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"When I WA-A-A-A-AS young..."

Class D

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Psychedelia, Art Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Nice fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Nice fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Mmm, nice. Or not very nice? Bet you haven't even heard of them, if you're not a fan already.

Hey now, cut the crap! The Nice are a band unique in all senses. Sure, they made only five albums, and only one of them (maybe two, 'cause I still haven't got Ars Longa Vita Brevis) has really significant artistic value, I mean, has enough value to be valuable and listenable at the same time. But it's not a coincidence that I once caught myself repeating the tricky way of Wilson & Alroy - praising the Nice in the introduction paragraph and actually condemning most of their records for self-indulgence and tediousness. Because, as inconsistent as these guys were, their cultural importance is impossible to underrate: this is the first prog rock band, the combo that started it all. Not the first band to merge rock with classical music, of course - both the Moody Blues and Procol Harum had already bothered to do that by the time the Nice arrived on stage, but it was the Nice who kicked the bottom out of the 'pop music' barrel and came out with compositions like 'Rondo' - completely groundbreaking at the time. The Nice were to prog rock what Cream were to hard rock: the forefathers, whose merits were increased and superated by more inventive followers. Of course, tradition usually names King Crimson as the band that started real prog rock, in its most well-known and also most easily accessible form: where that band managed to churn out rock music that benefited from jazz and classical stylisations, the Nice just shoved all the genres together in a messy, unstructured melting-pot without second thought. They did not even bother whether this approach would work at all, because the very thought of a rock band re-arranging entire pieces by Sibelius and Ravel accompanied by a full-blown symphonic orchestra was so revolutionary and amazing at the time (and remember, this was the time of Sgt Pepper, when one of rock music's main goals was to demonstrate its competence as a 'serious' genre) that the 'entertaining' criteria were just not there - nobody gave a damn.

Unfortunately, this leads to the sad fact that a large percent (actually, more than half) of everything the Nice ever put out has dated, and dated badly. In 1969 people just gaped with open mouths at Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson extending Dylan's 'She Belongs To Me' to a twelve-minute running time and engaging in all kinds of mind-blowing gimmicks on the way. Nowadays, at best we just shrug our shoulders and say: 'So what?', and at worst, with horrible screams of 'EEEEK! This singer has an AWFUL voice!' throw the album away. All these pieces are now more of a priceless historical document - a vital link to the understanding of the development of rock music and maturation of the 'progressive' genre. Frankly speaking, I can't even imagine how could a typical Nice fan look like now, and I never fell upon even a single one on the Web. If anybody knows anything about the Nice, it's usually represented in the idea of 'that crappy band where Keith Emerson played before ELP'. The scarce existing reviews of the Nice are more often negative than positive, and finding a Nice tribute site is a task equivalent to the one of finding an Allen Klein homepage.

Which, of course, is more than unjust. Even with all their faults, the Nice were still a highly interesting band, and, even if not all their output is listenable today, that doesn't mean they produced nothing but crap. This is simply not true. Yes, the band never had a great songwriter; their lead vocalist is one of the most obvious examples of a prog vocalist with the shittiest voice possible; yes, their guitarist left in the midst of recording sessions for their second album, depriving them of their 'rock' element forever; and yes, they liked to engage in lengthy, pointless jams that started out of nowhere and led nowhere (then again, who didn't at the time?) But they were all extremely talented and gifted players and arrangers, and their keyboard player was acknowledged as best rock organist already at that time. Their classical excourses were brave and tasteful, and might well convert even a stubborn rock lover. And their gimmickry, though not always 'pleasant', at least made for a diverse listen with unexpected surprises - where Cream and the like might just stand like assholes (sorry) and jam for hours, the Nice tried to make their jams entertaining and flashy. My advice is to grab hold of the band's first album at all costs - it is one of the forgotten gems of 1968 - and then carefully proceed to the others if you liked it. But only if you liked it very much, mind you.

Lineup: Keith Emerson - piano, organ, silly noises, feedback, knife-throwing, etc.; Lee Jackson - bass, vocals (horror!); Brian Davison - drums; David O'List - guitar. O'List was an impressive guitarist; unfortunately, he quit in 1968, only after about a year of work. The rest carried on as the Bloody Triad till 1970, when, as you all know, Keith Emerson had another crazy idea...



