BMG [Release date 23.10.20]
Famously, the late Greg Lake was an integral part of King Crimson and more substantially, of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Both bands have had such a deep impact on progrock and indeed rock music generally, that it’s impossible not to have heard something that bears their fingerprints.
This anthology takes us on a thrill packed time-shift through four decades, charting Lake’s path as an innovative artist, through his tenure with those bands and on into his less publicised but equally impressive solo work. It winnows down a lifetime of recording to 33 key tracks, neatly fitting onto a 2 CD hardback or a 2 LP Gatefold option. Effectively, these are their own career shorthand for Lake’s massive artistic contribution to popular music.
CD/LP 1 is opened by ‘Peace – A Beginning’, and CD/LP2 is closed by ‘Peace – An End’. Suitably apposite bookends. King Crimson’s albums created a fantasy world into which their listeners could escape. And at the heart of the songs were Lake’s powerful, otherworldly, almost spiritual, but never portentous vocals. They were the key ingredient. It wouldn’t have worked without him.
Apart from those bookends, only ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, ‘I Talk To The Wind’ and the title track from ‘The Court of The Crimson King’ emerge from Lake’s 2 album membership of the band. And all are taken from a variety of live performances. ‘…Schizoid…’ with Gary Moore on guitar, from Lake’s “London 81” album, is probably the pick. The guy was at his thrilling, note bending best (1981). It was the perfect sideman performance to Lake’s driving, right on the money vocals. That said, other two songs come in pretty cool versions, otherwise they wouldn’t be here.
CD/LP1 pivots around 4 ELP tracks. ‘Take A Pebble’ and ‘Lucky Man’ are Lake’s story telling and lyrical imagery at their finest. Passionate and pure – a reflection of the man within – opening up the songs to numerous live interpretations. ‘The Only Way’ and ‘Oh My Father’ are much more personal, merging two separate emotions into one piece of music, ringing with echoes of memories and regrets.
Few rock songs have been inspired by French chanteuse, Edith Piaf, of ‘Non, Je Regrette Rien’ fame, but that was the genesis of ELP’s monster hit, ‘C’est La Vie’, written by Lake the Francophile, taken here from “Works, Volume 1”. The track opens CD/LP2.
What becomes apparent as the music unfolds across this collection, is that while Lake was happy participating in Emerson’s musical flights of fancy, he was equally capable of bringing the band’s music back down to earth. And while Emerson was focused on the violent (if entertaining) reduction of the classics (eg on Works 1 & 2), Lake was writing the anguished, regretful ‘For You’ (Love Beach).
That course continued into Lake’s solo albums where his skill and talent as a songwriter truly blossomed. Again, 4 tracks form the emotional core of this CD/LP.
‘Black And Blue’ and ‘It Hurts’ are taken from his debut solo album “Greg Lake” (1981), recorded with Gary Moore, plus a trio of Toto’s finest, Steve Lukather, David Hungate and Steve Porcaro. The other pair – two of his finest compositions, the anxiously nostalgic ‘Haunted’ and the achingly beautiful ‘Slave To Love’ come from 1983′s “Manoevres”. Lake had mastered the art of making the sophisticated and the elaborate seem so simple. Sometimes even very small pieces of music work so well.
Talking of which, as you would expect, arguably Lake’s finest hour as a writer of popular music, the song ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ is featured on CD/LP1 in its original single version. And while much of Lake’s progressive rock and romantic interludes will live on in our memory, it is this song that will make him immortal.
The liner notes celebrate the man’s life, featuring numerous pics, memorials and memories, sometimes touching, sometimes humorous, from many, including Chris Welch, Ian Anderson, Colin Hurt (doorman at the Clift Hotel …what a tribute), Bob Kinkel (TSO), Mark Mancina (Producer) and more.
Few compilations are ever entirely satisfying. But if any fan, or indeed, any artist wanted an example of how best to define a career in words and music, they need look no further than “Greg Lake, A Musical Journey”. *****
Review by Brian McGowan
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