You don't know how it's hard to get a 'classic years' video of any prog rock band - there are tons of fresh or 're-union' videos lying around, but what I'm looking for is the real product. And when you finally get the real product, you're quite often hugely disappointed. This is a short (about forty minutes long) video of ELP in concert playing one thing and one thing only, namely, 'Pictures At An Exhibition'. As far as I understand, the video and the album come from the same source. However, where the album was at least somewhat entertaining, the film is certainly not. It was a product of its epoch, of course, and I fully understand it; but in retrospect the visual effects look dated and the documentary character of the film is spoiled, so you get nothing. At times the band is seen clearly, and it's fun to see Keith having fun with his synths or see Palmer deliver an immaculate drum pattern (although Lake looks like he's falling asleep most of the time, even when he's singing). But even more often the screen gets dimmed and you either see the band glimmering in blue and green lights or they just fade away completely (on the 'Curse Of Baba Yaga') and you get to observe rows of idiotic comic strips flowing through the screen for what seems like ages. And they don't even play 'Nut rocker'! Nah, by all means skip it if you don't want to waste your money for seeing a few minutes of a live Keith Emerson in his prime. Better still, get the Message of Love video where there's about six or seven minutes of their first public appearance at the Isle of Wight. At least there are no comic strips.


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