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

It's easy to see the beginnings of prog in this overall pop album...

Best song: RONDO

Track listing: 1) Flower King Of Flies; 2) The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack; 3) Bonnie K; 4) Rondo; 5) War And Peace; 6) Tantalising Maggie; 7) Dawn; 8) The Cry Of Eugene.

Ooh yeah. As obscure as the Nice really are, they were a first-rate band - the best, actually, in that short-lived glorious epoch when progressive tendencies were not yet seen as a self-aim, but rather tried to be painlessly incorporated into the usual pop/rock trends. Thus, this record tries to (and ultimately succeeds in) marrying Beatles-inspired pop to classical music, heavily borrowing from Jimi Hendrix on the way. I must confess that it took me a really long time to get into it, but it was worth the while - now I can't seem to get the line 'flower king of flies' out of my head...

If you don't know it (or, better still, if you haven't yet read the intro paragraph), the Nice in 1968 consisted of Keith Emerson on keyboards, David O'List on guitar, Brian Davison on lead guitar and Lee Jackson on bass (if you're puzzled about the italicized segments, you'd better check out your IQ). Like I said, these guys were keen on revolutionizing rock music, and in a certain way they did so, but you wouldn't have guessed it from this album, of course, if you were to omit the best song... but let's deal with this in a correct manner. If you hate ELP more than income tax and have made a solemn vow not to touch anything that bears the name of Emerson on it, you're making a big mistake: this album sounds nothing like ELP. As I said, their biggest influence were still the Beatles, plus their guitarist was really a big fan of Jimi, adding 'psychedelic' and heavily distorted, rip-roaring leads everywhere. He hasn't got the needed skill, of course, but there's no way you could deny the professionalism, and the main riff of 'Bonnie K' is as good as anything Jimi ever penned in person (except for 'Purple Haze', of course, which is often correctly denoted as a song with one of the best riffs in rock). Emerson himself hadn't yet discovered his synths, chiefly because they still weren't invented (or at least, went subject to mass production), and mostly sticks to piano and Hammond organ, and his mastery of everything that has got keys on top is already unsurpassed. The only big problem with the band is that they lacked a vocalist - bassist Lee Jackson was probably the closest to a 'singing talent' they could get, but he still couldn't sing worth a damn. The band, apparently, realized that as well, which is the reason for which his vocals are either drenched in harmonies and drowned in choruses ('Flower King Of Flies'), or masked by some furious shouting and screaming ('Bonnie K'), or distorted to the point of total neutralization ('Tantalising Maggie'), or almost non-existent, being replaced by a chilly, creepy whisper ('Dawn'), or, well, totally non-existent, like on the lengthy instrumentals 'Rondo' and 'War And Peace'. The only tune, in fact, where he boldly steps up to the microphone, is the pompous title track, and while it's not bad per se (actually, it's a first-rate pop anthem), you sure wish they'd bothered to recruit a professional singer. They probably didn't want to share the royalties that were rather scarce anyway. That's the way it goes.

Still, this is not ELP, this is the Nice, and you shouldn't go for vocals when you're about this band. Instead, concentrate on the impressive songwriting - most of the songs are co-written by two or more members of the band, and they're usually splendid. 'Flower King Of Flies' and the title track deceive you into thinking this is going to be a super-duper soft-pop record with elements of orchestration along the lines of Sgt Pepper, but as the crunchy riffwork of 'Bonnie K' steps in you're left with a strong conviction that the guys can really rock. 'Dawn' shows the band as a spooky dark-psycho unit - there's not much of a melody on here, but the atmosphere is really shuddering, if you only can get adjusted to that ominous, murky whispering. 'Tantalising Maggie' is a silly electrified country throwaway, and 'The Cry Of Eugene', a song that supposedly inspired Pink Floyd for their most famous song title, is a nice, although pointless and probably meaningless, ballad. That said, the record's centerpiece is undoubtedly the nine-minute 'Rondo': this pseudo-classical piece that was later reworked on their third album under the title 'Rondo '69' (also known as 'Blue Rondo A La Turk') and stil later became a regular ELP live favourite, is simply breathtaking. The big superstar of the composition is Keith, of course, who milks his Hammond to the extreme, culminating in a series of flashy riffs that are among his well-known (you know them too, don't you? That 'wheeeez - wheeeez - ta-ta-ta-ta-ta - wheeeez - wheeez...', sorry, I'd give the chords if I knew them. However, O'List also shines here, adding some crisp, tasty leads, and asserting that this track, the longest on the album, never gets boring. Unfortunately, the other instrumental, 'War And Peace', is not that good, even if it has some more cool guitarwork, but it's just not as memorable and next to 'Rondo' pales in its shadow.

