- Get Me a Ladder, The Only Way Is Down -
I tried, I really did, honestly (to find a weevil in these martian fireflowers) but have to confess that this is probably the closest you will find to the unattainable perfection we all search so futilely for.
ELP had learned the lessons from its predecessor 'Trilogy', i.e don't write anything that you can't reproduce on stage and end up touring just half an album of new material. No weak tracks here, and I can say that every one of them has been my favourite at any one given time.
Interestingly, the band was not allowed to perform 'Jerusalem' in the UK, presumably on the reactionary advice of the censor who hesitated at the idea of some dirty long-hairs butchering a national hymn. Shame really, as this version is completely respectful to the original and Lake's vocal is one of his best ever. Palmer's drumming is sublime, and manages to be incredibly busy AND utterly supportive despite the plethora of spectacular rolls throughout the track's short duration. Not sure if fatboy actually plays bass on this as the bottom end, to my ears at least, sounds as though it comes from Emerson's Minimoog bass ?.
Tocatta - Ginastera's music is something of an acquired taste and certainly not for the feint-hearted so Emerson has done a remarkable job at transforming the 3rd movement of the Argentinian's 1st piano concerto into a format that displays the band to best effect.
This is probably the closest ELP came to abandoning tonality altogether and certainly a close run thing with 'The Barbarian' as being the heaviest piece they ever recorded. For years I thought the electronic 'freakout' that comes near the end was contributed mainly by Emerson's modular moog system, but I have been advised that most of the sounds here come via Palmer's electronic percussion.
Yep, we need a soothing ballad now after that onslaught, and they deliver in style with Lake's 'Still You Turn Me On' being a contender for the best song he ever wrote. This would have been the perfect single from the album but rather pedantically, the performing rights 'bean counters' deemed that as Palmer does not play anything on this track, it could not therefore be released under the name ELP.
The intro to 'Benny the Bouncer' contains one of the first instances of a polyphonic synth being used in recording history, and on reflection, this hilarious vaudeville parody seems an odd choice on which to debut such innovative technology. The track gets some flak from ELP fans, but I love it to death and the piano solo is one of the most exhilarating sections in popular music EVER. Very funny and witty lyrics from Lake and Peter Sinfield which serve to lessen the charges against the latter of being a pretentious dilettante and ELP as humourless.
'Karn Evil 9' on its own must be deserving of prog's claim to its equivalent of pop's 'Sgt Pepper'. In it's 30 minute span it encompasses everything that visitors to this site value above all else. Fantastic playing, innovative technology that ENHANCES the music as opposed to DISGUISING same. The writing is credibly 'symphonic' in the formal classical sense as all the motivic and thematic ideas undergo the same stringent development and treatments as that afforded to musical materials in the hands of Sibelius, Mussorgsky, Bartok, Copeland et al.
Economical solos and breathtaking exploitation of dramatics and accents?. (Check)
Key changes, tempo changes and timbral changes? (Check).
There is no noodling over a riff for 10 minutes here and the music is meticulously composed right down to the last high-hat stroke to be executed faithfully within the live environment. If proof were needed, the resultant tour and triple live album 'Welcome Back My Friends' is testimony to this compositional discipline.
The lyrics in Prog are normally one of its weak points but Lake and Sinfield really make a great effort here to explore the ramifications of the dawn of a dystopian technological age where our inventions ultimately come to destroy us and our human values. Some may now consider the corrupt 'circus' analogy as somewhat clichéd but in 1973 this was thought provoking and extremely prescient, so full marks to ELP for that.
It is strange however, that the acoustic '2nd Impression' is based on themes contained in the following '3rd Impression' which has led me to believe it was composed AFTER the 3rd part of the suite?
SUMMATION: At least 30 years ahead of its time as evidenced by polyphonic synths, electronic percussion and sequencing (the classic swept filter effect that segues side one and two of the original vinyl)
From this point on, there was nowhere else for ELP to go, (electronically at least) as they had taken analogue technology to beyond the limits dreamed of in 1973. It would be another 8 years before MIDI appeared and thereafter the digital revolution of sampling.
Best album by the best band in the best genre with the best cover. (A Full House)