EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER — Trilogy (review)

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER — Trilogy album cover Album · 1972 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
- The Venus de Milo attempts the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer -

'The Endless Enigma' - Of all the large scale pieces produced by ELP, this Dali inspired triumvirate is perhaps the least satisfying. The bass drum as 'heartbeat' metaphor steals a march on Floyd and there are some eerie Moog atmospheres shattered violently with 'hamster steeplechase over the piano keys' glissandos so beloved of Emerson. After some strident pedal point bass and a few (much sampled) bongo rolls, the engine finally fires up and kicks into a wicked shuffle groove over which the Hammond spits out a suitably aggressive statement of intent. Regrettably all this tantalising foreplay is in anticipation of a main sung theme that when it appears, renders the foregoing as a bit of a 'kiss on the porch tease'.

The melody is decent enough but the stilted and halting feel of the verses is nowhere near close to that of 'majestically' as instructed on the published manuscript.

The piano interlude is a very accomplished (and finger blisteringly difficult) piece of writing by Keith, which displays to full effect his commanding grasp of a variety of compositional forms, moving through a gentle and wistful opening towards a complex fugue with some mind boggling counterpoint under which Lake adds some inspired and memorable 'singing' bass.

ELP appear to be double parked in a cul de sac with an expired license at this point so adopt some clever 'call and response' dialogue between Palmer's tubular bells and Emerson's Moog as a preface to reprising the opening sung section albeit at a slower tempo. I'm not entirely convinced that the song either warrants such repetition or that the fugue section belongs at its centre.

The individual sections are certainly effective but the overarching structure is somewhat strained.

'From the Beginning' - Another generous helping of a considerably slimmer Greg Lake on this fatalistically inclined paean to the vagaries of love. He deploys 9th chords here quite unusually and buttresses his tightly wound creation with a memorable bass line and tasteful electric guitar solo. Emerson's Moog solo on the outro is an unbridled joy.

'The Sheriff' - Palmer's commitment of the drummer's cardinal sin (banging your sticks together by mistake) is captured for posterity on the intro before we gallop off into the sunset on a very enjoyable and light hearted cowboy pastiche featuring some clippety-clop organ. The instrumental section is rather unusual in contrast to what frames it, by being almost akin to jazz rock in places. The final verse is ended by a hilarious gunshot ricochet and a brilliant piece of saloon bar piano from Emerson.

Who says ELP are miserable bastards?

'Hoedown' - Became something of a live staple for many years to come and Copland's jaunty rodeo music is for the most part preserved in Emerson's adaptation save the classic whooping synthesizer glides that introduce the piece. You can have great fun trying to identify all the north american folk tunes he manages to quote from. (or don't and take up knitting instead, the choice is yours)

'Trilogy' - A rare instance in ELP of a large scale work being seeded from just a single theme as stated by the unadorned Moog 'violin' on the intro. Thereafter we move into a very beautiful and haunting piano setting of this motif sung dreamily by Lake to what is presumably a jilted lover ? Emerson, obviously heedless to the risks of a dotage crippled by arthritis, regales us with yet more knuckle busting flourishes at the piano before the tempo changes to 5/4 for a bombastic transposition of the phrase to the Moog. The lead sound used is definitively 'heroic' and would have brought a flush of pleasure to even Dr Robert I am sure.

Next up, a slightly 'swung' 6/4 groove which betrays a jazzier and more chromatic feel than what went before. I can't help but detect the influence of Miles Davis on this section, particularly the extended solo passage that centres around a B7#9 chord. The band really kick some proverbial backside here with Palmer laying down one of the 'funkiest' beats in his locker and Lake anchoring this maelstrom with an infectious ostinato. Numerous leads are layered and overdubbed as the improvisation develops before culminating in the squealing protestations of the synths subject to this unbridled fury. (Blimey Guv'nor)

To round things off there is another sung section featuring Lake with what sounds like his tongue firmly in the region of his cheek:

- You'll love again I don't know when but if you do I know that you'll be happy in the end -

The original melody does seem rather 'forced' in this rhythmic setting and I suspect that Greg's delivery betrays as much. ELP close the track with an ironic blues tagline that was even considered passée in the bronze age, but our three heroes may possibly have reversed themselves momentarily into that same cul de sac as on 'Enigma'

The many transitions that this track goes through are very skilfully and seamlessly negotiated and 'Trilogy' certainly represents one of ELP's finest recorded moments.

'Living Sin' - A relatively simple heavy rocker but Emerson's inspired synth brass work and a striking and sinister 'baritone' vocal from Lake transcends the meagre harmonic material on offer. The main riff is deceptively simple but the band exploit its quasi 'eastern' qualities to achieve an exotic feel. Perhaps the best song that Deep Purple never wrote.

Abaddon's Bolero' - If one track on this record can be a microcosm of the problems 'Trilogy' presented for ELP then it must be this one.

Yes, it's a thrilling and innovative arrangement of a climactic composition that reaches a magnificent 'orgasmic' ending. (Not 'af you saucy devil)

No, it cannot possibly be replicated on stage armed with but the mere two that Keith has.

Much of the 'Trilogy' material suffered the same fate as 'Bolero' and as far as I am aware, the title track was seldom performed live in concert. It must have been frustrating for a musician as accomplished and ambitious as Keith Emerson to realize, that as unlimited a playground as the studio was, he had to leave behind many of his favourite toys when stepping out in front of an audience.
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