My edition of the CD adds three bonus tracks culled from contemporary singles, one of which is rather throwaway ('The Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon'), but the other two are essential: 'Azrael (Angel Of Death)' is a gloomy, repetitive and slightly pompous march that foreshadows the later Nice, and their version of 'America' (nay, not the Simon song, but the adaptation from West Side Story) was also a landmark in prog history, although I confess that I find it more important from this historical point of view than from any other. Still, it's just me. I honestly recommend the album in its whole - the American bastard recording companies seem intent on never letting Nice material see the light of day, but search for it in the import bins if you're rich or in the used bins if you're poor. That way or the other, you might get lucky someday and have a chance to appreciate the band as well as me.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Revolutionary? You bet it is! Not very listenable, though.


Track listing: 1) Daddy Where Did I Come From; 2) Little Arabella; 3) Happy Freuds; 4) Intermezzo From The Karelia Suite/Don Edito El Gruva; 5) Ars Longa Vita Brevis.

This one's a classic, but only from a socially oriented point of view. I don't want to start arguing about whether this one was THE quintessential first full-fledged "progressive rock' product, or if the Beatles or Frank Zappa did this stuff first; thing is, 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis', the major mastodontic suite that occupies the entire second side, is unquestionably the first firmly focused merger of r-o-c-k instrumentation with classical overtones and orchestra, and it certainly was not intended by Emerson and company to sound like a 'goofy' experiment or a minor funny 'chink'; it was consciously approached as a serious and daring innovation, and should be at least respected as such.

Respected, if not necessarily enjoyed. I do give the 'concert' thumbs up, considering that nobody came up with that idea before and it was bound to sound clumsy and pointless and all; but it's not like I'd like to ever listen to it again. If anything, subsequent efforts by Procol Harum, Yes, Caravan, and even ELP themselves have pretty much annihilated the suite's value. It's still listenable, of course, even if only in parts. Thus, the 'concert' (symphony? suite? what should I call it?) opens very promisingly with a fresh, sparkling organ solo against an orchestral background, but then just after a couple minutes falls apart in an avantgarde jazz fashion (okay, so this, too, was revolutionary - whoever in Britain had heard of free jazz motives in rock before?), after which it alternates from crazy piano boogies to paranoid drum solos with Davison crashing on all he can find around to delicate little baroque pieces with harpsichords to Emerson's usual hooliganry with the organs, already present on the previous album but yet to reach its peak on the self-titled record. But listenable or not, it's just not very beautiful, and it's not very... mmm... well, what do I really need to say? Ah, yeah! It ain't impressive. So there. It's just innovative.

In that respect, the lengthy rock-classical piece on the first side - 'Intermezzo From The Karelia Suite', an adaptation of a Sibelius piece - works far better, I think. After all, it's a decent classical composition whose melody largely remains the same, and the organ/bass/drums treatment of it is far more concentrated and energetic than the entire suite on the second side. Especially when Emerson launches into the feedback grunts of the organ torture at the end, of course! Ooh, I love those grunts! (I do pity the organ, though). Now there's a prog-rock trick that works, and no wonder most ELP arrangements of classical stuff sound in a similar way. (Note that the Karelia Suite was also performed live on Five Bridges, in an inferior way as far as I understand).

