EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER — Emerson, Lake & Palmer

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EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER - Emerson, Lake & Palmer cover
3.98 | 16 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1970


A1 The Barbarian
A2 Take A Pebble
A3 Knife-Edge
The Three Fates
B1a Clotho
B1b Lachesis
B1c Artopos
B2 Tank
B3 Lucky Man


Drums, Percussion – Carl Palmer
Keyboards – Keith Emerson
Vocals, Bass, Guitar – Greg Lake

About this release

Island Records – ILPS 9132 (UK)

Thanks to snobb for the addition


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It should be self evident that reviews of such pivotal progressive rock albums as this one one must be tempered by the heights/depths a band subsequently reached after it's release. Had I heard this for the 1st time in 1970, I would have been quite simply 'blown away' as they say, as there had been nothing quite like it hitherto.

Preamble over, on with the music.

'The Barbarian' - although rather cheekily not credited to Bartok on the initial pressings, this remains perhaps my favourite ELP track ever. Venomous and sinewy Lake bass, snarling and attacking Hammond plus a kit assault from Palmer that stills leaves me speechless. The piano/brushes interlude in the middle comes as a welcome respite from the unremitting carnage that comes before and after. When the track ends, you are changed forever....

'Take a Pebble' - Emerson's musical designs dwarf what is at best, a pleasant enough but rather insubstantial Lake ballad which completely outstays it's welcome. The piano playing is as ever, masterful, but given the paucity of melodic material available here with which to improvise on, Emerson runs out of ideas well before half way. The rudimentary guitar solo in the middle, replete with the atmospheric cave sounds, is mixed far too low and served only to become an area on the original vinyl record that proliferated scratches in glorious stereo.

'Knife Edge' - Notwithstanding another little copyright 'oversight' re the disgruntled Janacek estate, this is a belter of the first order with a fantastic organ solo that still exhilarates 37 years on. Great singing from Mr Greg but collaborating with a roadie is going to give you terrible lyrics (Fraser) The band always had a terrific knack for adapting just the right classical piece to suit their own musical designs and Bach's Italian Concerto quoted here is no exception. Like most people in 1970 I too thought my record player had melted during the 'slow down' section at the end.

'Three Fates' - Wonderful playing from Emerson throughout his 'solo' contribution after a rather boggy and sludgy intro on the pipe organ (which became de riguer) for all his subsequent imitators/wannabees thereafter. Can't help but feeling that the whole is less than the sum of it's parts on this one. Lots of great ideas follow on from each other sequentially but the overall architecture creaks a bit.

'Tank' - Probably the closest ELP got to playing jazz rock in their careers. Brilliant harpsichord and clavinet from Emerson, and fat boy turns in a tour de force on bass. Being the early 70's, this sprawling epic could not be complete without recourse to a lengthy drum solo. I have heard and been entertained by many of Carl's solos over the years but must say that this is the worst one he ever committed to tape. When the hopelessly dated phased drumming enters, it's such a relief to hear the swung ending section after the tedium that preceded it. Emerson's ominous Moog makes it's first appearance here and at the time, was an alien timbre that we were all completely bowled over by. Ground breaking stuff indeed.

'Lucky Man' - the band's only stateside hit probably gave the yanks the impression that ELP was the UK's answer to CSNY. Lake's pretty but inconsequential acoustic song certainly milks undeserving resources from Emerson and Palmer which would have been better utilised on more group material. Similarly with 'Take a Pebble' the arrangement is far superior to the underlying musical ideas. Much has been written about Emo's famous outro moog solo, so I won't labour the point, but according to his autobiography he states

- 'I thought it was shit, I still do...' -

Personally, I love it and it seduced me thereafter into a lifelong love affair with the synthesizer and prog rock in general.

To sum up:

The problems of satisfying such a disparate trio as ELP were manifest as early as this 1970 album with the inclusion of 'solo' tracks to appease their creators. Coming full circle at the demise of their career on the 1977 'Works' album, the symmetry is complete, with each member getting a side each of a double album.

ELP made progressive rock possible with both their viability in terms of sales wedded to their brilliant musicianship. The history of popular music dictates that up till that point, the two were considered mutually exclusive.
I was in my very early 20s when this album came out in 1970. But I was in no way, shape or form able at that time to fully appreciate the brilliance of the revolutionary music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. (I dare say I wasn't alone among my peers in my immaturity, though.) I'm not telling you that I didn't become an instant fan or that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary. It's just that I probably lifted the needle over the very best parts a hundred times in order to get to the "heavier" stuff that the headbanger in me craved. It's only in the many decades since then that I have come to understand just how amazing and timeless this album is. First things first, however. I have to point out the fact that the painting on the cover by Nic Dartnell is one of the all-time classics. But you already knew that.

