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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

The Atlantic Years

Review by Gary Hill

This compilation does a good job of representing a nice cross-section of ELP’s work. As such it would serve as a solid first strike for someone looking to acquire an ELP collection. There’s a lot of music here I like, and while I might quibble at a couple of the inclusions, that’s sure to happen with any compilation.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Knife Edge
The keyboard riff that leads this off is a classic and when they drop it down for the first vocals, it’s simply awesome. This is one of the band’s greatest songs. It showcases a lot of the music elements that made the band who they were and this covers a ton of musical ground in its prog rock exploration.
Take a Pebble
I love the mellow, harp-like introduction to this and the track is built up nicely from there. It’s definitely another trademark piece by the group. This has a lot in common with early King Crimson. Emerson’s keyboards really produce a lot of the magic in this mellow, but very intricate and involved number. That said, you can’t discount Greg Lake’s vocals one bit. There’s a little hoe-down section in the middle of this that doesn’t do all that much for me, though. Some of the other explorations that follow, though, work quite well.
Lucky Man
For my money, ELP shines the brightest on evocative balladic numbers like this one. The thing is, they take that sort of a format and work it out in all its glory before tearing into some serious progressive rock territory. That’s the formula here and this is one of ELP’s most successful tracks as far as I’m concerned. 
Tank
Percussion leads off here and this is turned out into a powerful jam that combines rock, classical and jazz leanings into a killer instrumental. There’s drum solo in the middle of this and a lot of this music is extremely intricate. The scorching jam after the drum solo makes it all worth while for certain and is one of the best instrumental segments ever from ELP. 
Tarkus
Take the previous piece, expand it out to a 20 plus minute epic by bringing in all kinds of varied, but yet somehow inter-related movements. Create some nearly symphonic sections of Crimson-like drama. Now you’ve got a good idea of what the instrumental portions of this track, another classic ELP standard, are about. Greg Lake’s vocals on the later sections are particularly potent and there is some great guitar soloing, too. In fact, parts of this are really an arena blues rock song. Certainly comparisons to early King Crimson are evident here – based mostly on Lake’s vocals. This is really one of the best tracks the band ever produced. I love the keyboard solo later in this one, too.
Excerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition
This is a live recording and is a classical adaptation. While this is better than some of the group’s other of these type pieces – one because it has some vocals and two because it’s got more of a rock music base, I’m not sure it’s the most cohesive thing they’ve done. For my money it works only so well and seems to lose me a bit at times.
Endless Enigma, Pt. 1
This diverse rocker is a cool one. It’s got some intriguing vocal sections, but also some interesting instrumental ones. Lake puts in a killer performance on the vocals, but the whole band finds chances to shine.
Fugue
This is a short, less than two minutes, piano solo that’s dramatic and quite classical in approach.
Endless Enigma, Pt. 2
As you might guess this is essentially a reprise of the track that came before “Fugue.” It’s just a short one that brings it to a satisfying conclusion.
Disc 2
From the Beginning
Starting with an acoustic guitar ballad approach, this is a pretty cut. The bouncy sort of easy going groove that they move into reminds me somehow of the Doobie Brothers, but this is every bit the powerhouse that was “Lucky Man.” The keyboard solo on this is very tasty.
Karn Evil 9 - First Impression Part 1
An eight and a half minute powerhouse epic from Brain Salad Surgery, this is an Emerson Lake and Palmer classic if ever there was one. It works through a number of changes and alterations, but is pretty much continuously rocking. It’s a great tune and holds up quite well. It would certainly be a great way to introduce someone to what ELP’s music is all about because it has it all.
Karn Evil 9 - First Impression Part 2
Continuing the musical themes of the last track, this is – as the title tells you – really more of the same piece. As such it’s pretty much sacrilege to separate them.
Karn Evil 9 - Second Impression
This continues the musical motifs from the last number, but in this case we get a variation in that the keyboards take us off on their own exploration. Fir my money this doesn’t work as well as some of the rest of the stuff here.
Karn Evil 9 - Third Impression
Closing out the epic in style, this is a great way of continuing the musical themes from the opening sections and doing it well. It’s a hard rocker and a great piece of music.
Jerusalem
This cut feels very much like an extension of the epic that came before it. It’s another strong cut and while a short one (less than three minutes) is actually one of my favorites from the band.
Still...You Turn Me On
Another of those beautiful and evocative balladic cuts that ELP has always done so well, this is one of my favorites from them – and in this set.
Toccata
As one might guess this is a classical meets rock number. It’s a powerful track that could be seen as a bit over the top at times. There’s an extended percussion solo in this.
Fanfare for the Common Man
Somehow this one has always been a favorite of mine. ELP reworks Copeland here and it’s a smashing success if you ask me. It’s got some awesome instrumental melodic journeys over the top of a driving groove.
Pirates
This jam is very theatric and powerful. It really feels like it would fit nicely onto the soundtrack of an epic pirate film. It’s very classical in approach and delivery. They bring it out into a dramatic vocal delivery later in the cut. The music is still quite classical during this section, too. We get a rather jazzy section later, though. This is alright, but doesn’t do that much for me. The rocking section at the end of this thirteen minute piece is rather cool, though.
I Believe in Father Christmas
A powerful balladic number, this makes for a great holiday track. I’m just not sure how well it works other times of the year. Still, I really like this song.
Honky-Tonk Train Blues
A jazzy little romp, the piano really drives this piece. There’s a cool section late in the piece where you basically have three guys serving as a big band.
Canario
Another instrumental, this one has an air of “we’ve heard this before.” It’s good, but doesn’t seem to really stand up all that well to some of the other material in the set.
 
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