But hey there, sue me and crucify me, the bastard pop loving soul deep down inside me still insists on taking the first three tracks off the album and extolling them as the cutest ones, even if they are the least innovative. Remember that Ars Longa is sort of a transitional album - O'List quit the band in the middle of the recording sessions, and so doesn't play on these 'poppy' songs at all; as for Emerson and Jackson, they were clearly beginning to surmise that they were already beyond writing short hook-filled compositions, but they still included these three Emerlist Davjack-wannabe numbers, and a good thing they did, too. 'Daddy Where Did I Come From' is hilarious, a little psychedelic suite dedicated to the problem of, um, procreation, that goes from fast boogie tempo into a terrifying sonic mess a la early Pink Floyd (I'd even say that at times Emerson makes his organ give out the exact same sounds as Syd Barrett extracted from his guitar on 'Interstellar Overdrive', but don't really quote me on that). 'Little Arabella', my personal favourite, is a little happy-sounding jazzy ditty that nevertheless has enough potential to explode into a solid brass-infested symphonic sound and whose overdubbed piano/organ interplay is lightweight, funny and thrilling - as far as keyboard solos can actually go in the thrill department, that is. Even Lee Jackson's singing on the song isn't nearly as horrid as it would become later on.

Then there's always 'Happy Freuds', of course, the most Emerlist-like song on the album, with a majestic organ-and-drum pattern upholding the song while Mr Jackson is importantly blurting out the usual psychedelic nonsense. The 'I say to you, you don't know you' section sounds irritatingly clumsy to my ears, maybe because it has some deeply hidden nursery connotations my inner senses try to reject, but then again I really wouldn't want to delve too deep in my subconscious or we'll never get anywhere special. The vocal harmonies rule.

That's one pathetically dippy review, of course, and there's probably a lot more that could be said about the album, but I'm not exactly in a Nice mood now, so here's a pretentious final remark: it's one of those rare cases when I'm actually willing to throw on an extra point for 'serious historical importance'. Geez, I can't believe how many imitators this record must have spawned (and far from everyone actually managed to superate it). So the maths are simple - first side gets an 11, second side gets an 8, that comes to around 10, and... uh... ah well. Weak 11. But whatever, I'm not the math guy. I just happen to tell you that Emerson fellow plays a mean organ, in case you didn't know that already.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Pathetic. You know, Keith Emerson is a good lad, but he can't really pull out an album all by himself...

Best song: RONDO (69)

Track listing: 1) Azrael Revisited; 2) Hang On To A Dream; 3) Diary Of An Empty Day; 4) For Example; 5) Rondo (69); 6) She Belongs To Me.

O'List probably never meant it, but he dealt the Nice a death blow when he left in the midst of the sessions for Ars Longa Vita Brevis in the fall of '68. The band's main selling and artistic point lied in the crazy interplay between his maniacal guitar chops and Emerson's frantic organ playing, and now one of the two key elements was gone. Even worse, it now becomes obvious that O'List was also the main songwriting force for the band - without him, they were simply at a loss for solid material. Keith could throw in some classical improvisations, of course, but everybody knows that as a pop songwriter his talents only surpass those of Elvis Presley. Add to this the rather standard playing of the rhythm section and Lee Jackson's horrible singing voice, and you get a clear case of a band in a terrible mess.

They had some better choices to take, of course. They could have simply disbanded on the spot; for some reason, though, Keith preferred to preserve the band. A possible exit would be to find a new guitarist, which they wouldn't (couldn't? that's a question!) do, preferring to carry on as a trio. The result is that the amount of new studio material on the band's next three albums is down to a minimum, and even then the number of self-penned compositions is miserable. This record (still viewed by many as a classic, and I'm not gonna make a definite 'no') is an obvious case. The second side is all live, concentrating on two lengthy jams: a guitar-less take on 'Rondo' (here entitled 'Rondo (69)') and a twelve-minute cover of Dylan's 'She Belongs To Me'. The first side is studio work, but only two of the numbers ('Diary Of An Empty Day' and 'For Example') are fresh originals, because the other two are a re-arranged version of 'Azrael' and a cover of Tim Hardin's 'Hang On To A Dream'.

