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EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER - Brain Salad Surgery cover
3.36 | 13 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1973


A1 Jerusalem
A2 Toccata
A3 Still....You Turn Me On
A4 Benny The Bouncer
Karn Evil 9
A5 1st Impression - Part 1
B1 1st Impression - Part 2
B2 2nd Impression
B3 3rd Impression


Organ, Harpsichord, Accordion, Synthesizer – Keith Emerson
Percussion, Synthesizer [Percussion] – Carl Palmer
Vocals, Bass, Guitar [Zermatis Electric 6 String And 12 String] – Greg Lake

About this release

Manticore Records – K 53501 (UK)

Thanks to snobb for the addition


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- 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)
Beginning with their stunning debut in 1970 Emerson, Lake & Palmer had steadily drawn more and more music enthusiasts into their camp with every new studio release and supporting tour. With a hit single under their belt from "Trilogy" they were ready to unveil the album that would propel them to the top of the rock heap. Utilizing fantastic, revolutionary cover art by H.R. Giger, a 12"x12" full-color folded insert that included individual portraits and millions of dollars worth of ads and marketing salvos from their own label's distributor, Atlantic Records, ELP would change the progressive jazz/rock landscape forever with "Brain Salad Surgery."

While "Jerusalem" may be as familiar as "Amazing Grace" to Englanders, it's a relatively obscure song in the states so (as far as we were concerned) they may as well have written it themselves. It sure sounds like something they could have penned. Anyway, it's a grandiose opener with Greg Lake's stately vocals and Keith Emerson's terrific organ and synthesizer sounds augmenting a regal melody. This is followed by "Toccata," Keith's arrangement of Ginastera's 1st piano concerto and a fine example of modern composition. It's what ELP does best instrumentally with its tight, intricate segments that weave a dizzying tapestry of musical hues. The first half is excellent, then Carl Palmer performs a tympani solo before he moves to the drum kit. Keeping in mind that in the early 70s synthesizers were still a novelty, the noisy display of annoying electronic sounds still gets to be a bit much before it's over. Next up is Greg's "Still. You Turn Me On," which has the same aura of their previous single, "From The Beginning," but is just as alluring. The lyrics seem to convey that, despite the craziness and intensity of life as a rock star, the singer is still "turned on" by the audience. It's a well-written tune but some of the quirky guitar effects haven't aged well and now sound understandably dated. ELP was notorious for injecting cornball detours from time to time and this LP was no exception. "Benny The Bouncer" is a fluff piece about a ferocious club doorman who finally gets the crap beat out of him and ends up with a hatchet in his head. Not exactly standup comedy material but I guess it was funny to the trio. In their defense the music isn't horrible, the honky-tonk piano work by Keith is authentic and they even throw in a false ending to boot. However, one has to believe that by then they surely had better songs than this meaningless ditty to include.

"Karn Evil 9" is the focus of the album and their most adventurous epic. "1st Impression" is nothing short of amazing. Divided into two sections on the LP, the second part is the one that became the most recognizable due to its being ushered directly onto the heavy rotation of FM radio stations all over the free world. I personally prefer the first part but, along with tunes like Yes' "Roundabout" and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," "Welcome Back My Friends." is one of the essential classic progressive rock songs that keeps the genre on the aural map of the general populace generation after generation. And for that progheads should be grateful. Greg's guitar work is surprisingly adroit but everyone in the group is performing at the top of their game here as they flawlessly deliver this supercharged segment about computers being introduced as the benign saviors of mankind. "To take their sorrow from this odyssey/to help the helpless and the refugee/to protect what's left of humanity." Lake and Peter Sinfield (of King Crimson fame) contribute brilliant lyrics to describe the resulting amoral scene after the machines have taken over everything, including entertainment. For example, religious sacredness has been debased to a trick as they demonstrate "with our hands behind our backs/we pull Jesus from a hat!/get into that/get into that!" and nature has been ravaged to the point where "there behind a glass/is a real blade of grass/be careful as you pass/move along, move along." Truly disturbing images.

