- Synchronised Drowning Becomes an Olympic Event -
Although this suffers from the stigma of 'contractual obligation' album notoriety in most quarters, there is plenty on 'Works Live' that is unjustly overlooked by many ELP afficiandos and perhaps deserving of some re-appraisal. The album started life as a single only release called 'In Concert' but was later expanded by the inclusion of more material from the Montreal Olympic Stadium concert with the hand picked (and ruinously expensive) ELP Orchestra. Keith Emerson has stated that the band did not consider this additional material to be of a sufficiently high sound quality to be included on the original record. He even just mailed the finished album to the record company on completion of his production duties, and this will give you some idea what sort of ebb ELP had sunk to at this time.
Their paymasters at the time, Atlantic Records, had no such qualms about these shortcomings and cobbled together this 'bigger/faster/brighter/louder/more expensive' version with which to empty our threadbare pockets and swell their already bulging coffers.
'Introductory Fanfare' - Rather a stilted and cheesy little curtain raiser penned by Palmer and Emerson to get us on our way which is pleasant enough until an MC who makes Ashley Holt seem comparatively 'urban' intones the 'ladies & gentlemen' tagline. Reach for the bucket....
'Peter Gunn' - ELP do a great job with Henry Mancini's 60's spy music which is all the more remarkable without the obligatory twangy electric guitar of the original. Keith's brass sounds are suitably tacky via the Yamaha GX1 and although hardly a grand musical opus, it is great fun and played with just the right amount of tongue in cheek bravura. For those of you with sufficiently strong stomachs, there is a 'dance/house' version of this track by someone/thing called Bassment Jaxx which proves if nothing else, that even God has a slops tray.
'Tiger in a Spotlight' - A much leaner and earthier version of this tune which I much prefer to the rather boggy studio version that continually crops up on 'best of(s)' and compilations (Dunno?) Keith dials up a hybrid organ/piano timbre here on the GX1 which I have always loved to bits and the bass and drum dialogue between Lake and Palmer has a sinewy tautness that lends this simple shuffle blues a real excitement and energy. Both of Emerson's solos are a thrilling treat and display his continuing ability to assimilate the vocabulary and techniques of boogie piano into the electronic realm of rock.
'C'est la Vie' - I have never been a keen advocate of this gushingly wet Lake song but can report that this live rendition is at least a damn sight more robust that its studio equivalent on Works Volume 1. Keith displays his impressive versatility by playing a note perfect version of the session player's accordion solo (but No, he does not stab the squeezebox with knives in case you're wondering, or the author alas)
'Watching Over You' - This really should have been included on Greg's side of Works Vol 1 and although it's a very lightweight solo lullaby it still completely dwarfs most of the songs he did include on that record. Mr L was always at his most enjoyable when tackling simple acoustic songs like this.
'Maple Leaf Rag' - apart from the purpose of ingratiating themselves to a Canadian audience (Pourquoi?)
'The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits' - This is a sparkling little jewel in a rather sombre tiara, a band only version of the Orchestral adaptation of Prokofiev's music that appeared on Carl's slice of Works Vol 1. I certainly loved the latter but this is possibly even better and Emerson has done a fantastic job of arranging the very complex orchestral parts for just his two hands on Hammond and synth. There is some great playing by all the trio here on what is a fiendishly difficult piece to replicate. The organ sound throughout this album is mouth wateringly yummy and combines a real ballsy grunt with some crystalline detail.
'Fanfare for the Common Man' - This reeks of some clumsy tape splicing methinks, as there appears to be a very discernible tuning 'lurch' where one version mutates very clumsily into another? Given that the GX1 synth was an analogue creature prone to 'tuning drift' from temperature and humidity, there may have been instances when it suffered some 'excitable temperament' effects and you can hear evidence of this on this track. The playing as ever, is top notch and the inclusion of Freddie King's 'Hideaway' during the lengthy synth improvisation is a nice touch. There are however, far superior versions of this live ELP staple available elsewhere.
'Knife Edge' - ELP's perennial warhorse pulls up lame here due in no small measure to Greg's impossibly tinny and twangy bass line on this track. Why you would embark on a tune that relies on a deep and guttural bass tone by instead employing the timbre of an eight string soprano ukulele is beyond me. What was Lake thinking about? Shame really as the remainder is very good and the inclusion of the orchestra on the Bach Italian Concerto quotation towards the end is very powerful and effective.
'Show Me The Way to Go Home' - Certainly a fitting standard to cover on ELP's swansong, this is again good fun and the live version is considerably more gutsy and rockier that that on Works Volume 2. As you would expect, they usually closed the shows with this one which makes the next track's running order all the more galling.....
'Abaddon's Bolero' - I think they usually opened with this on the concerts with the orchestra during that ill fated tour. Can't say that either of the orchestrated versions from Keith or ELP even come close to matching the brio and excitement of the 'Trilogy' incarnation. Despite the multitude of gradually building layers of counterpoint (which Keith couldn't hope to replicate on his own), maybe this wasn't ever meant to be played by an orchestra in the first place? Keith listen, I know you're a stubborn bugger, but enough already. It ain't never gonna work....
'Pictures at an Exhibition' - Or 'Polaroids of Hemorrhoids' Comes across as a 7 course meal we are supposed to gulp down as it it were a microwaved TV dinner. Indigestion and/or diarrhoea invariably result from such fast foods and there is audible and pungent evidence of this to suggest band and orchestra were embroiled in an indecent scramble to see who would get to the toilet first during this sprint through 'Pictures'. Once again we encounter Lake's wretched 6 string bass tone which makes his parts sound like they are being performed by George Formby via a small transistor radio. Imagine Shakespear's 'Hamlet' played by Sylvester Stallone and condensed down to 'To be or what...?'
'Closer to Believing' - Similarly to 'C'est la Vie' this is a much better version than that heard on Works Volume 1 and we do get to hear what is a very good song once the overwrought arrangement has been suitably deflated to illuminate some of the finer detail. I just wish that Lake had given us a band only version of this tune, as it certainly has a melodic strength to warrant a much more sympathetic and robust accompaniment without the sentimental treacle.
'Piano Concerto #1 3rd Movement' - A real highlight of the set where Emerson's piano and the orchestra lock horns in an unflinching battle to see who is the last man standing. Although all the orchestral players are amplified, it was done by fixing a specially designed pickup to the acoustic instruments that would preserve the rich sonic palette and subtle nuances of timbre obtained from these sources at the much higher volumes they needed to be heard along with the electronic band. The results here are very authentic indeed and this is perhaps one of the few instances where orchestral sources sound 'untarnished' by amplification. It's just a pity that they didn't include the 1st and 2nd movements also and dispensed with some of the weaker material on 'Works Live' instead.
'Tank' - I know a lot of ELP fans who wax lyrical about this version of 'Tank' but I can't say I share their unreserved passion for this rather perfunctory lope through an overripe chestnut. Again, this might be another instance of an Emerson composition that is insufficiently malleable to withstand being shoehorned into these jazzy slippers. (You shall NOT go to the ball)
Yep, it's very patchy with some really brilliant moments followed by large swathes of mediocrity and the odd lurking pile of poo. The track listing might lure some ELP newbies into buying this first, but they would be better to purchase either one of the many fine compilations that are around or start at the 1970 debut, reach Brain Salad Surgery then STOP. GO BACK. DETOUR AHEAD. GIVE WAY TO INFIRM DINOSAURS.