The quality of most of these songs also leaves you wishing for better. As I said, Emerson is a really weak composer, and so is Jackson. Their two originals are absolutely structureless, unmemorable ramblings that threaten to fall apart at every second, and only Keith's masterful piano/organ work manages to pull them together - listen to his fills on 'Diary Of An Empty Day', and if you succeed to concentrate on them you might even forget about the loathsomeness of Jackson's singing the fast vocal melody, completely incompatible with the capacities of his voice. And on 'For Example' Keith even ventures into a full-fledged jazz jam with tasteful solos that later reappeared in many places on ELP's albums ('Take A Pebble' is the most obvious example); maybe the general effect from the song is kinda stiffling, but it's worth hearing it if only for the masterful organ intro, later expanded on the 'Tarkus' suite - only Keith could pull off stuff like that at the time. Same goes with 'Hang On To A Dream' which is almost spoiled by female backup voices and generic, unimaginative orchestration, but then recovers with more great keyboard work - clearly, Keith was deemed the mule on whose back the other two band members would manage to ride. The only self-sustained song on the first side is therefore left in 'Azrael', but we already know that one, and it was done better on the single version, although Keith's electric piano here is well worth hearing as well. Still, an album's worth of great keyboard work does wear me down - I sorely miss variety, and I get none. Time for me to get used to treating electric piano, acoustic piano and the organ as completely separate instruments that have nothing to do with each other, I suppose. Enough of that stupid 'keyboards' definition! Don't pigeonhole the instruments, I say.

Okay, let's move on to the live jams. The real nasty problem is hidden here. Okay, Keith does let off some steam on 'Rondo' - while the lack of guitar is very, very pitiful, he almost compensates for it by pulling every known trick out of his sleeve. The fact that the organ is brought much higher into the mix than on the original also helps - you don't have to be distracted by that noodling 'do-droom-do-droom-do-droom' bass line all the time. I wonder if Keith threw knives at the organ in the process or was he just swirling it across the stage as was his usual custom, bashing at it with his feet and fists? Whatever, 'Rondo' is a great song, and unless somebody else plays it, it's hard to imagine it ruined - the mighty climaxes are just as climactic as ever.

However, the excruciating, painful jam built around 'She Belongs To Me' is an atrocious listening experience. First of all, Jackson really can't sing worth a crap - Dylan's voice sounds like Jose Carreras in comparison. Okay, so he doesn't even try, but that's small consolation. And the trippy, avant-garde arragement that they offer can't be called anything else but butchering the classic: it is so clumsy, artificial and stupidly pompous that I'd really be prepared to slap Keith for lack of good taste. Not to mention that it's so quiet and lethargic - when the band suddenly picks up steam and starts to 'kick ass' near the end of the song, my attention is already being paid to something else and I can't even get it back. And it would be okay if it were short (we'd just forget about it in a moment), but to let it drag on for twelve minutes? Gee, man, they must have really been out of ideas. I ditched the album a whole two points for that criminy, and I'll probably never regret it. Well, it's a good thing that they didn't carry on making these crappy Lee Jackson records for very long, anyway.

But please don't think too harshly of that stupid 'eight' rating. I still think highly of this band's and even this particular incarnation's of it and even this particular album's potential. It simply sets a very high plank which, unfortunately, they really weren't capable to jump over without a guitarist in the picture. This, and the murky singing. Hell, in the hands of ELP all these songs could have been winners.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

The Nice at their most pretentious. I like how this sounds, actually, but it's a full-blown classical album, and that's a fact.

Best song: look, what would you expect me to write here if you haven't even heard this album? 'HIGH LEVEL FUGUE 4TH BRIDGE'?

Track listing: 1) Fantasia 1st Bridge/2nd Bridge; 2) Chorale 3rd Bridge; 3) High Level Fugue 4th Bridge; 4) Finale 5th Bridge; 5) Intermezzo Karelia Suite; 6) Pathetique No. 6 3rd Movement; 7) Country Pie/Brandenburg Concerto No. 6; 8) One Of Those People.

This album is much more available packaged together with the following (Elegy) under the title Keith Emerson With The Nice. However, in that case you won't get the two bonus tracks on the original Five Bridges, so if you're a fan, you still gotta scan the used bins. On to the review now.