"2nd Impression" is Keith's instrumental creation and it is phenomenal. Starting with sublime jazz piano and evolving into an energetic Latin rhythm complete with synthesized steel drums, it's an exhibition of Emerson's immense keyboard talents. After a quieter yet ominous bridge the band breaks into a high-speed piano-led section that will leave you breathless. "3rd Impression" is a return to the rock format with a big dose of dramatic vocalization from Greg. To my ears this is the weakest of the three impressions but only because the first two are so spectacular. There's a rather mundane synthesizer segue before the stirring organ comes back and Palmer's tempo is, shall I say, "variable" at times. The story line here is that the computers now rule mankind, much to the regret and chagrin of human beings and, though there is a rebellion, the machines win in the end. The feeling I get musically is that the band was building up to a huge finale with the concert audience in mind and we'll never know what it might have sounded like if they had followed their muse rather than what they thought the live crowd would want to experience. The saga ends with the computer exclaiming, "I'm perfect! Are you?' and then proceeding to demonstrate its idea of music by performing a programmed pattern that can only repeat itself over and over as it accelerates as fast as it can go before stopping on a dime. In this nightmarish vision of the future human emotion has been purged from art.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer would never attain this level of excellence again. The adoration and popularity that came after this album would eventually tear them asunder and cause personality clashes and ego-fueled rifts that would diminish their ability to work together efficiently as a team. But nothing can take this achievement of progressive jazz/rock away from them (or us) and future music archaeologists will admire it just as much as we do now. It's not a complete masterpiece but it's a landmark nonetheless.

Members reviews

Many negative reviews of Brain Salad Surgery characterise it as the album where Emerson, Lake and Palmer went too far. I would disagree: for me, it's the album where they didn't go anywhere at all. Whilst most of the other major prog bands who had debuted in 1970 or before had continued to advance and develop and, in the case of King Crimson, completely reinvent their sound, here ELP seem to me to get complacent, essentially following the Tarkus/Trilogy playbook and turning the volume up a bit.

There's an epic track which doesn't even pretend to hang together as a single coherent piece (unlike the masterful Tarkus). There's a jazzy bit, this time crammed incongruously into the middle of Karn Evil 9, to the point where I almost wonder whether it was mis- sequenced there by a bumbling studio engineer and the band decided to declare it the second part of Karn Evil 9 rather than change up the running order. There's a Greg Lake ballad, which is horrendously oversaccharine and sappy and has some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard - "someone get me a ladder", Greg? Are you serious? - and of course there's a couple of classical adaptations in Keith Emerson's usual style, though by this point Keith's method of adapting classical pieces to rock group formats which had been so fresh and novel in The Nice and in the early ELP albums had already begun to seem forced and stale.

In short, this is an album which follows the ELP playbook to the letter and ticks all the boxes without taking any serious risks beyond throwing in a song that's longer than the length of a side, and since (like I said) the three parts of that song aren't really connected and could happily have stood on their own as individual tracks this was completely pointless and unnecessary - a stab at creating another epic purely for the sake of throwing in an epic, but without any of the actual effort involved in producing a coherent 20 minute song.

Whilst Yes were taking genuine risks in making Tales From Topographic Oceans, in a year that King Crimson adopted a completely new and startlingly different sound on Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Genesis brought their pastoral style to its brilliant fruition, at a point when Gentle Giant were masterfully adapting to the departure of their sax player and Pink Floyd were conquering the world with The Dark Side of the Moon, ELP to me seem to be the major band who are the odd men out - the one unit who, rather than growing and changing and developing their sound, were simply riding the prog bandwagon and complacently churning out crap. Brain Salad Surgery sounds like the out-takes from Tarkus and Trilogy, ideas which wouldn't have cut the mustard on those albums but were considered good enough to foist on the listening public in 1973, despite the fact that they still weren't ready for human consumption. There are so many points where just a bit of thought and polishing could have salvaged a composition or song that it makes me angry just thinking about them.

In short, where many see ELP's peak, I see only the beginning of the end, the moment the band project stopped being an experiment and started being a formula. The consequences of such a change in approach - from innovation to simply crafting a product to tick off the boxes on a checklist - would be fatal both for the band and for the original 1970s prog scene. I am full of love for ELP's debut album and the title track from Tarkus, but this album - this is where the rot set in, and it's what made them deserve the critical backlash that followed.

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  • lunarston
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