"The Barbarian" is a perfect four and a half minute introduction to ELP. They throw everything at you including a fuzz bass and a very intense, snarling organ from Keith Emerson. His piano interlude midway through is exhilarating and soon you know you are in the presence of a truly gifted keyboard virtuoso. "Take a Pebble" is one of those songs I would jump over in my youth but I was only cheating myself by doing that. Greg Lake's distinctive voice starts things off singing a nice melody with simple lyrics about how each individual act can have a rippling effect on one's entire life. Emerson's piano takes over and literally takes your breath away. Then comes a folksy acoustic guitar segment from Lake that is gentle and spacious, ending with handclaps and whistles as if they were sitting around a campfire. Next you get another dose of wonderful piano alongside Carl Palmer's jazzy drums before Lake finishes the song with another poignant vocal. "Knife Edge" more than satisfies the hard rock monster in us all with its hard, piercing organ and gutsy vocal over some very strong drums. And the cool meltdown ending is just what the doctor ordered. There's no excuse for my years of skipping over the apex of the album, "The Three Fates." What was I thinking? Just testosterone-fueled impatience, I guess. The enormous sound of the Royal Festival Hall Organ is magnificent and the piece, "Clotho," would be right at home in a gladiator movie soundtrack. And I mean that in a good way, too. It is epic in scope. Emerson next treats you to "Lachesis," a truly outstanding solo piano composition and performance that blew away 99.9% of the keyboard players in rock at that time. It is nothing short of awesome. After a brief return to the cathedral organ the drums enter and Palmer and Emerson go into the stirring 7/8 time "Atropos" that would impress even the great Gershwin. It's fantastic. "Tank" is probably the least remarkable track here but that's only because of the obligatory (at that time) drum solo contained within. Even then the clavinet at the beginning and the Moog noodlings at the end are intriguing. All this being said about the album, if it wasn't for Lake's ironic anti-war anthem "Lucky Man" it's debatable as to whether the group would have attained the huge success that was to come. This song got them noticed. It's a very catchy ditty to begin with and Greg's unique voice is a definite plus but it was Emerson's Moog rising like a phoenix toward the latter part of the tune that made everybody reach over and crank up the volume on their radio. It wasn't the first time the public had heard this new instrument but it was the first time it was the STAR OF THE SHOW and even the most conservative listener couldn't get enough of it.

The high fidelity of the sound is surprising until you notice that the engineer was none other than Eddie Offord (who would go on to produce most of Yes' finest albums). In particular, the piano sounds so crisp and clear it's like it's in the room with you. So, if you haven't procured a copy of this cornerstone of progressive jazz/rock by now, do yourself a favor and add it to your collection. It is unquestionably one of the greatest debut albums ever and the music is still as fresh and relevant today as it was when it first appeared on the record shelves. Just don't be like me and skip over the best parts.

Members reviews

The Carousel Ballroom, a San Francisco-based music venue that mainly held blues performers such as B.B. King and other African American jazz artists in the 1960s, found itself under the control of a musical conglomerate composed of bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, among others in 1968. These bands intended the venue to be a socio-musical experiment to attract audiences in the San Fran/Haight-Ashbury area. Needless to say, the idea wasn't too successful. Former promoter, Bill Graham, took the reigns in '68, hoping to achieve some success similarly with the hall. However the seating capacity of the hall was lackluster at best, and was not nearly grandiose enough to attract the atrophying community surrounding it. In New York City, Graham owned a similar auditorium by the name of Fillmore East which he had acquired not four months earlier. Deciding to seek a better location, the newly-born Fillmore West was born less than a mile away from the original Carousel Ballroom's location. Fillmore West would go on to host a variety of performances, such as Californian regulars the Grateful Dead, as well as Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc. It should be noted that this performance hall came at a very special time, one known to birth many prolific rock bands all across Europe and North America -- the late '60's. Taking place well into what was colloquially referred to as the Psychedelic Era, rock bands of the time were keen on trekking the globe on large extensive tours, where droves of audiences happened to follow them wherever they went. One of the younger of these acts was King Crimson, who, in December of 1969, co-headlined concerts at Fillmore West with London-based jazz rockers The Nice, a band apart of a similar progressive mindset as Crimson. It was there that keyboardist Keith Emerson from The Nice and bassist Greg Lake from King Crimson met and struck up a quick and steadfast friendship. As their series of performances came to a close, Emerson and Lake were already discussing the prospect of forming a new group. The one musician the band the two needed was a drummer, and after a series of unsuccessful tryouts and careful consideration, the band decided on Carl Palmer, known for his work in both The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. The trio was now set in stone, and a debut album was set in motion. Lake, similarly to how he had in King Crimson, acted as producer, began collecting songs performed previously in the band's gigs, and began executing them in the studio format. Thus, in November 1970, the band's self-titled studio work was born.