Right. What's the best way to resuscitate your career if you're just plain unable to write a short pop song any more? Why, get away with a classical symphony, of course! This is exactly what our three unhappy dudes preferred to go through on this album. It's all live, from top to bottom, recorded with the London Symphony orchestra, and includes (a) the famous 'Five Bridges Suite', co-written by Emerson and Jackson, (b) live recordings of Sibelius' 'Karelia Suite' and Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique (3rd Movement)', plus a couple bonus tracks. If you're looking for 'rock' music, this is definitely not the place: the band is so drowned out by the orchestra that you have to filter 'em out of the sound panorama like a bunch of little fishes from a net. And this is not an easy task, I tell ya! Okay, Keith obviously feels totally at home with the orchestra: after all, he's a classical musician by nature, and his organ sound manages to fit in marvelously. However, the drummer and (especially) the bassist just don't seem to figure out what to do - most of the time they don't seem to be playing anything. When I hear 'Pathetique', for instance, I can't help wondering why it is credited to the Nice - you can hear nothing but the orchestra; Keith is probably in there somewhere, but where exactly, I'm not quite sure. Jackson and Davison are definitely not there. Taking a wild guess, I'd suppose these two guys were not entirely happy with this whole stuff.

Fortunately, the music is good. I'm no big classical fan, but at least I'm able to appreciate the 'Suite'. It starts with five minutes of pure classical vibes, with strong emphasis on the horns, and sounds like a cross between Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, but it never transcends the border between 'artistic' and 'cheesy'. If you want to find this difference, I'd advise you to check out the Moody Blues' Days Of Future Passed and compare the two bands' approaches towards what they both consider to be 'classical' - you'll see that, while the Moodies were content with that crappy Disneyesque, generic Hollywoodish stuff, Keith Emerson really gave the orchestra some, well, authentic material, whatever that might really mean to you.

The band kicks in a bit later, on '4th Bridge', with a lengthy jazz jam; unfortunately, in the middle of this jam you'll also find Lee Jackson singing, like some kind of particularly badass monster waiting for you in the middle of a labyrinth in a computer game. Hey, but wait now - the funny thing is, some of the sung sections would later be resuscitated by ELP! Seriously now, that fast bit in 'Finale' sounds as if it was taken directly from Tarkus (actually, I think it was later re-written as 'Bitches Crystal'). Isn't that cool? Serious ELP fans really need to check out this album.

Then there's the second side, of course. What can be said? If you want me to really discuss the good and bad sides of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, you'll just have to wait. Here I'll just say that the Sibelius piece is, of course, interrupted near the end by some of Emerson's wildest antics that culminate in a lengthy, ear-destructive set of organ feedback noises. Ever heard some organ feedback? Well, if you haven't, it sounds about ten times as dreadful as guitar feedback. Like a couple dozen motorcycles roaring and then exploding at once. Guess old Keith was just shocking the audience - yeah, indeed, why not diversify some pretty old classical music with some murky apocalyptic noises? Very avant-garde, too! Very shitty, goes without saying. But it's not very long, and it's near the end of the track, so you can just skip it. And as for Tchaikovsky's piece, well, you'll just be able to enjoy it in its nine-minute entirety with no serious fuck-ups. It's totally dispensable, though - the band adds nothing to it, and you should better get the original.

My CD also adds two bonus tracks, probably from the same concert. The first is boldly titled 'Country Pie/Brandenburg Concerto No. 6', and credited, as you might have guessed, to Dylan & Bach. I must say, though that this funny little collaboration between Mr Dylan and Mr Bach (I'm sure both got a maximum amount of pleasure of having to work with each other) gets covered in quite a decent way: Jackson's usual horrendous voice sounds almost funny (probably because the song itself is deemed to sound funny and throwaway-ish, unlike 'She Belongs To Me' and definitely unlike 'My Back Pages', about which see below), and the gap in between the two parts (I know this sounds crazy, but it is so) is hardly noticeable. Hah! Another mystification, is it? Could be. The second track, though, is useless, a boring 'organ rocker' that should rank among the band's most uninteresting original tunes ('One Of Those People').

An intriguing album, in fact. Pretentious, classical, lengthy, boring, etc., etc., but quite exciting and certainly verry original. I keep it, and so should you - if you'll be able to find it, of course.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

The last and the most self-indulgent Nice album, recommended only for huge Emerson fans.

Best song: AMERICA

Track listing: 1) Hang On To A Dream; 2) My Back Pages; 3) 3rd Movement; 4) America.

By the time this record finally saw the light of day, the Nice were already history - and none too soon. Like the preceding albums, Elegy is a confused hybrid of live and studio recordings, but you couldn't really tell - they all sound like they were recorded over one evening's studio/live jam sessions and tossed over to the public so as to make a final couple of bucks. No way - I doubt whether the album sold at least a couple hundred copies. It's easy to see why, too. There's but four tracks on the whole album, two of which you've already had before and one of which you'd probably never wish to have at all.

