EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER — Trilogy (review)

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER — Trilogy album cover Album · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Chicapah
Right up front I have to confess to possessing a considerable amount of favorable bias towards this album through no intentional fault of my own. You see, as an adventurous young buck on the NTSU campus in the autumn of '72, I surreptitiously snuck (with her consent, of course) into Cathy O's dorm room via her window one night in quest of hands-on, advanced research concerning the carnal arts (if you know what I mean and I think you do). On her stereo's auto-repeating turntable this admirable and desirable lady had her brand new copy of the "Trilogy" LP. Throughout the course of an intense, study-filled evening neither of us had any interest in changing the record so I heard side 2 of this exemplary album over and over for... Well, let's refrain from bragging, shall we? Suffice it to say that life doesn't get much better than that particular scenario (music & passion) and even now when I listen to ELP's "Trilogy" it summons pleasant memories so it's hard to be critical and/or objective in that state of mind. Happy thoughts aside, however, it would more than hold its own as a stellar example of progressive jazz/rock, regardless.

With "The Endless Enigma, Pt. 1" a quiet heartbeat accompanied by some eerie synthesizer notes starts things off in a mysterious mood before the space is interrupted by startling piano spasms and wild bongos. Soon the splendid, driving triad of organ, bass and drums intrude, leading you through a very dynamic song structure that climbs to Greg Lake's commanding "Please, please open their eyes!" exclamation that is breathtaking in its massive scope. Things then calm down with Emerson's lone, delicate piano and just let me say here that no one records acoustic piano any better than engineering whiz kid Eddie Offord. It's like you're sitting in the room with a Steinway. "Fugue" reminds me very much of Keith's stellar work on their debut album but this time Lake ably joins in on bass to create a fantastic duet. "The Endless Enigma, Pt. 2" is an obvious continuation of the basic theme but here they employ a deep, cavernous sound that includes clanging mission bells, culminating in a grand ending. Let me tell you, this is one marvelous piece of music.

"From the Beginning" is one of the more unusual hit songs ever in that it climbed to #39 on the singles chart due more to its alluring atmosphere than to some kind of catchy hook. The smooth guitar lead and curious synthesizer tone also contributed to the tune's popularity, as well as Greg's soothing, radio-friendly voice. These boys loved to throw in some levity on their albums (with mixed results) but "The Sheriff" is one of their better whimsical ditties. Featuring a surprisingly syncopated and complex structure beneath the frivolous "cowboy western" lyrics, this song distinguishes itself by incorporating a growling Hammond B3 organ sound layered with an odd piano effect to produce a unique aura. The manic honky-tonk, saloon-style piano work in the coda is a hoot.

What better way to honor one of the 20th century's greatest composers than to perform a bang-up version of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" segment from his incredible "Rodeo." It's an amazing rendition where Emerson displays his mastery of the virtues of the B3 organ as he employs the many variations of the settings it has to offer. No wonder it was such a concert staple for them. It rocks.

As I explained earlier, side 2 of the LP is branded on my brain forevermore but that's a good thing because it begins with the album's namesake song. (Hey, Cathy could have been heavily into Engelbert Humperdink. Imagine having THAT dude's crooning tattooed on your subconscious!) "Trilogy" features a beautiful opening with Lake singing brilliantly over Keith's piano as they deliver a modern jazz chord progression and an intricate melody. Emerson gracefully segues into a heavy 5/4 riff where his spirited synthesizer ride blows you away. They return to a harder take on the original melody before Keith assaults your senses with another sizzling synth solo as Greg and Carl lay down a remarkably tight rhythm section underneath. When these guys played like this no one could top them. Period.

If there's a lull in the proceedings it comes in the form of "Living Sin." Composed somewhat along the lines of "Knife Edge," it's a riff-based rocker with an odd structure and stabbing accents at the close. It's not a bad number by any means but when compared to the rest of the album it's less than memorable. Synthesizer technology was evolving by leaps and bounds in those days and, on "Abaddon's Bolero," Emerson expertly showcased the state-of-the-art in that division of modern rock music. By adopting the steady layer-by-layer construction technique of Ravel, Keith tastefully introduces a myriad of sounds and textures as the number builds inexorably to its inevitable and definitive CLIMAX. (I know, I know) And don't overlook Lake's inventive bass work despite the implied restrictions he and Palmer are stuck with due to the format. Also keep in mind that in 1972 this was groundbreaking, awe-inspiring stuff that made every keyboard player on the planet yearn to acquire a Moog.

I still consider their stunning debut and the unbelievable "Brain Salad Surgery" to be their masterpieces but this one ain't far behind. While "Tarkus" seemed a bit bogged down and forced at times, "Trilogy" showed that Emerson, Lake & Palmer were not going to be fading away or evolve into some kind of "cult" group anytime soon. Their appeal was widening to include more than just progheads. Even blonde seductresses with gorgeous, waist-length hair like Cathy O were digging on their music and that acceptance flung the marketplace doors open for this talented trio. They had arrived at the shores of the Promise land.
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