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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Brain Salad Surgery

Review by Josh Turner

I would not be the first to say that their music has not held up over the years, because it obviously hasn't. Before we count them out completely, it is important to point out that Emerson demonstrated many innovations in music long before the digital age. These ideas would later influence other forms of progressive music. In a way, ELP, as they are commonly referenced, is the missing link between progressive groups of yesterday and today. It would later have its influence in the eighties on movie soundtracks and video games.

While our idea of showmanship nowadays is laser lights and explosions, Emerson performed some far out displays in a time where this was nowhere near the norm. It would still raise some eyebrows to this day. From what I've heard, Emerson would turn 360 degrees while playing a grand piano, ride his Hammond organ, throw knives at his equipment, lay flat out on stage with a Hammond on top of him, and even launch fireworks from his portable ribbon controller. He did all these stunts while playing the keyboards.

In a way, ELP is defined by their stage antics and live performances as their studio works. Nonetheless, if it came down to picking one album that showcased their skills, it would probably have to be this one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Jerusalem
A short piece and a perfect start to this album. The curtain opens. The initial act is performed and sets up the play.
Toccata
It starts innocently with a drum roll and sparse keys. Before you know it, you are knocked squarely off your feet by a gust of wind and hail. The keyboards go violently crazy. The percussive instruments have a flavor of Hasse Brunionson's Flying Food Circus. The keyboard sounds, however, were ripped right out of the motion picture Tron, which puts the sound effects ten years ahead of its time. With a brief intermission of calmer effects, the music goes crazy again, this time the sounds from the video game Q-Bert. This was probably cool in the day, but is brutally out of date here. We flip-flop between Tron and Q-Bert for a minute before the piece comes to a halt. Listen to this song with headphones if you don't want to invoke laughter from the people around you.
Still.... You Turn Me On
This is your typical seventies love song with an acoustic guitar, seasoned with a pinch of sound effects. It's short and to the point.
Benny The Bouncer
We are treated to grizzly vocals and a piano player from a ragtime saloon. It is different, interesting, and quite painful.
Karn Evil 9
This is the highlight of the album. It is an epic broken into three sections, one that comes in two parts. This song gives Emerson a chance to show off his skills. In the opening instrumental, every note drummed, strummed, and sung is followed along with a note by the keyboards. Emerson is a man on fire. We eventually get into the second part of the opening impression where we are treated to some of Lake's best vocals. He is a carnie inviting you to check out the geek show. There is something ultimately scary about the show as he is pushing hard to get you inside the tent while the keyboards, guitar, and drums are furiously urging him along. The song has two additional instruments trailing the core theme. It is difficult to tell how these other sections correspond to what you've just heard. They are more impromptu jazz than anything else. Before it's over, we are presented with the prototype for pong and even given a short demo.
 
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