Namely, the album starts with a twelve-minute live recording of 'Hang On To A Dream'... but never mind the song titles: all of these 'songs' are just sorry excuses for Keith Emerson to go fiddling away on his instrumental battery. In fact, Jackson's vocals are so low in the background, so stuttering and hasty that you almost get the feeling he's only glad to evacuate the microphone and give way to a classical, then a jazz, then a ragtime and then God-knows-what-other solos. Hmm, it seems that halfway through Keith even goes into boogie-woogie, as I suddenly find myself tapping my foot and bobbing my head. They're actually great, these solos - Keith really was, and still is, the finest keyboard player in existence. But they're kinda pointless, if you know what I mean - what relation do they have to Tim Hardin's melancholic lyrics? Also, what the hell is there happening towards the end of the fifth minute of the song? It actually sounds like Keith was just lugging his keyboards around and then suddenly opening the piano and hitting all the hammers with a stick or something while at the same time playing with his other hand. That's the way I decipher these noises, although I might certainly be wrong...

Then off we go into the real horror of the record - I ditched it two, maybe a complete three points for this. Once again, they butcher a Dylan song! But if I was able to forgive them for re-inventing 'She Belongs To Me', no way is there that I could forgive them for taking a song as great as 'My Back Pages' and turning it into an atrocious parody. No, wait, once again I'll step in favour of Keith: since he keeps his mouth shut, it's all right by me. He actually embellishes the final result with some nice organ and piano solos, some of them coming really close to imitating the original melody; and he displays some of his most complicated technique on here, too. But Jackson's singing is worse than anything I've heard in my life; this is not even a parody, it's just a mockery. Obviously, he is trying to invent hip-hop before its time, isn't he? Anyway, try to make a rap song out of 'My Back Pages', sing it totally off-key (particularly stressing that on the 'you know I'm younger than that now' line) and you'll get the impression. This guy should be forbidden to sing, at least, forbidden to sing Dylan! There is one good point to this, though: come all you haters of Dylan voice, come and witness Lee Jackson doing a Dylan song and let me not hear you complaining that mr Zimmerman's tone is, er, 'wheezy'...

Thankfully, the second side is purely instrumental. Which doesn't mean it's really good, though. First, there's another version of Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' which I again don't personally need to hear very much: if I want to, I'll get the original. Moreover, it isn't even vaguely interesting or captivating, as are ELP's Pictures At An Exhibition. It's just okay. Not offensive, but not essential either - even if this probably was one of the first attempts to get a live rock recording of a classical piece on record. For all their flaws, the Nice were really pioneers of that stuff and must be given praise for that. And then we get presented with a grandiose, flashy version of 'America' together with all the necessary attributes of a Nice (and early ELP as well) show, such as organ-bashing, knife-throwing, weird noisemaking, etc. Unfortunately, the visual effects do not translate very well on record, and the last three or four minutes of the song, filled with organ feedback, are sheer torture. While the song goes on, it's effective, even if it can't help being overshadowed by the studio version; when Emerson starts 'going insane', I follow suit. My ears can't stand that racket, and I feel sorry for those crazy guys who actually take their time to get used to it, calling it "art". I do suppose the audience in the hall was quite perplexed, though, but I also pity the poor organ. At least when Pete Townshend crashed his guitar, its end was short and sweet; Keith sounds like he's slowly pulling out all the sinews from the wretched little instrument, one by one. Bastard. Where's the Nuremberg tribunal?

As I recently found out, the album makes for some perfect background music - all these piano and organ solos really soothe the mind. Must probably work a lot more efficiently than Alka Seltzer, too (although I still haven't tried). But, of course, I can't imagine anyone listening to this for self-contained pleasure. Why waste time on this stuff when you could be gladly headbanging away to the sound of Brain Salad Surgery?

Nevertheless, the record really has a lot of historical importance - after all, it was the prototype of what is now known as the typical live prog rock album: lengthy, imporvisatory pieces with a lot of gall but next to no emotions. In this respect, the fact that it is out of print in the US is simply outrageous. Damn the music industry, I say! Let's all overthrow these bastards and stuff the Web with MP3s! Long live freedom of music!


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