Album review: EMERSON LAKE & PALMER – Fanfare 1970–1997

EMERSON LAKE & PALMER - Fanfare 1970–1997

BMG [Release date 29.09.17]

As the world of prog and rock continue to mourn the sad loss of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, and with Carl Palmer kicking off a tour, we get this mammoth box set that is as overblown and grandiose as you’d expect from prog rock legends Emerson Lake & Palmer.

This ground breaking supergroup found fame in the 70s, and even had a hit single with a cover of Copeland’s ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, before splitting, later reforming for two further albums in the early 90s.

And in addition to some fantastic studio albums, there’s also the epic triple live set Welcome Back My Friends, and a number of retrospective live sets (including 4 8CD official bootlegs), that’s quite a catalogue, one hell of a legacy.

The CD part of the box features the nine original 70’s albums, with the Works Volume 1 and the live album Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends both over 2 CDs each.

Then there’s the Black Moon and In The Hot Seat albums from the early 90s reformation. So from the original catalogue the Works Live set is absent, as is the plethora of retrospective live work (including Then And Now), but the live set included is the dogs bollocks as it is. Then add the triple live LP Live At Velodromo Vigorelli Milan Italy, five live CDs of previously unreleased material, and two replica original 7” singles.

Emerson Lake & Palmer came together in 1970 after The Nice and King Crimson shared a stage. The Nice were originally a backing band for PP Arnold, and featuring pianist and Moog innovator Keith Emerson, their 1967 debut widely credited as the first progressive rock release. King Crimson featured bassist / vocalist Greg Lake, and the trio were completed by Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. A genuine supergroup indeed.

The band’s debut featured some great progressive tracks, and had both folk and classical influences, Tarkus had some aggressive moments (‘Bitches Crystal’), and the epic 20 minute title track. The live album ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ was largely centred around their arrangement of Mussorgsky’s suite, and Trilogy further experimented with styles, as well as a cover of Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown.

ELP’s magnum opus was Brain Salad Surgery, which featured the 30 minute epic ‘Karn Evil 9′ (3 parts). This truly epic album, complete with HR Giger cover, spawned the most grandiose of tours that was captured on the triple LP Welcome Back My Friends….

After a break, the Works Vol 1 and 2 albums combined solo work, a B-side or two and some new work, including the hit singles by Keith Emerson (‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’) and Greg Lake (‘I Believe In Father Christmas’) but the band were losing popularity in the face of punk, their swansong Love Beach would be a (by comparison) weaker contractual obligation.

On going their separate ways, solo work (including Keith’s OST work and Carl Palmer’s work in Asia), two reformed for Emerson Lake & Powell, then Emerson and Palmer in Three (both another story or two), before the excellent and underrated Black Moon and In The Hot Seat albums of the early 90s.

Other official live material exists, including Works Live (originally In Concert), Then And Now, The Official Bootleg Series (vol 1-4), that part of the discography is a bit of a minefield, but the set here is augmented by 5 live albums.

The 1972 set from Pocono International Raceway, USA, kicks off with a blistering ‘Hoedown’ and features a 22 minute ‘Tarkus’ – entrancing and fantastic. ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ is there too, and they close with ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’, originally interpreted by The Nice, here featuring a drum solo. A bright and excellent recording.

What’s a perfect addition to this set is the BBC material, including the Old Grey Whistle Test (1977, broadcast 1979, introduced by Bob Harris), and the Pop Goes Summer 1993 set. This is real collectors’ material and an essential part of the collection.

The sets from 1992 (two) and 1997 are also excellent; while there was a move to shorter songs in the set then, the band were not afraid of an extended medley or two and sets included ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, The Nice’s ‘Rondo’ or ‘America’ and King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, and occasionally the band also dipped into Emerson Lake & Powell’s ‘Touch And Go’.

This box set highlights the excessive, grandiose and almost pompous excesses that the band dipped into in the mid 70s, of the kind that Punk singled out and rebelled against, but that’s what ELP were all about and should be embraced.

And with two replica 7” singles and 12000 word essay in the booklet, it’s (nearly, live releases minefield aside) everything you need to know.

Wonderful. ****1/2

Review by Joe Geesin

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