BMG [Release date 26.05/17]
Formed in 1970, Emerson, Lake & Palmer were one of the first progressive rock supergroups, and certainly one of the most successful. Keyboard player, pianist and keen advocate of the Moog Keith Emerson had previously played with The Nice (whose debut widely considered the first ever prog rock album), bassist, guitarist and vocalist Greg Lake had recorded with King Crimson, while drummer Carl Palmer had previously worked with Atomic Rooster. That’s quite a lot of pedigree.
After a number of blistering and extravagant (and equally self-indulgent) albums and tours in the early 70s, Brain Salad Surgery their magnum opus, the band took a break. Here, BMG’s reissue campaign completes the band’s 70s catalogue nicely.
1977’s Works Volume 1, originally a double LP, while a marvellous collection of fantastic music, also shows how fragmented the band had become, with 3 of the 4 sides each effectively solo work, with 1 dedicated to each of the trio, with ELP band efforts on side for.
Side 1, Keith Emerson, is the 18 minute Piano Concerto No 1, with Keith and orchestra, a cohesive piece with orchestra and piano nicely inter woven. Not what the average rock fan (progressive or otherwise) may expect, but it’s a thoroughly enjoy workout.
Greg Lake’s pieces showcase his songwriting skills as well as the power and passion of his voice. From rock to whimsical and balladic and back again, there’s some great tracks here. C’Est La Vie and Hallowed Be Thy Name were issued as singles, and lovely tracks they are too.
Guests on Carl Palmer’s side 3 include Steve Walsh and Keith Emerson, and again there are some rocking tracks, this time the rhythms the centre piece. Tank is a masterpiece in drumming and in pretty much everything else too.
Side 4, the ELP side, features the nine minute Fanfare For The Common Man, a track that all would (and certainly should) recognise, it was a massive hit in edited form too. The 13 minute Pirates is a melodramatic and indulgent piece that is a good a listen now as it was then. No extras. ****
Released later the same year, Works Volume 2 was more a compilation, with band leftovers from previous albums mixed with solo tracks (Keith Emerson’s Honky Tonk Train Blues and Greg Lake’s stripped down I Believe In Father Christmas, the latter a hit in a more orchestrated form). While the original criticism of lack of focus as a complete album still stands, there are some great tracks and a mix of styles, including jazz and ragtime. Brain Salad Surgery was a leftover of the album of the same name 3 years earlier. Bassist Colin Bomber Hodgkinson one of the guests here.
Again avoiding available bonus tracks, here the album is expanded to two discs with the remastered Works Live set. The period live album In Concert was expanded to Works Live in 1993, and that is included here in its entirety. And while it fits and compliments the period perfectly (ELP were always a fantastic live band – do check this out, seriously), it really deserves a release of its own. The cover of “Theme from Peter Gunn” was released as a single back then too. ****
A victim of as much musical fashion as their own indulgence, the writing was on the wall, and 1978’s Love Beach would be the band’s swansong and by many a critic, a nadir.
Recorded in the Bahamas, the album reeked (smelt and sounded) of contractual obligation, and the cover showed it.
There are some fine songs here, the musicianship and songwriting never was the issue, it was just the lack of feeling. The aforementioned indulgences came from an inner passion that just wasn’t there.
Everyone has their own take on the album – I certainly really like a couple of the tracks. If you are interested, get it and make up your own mind. The 20 minutes of Memoirs Of An Officer And A Gentleman are well worth a run through, if only once, by anyone’s standard.
The band split up soon after, and did reform for two studio albums in the 90s (the Three and ELPowell projects aside), and both Emerson and Lake died in 2016, leaving the world short of two of the most talented musicians to grace the groove.
The bonuses are stated as previously unreleased, but there is definite overlap with previous editions of the album. ***
New mastering and expanded sleevenotes do make a superb difference, however the failure to augment previously released bonus tracks does leave the releases slightly short of definitive.
While it would be unfair to expect anything to live up to Tarkus, Trilogy or Brain Salad Surgery, they are still a well deserving part of the collection.
Review by Ed Stone
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