Emerson Lake & Palmer, and by that I do mean the album, is perhaps the purest form of skill, intelligence, and understanding of zeitgeist the band ever cared to show. With a 6-track runtime (par for the course for any semi- self-conscious progressive rock band in 1970), the album doesn't exude any overbearing smugness that the band would come to be criticized for. From beginning to end the album is very poignant musically, aside from hitting a few snags and some inopportune times. Starting with the crunching proto-metallic surge of 'The Barbarian', a rock arrangement of ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók's 'Allegro barbaro', ELP manages to pack a big punch in a short amount of time. Unlike many latter releases, ELP's debut does not contain huge quasi-orchestral suites, instead opting for simply semi-lengthy tracks. The majority of the tracks tend to be a mix of clear songwriting and extensive jams. This is clear from the second track, the epic 'Take a Pebble'. Also clear is a certain dichotomy that only got more pronounced as the band aged; because the band is comprised of only 3 admittedly skilled musicians, each member makes what is almost a silent effort to outdo each-other in terms of unabashed bravado. This especially rings true for Keith Emerson, who not only has a luxuriously no-holds-barred piano solo what seems like every 3 minutes, but also permeates the rest of the album with a multitude of synthesized soundscapes that, with multiple listens, can get extremely grating. This relationship between the band members also can create unenjoyable pandemonium, which it seems the band is blissfully unaware is in fact unenjoyable, especially on songs like 'The Three Fates' (said pandemonium occurring funnily enough directly after one of Emerson's solos). This is all prone to subjectivity though, as the band still manages to hit some rather great points. The heavy riffs that the band occasionally pumps out like on the aforementioned 'The Barbarian' and 'Knife-Edge' are much in the vein of Greg Lake's parent band Atomic Rooster, and are thus very well received. 'Tank' may pleasure me with a bias -- as a drummer and a certain fan of Greg Lakes work I'm easily enraptured by a drum solo from the man coincided with some bouncy synth. 'Lucky Man' seems to hold a certain amount of bad blood with prog-fans, however I personally found myself rather warm towards the track's cheesy qualities, not to mention I'm a sucker for some good vocal harmonies.

Upon release, this album was hailed as a mighty fine one, and it's not hard to see why. Right out of the gate Emerson, Lake & Palmer is passionate and alight with unbridled genius. ELP now had a tight grasp on the attention of the outside world, and nearly everything was set up in anticipation for the band's next big hit.
Although I can't say I got on too well with their later directions, I do like ELP's debut. Not uncritically - although the performances are undeniably good, they don't reach the stratosphere, but then again they don't reach the depths of later work either. I would say, in fact, that if you want *consistency*, this is the best ELP album of them all - later albums would be much more up-and-down in terms of quality.

The album starts with some rocked-out classics in the form of The Barbarian, with a down and dirty performance that proves that this supergroup can get heavy if it wants to (though it's no Atomic Rooster). Other highlights include Take a Pebble, in which the group proves that it can bring jazz into its formula as well as classical music, and the closing Lucky Man which binds a Moog solo to a folk-rock number with surprising success.

I guess part of the reason I can't quite extend my rating to five stars is that the album feels directionless. Musically, the group are very diverse, but the consequence of that is that the tracks don't seem to flow together very well and it's hard to say what the band's identity or sound at this point really is - or even if it does have an identity at all beyond being a vehicle for the three named talents to strut their stuff. They would succeed in forging a unique sound for themselves in the title track of Tarkus... but that album, and subsequent ones, would continue to have the problem that the three musical personalities in the group just never quite gelled, resulting in all of their work having a similar lack of focus to this one. That said, even if I find their later work patchy, still *this* album turns me on. (See what I did there?) Four stars.

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