Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery

Year of Release: 1996
Label: Rhino
Catalog Number: 72459
Format: CD
Total Time: 45:02:00

This release, ELP's fifth album, was more than just another album, much more than just another of progressive rock's most important achievements. It was, to some extent, a cultural phenomenon. Most rock music fans that have any awareness of the music of the seventies, even those who do not see themselves as fans of progressive rock in general, are probably familiar with this release. That is in part, certainly, to thirty years of regular airplay of this album's "Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression - Part 2". But, even absent this FM radio staple, this is an album that had considerable impact at the time of its release, and for long afterwards. The tour that followed this album went on for nearly two years, led to the band's sixth release, the live powerhouse Welome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, and took ELP and progressive rock to superstar proportions. By 1974 the band was one of the most widely known rock bands in America and the world. It can be reasonably argued that this band and this release were in a large part responsible for the solidification of the genre's popularity, helping to move the style from college radio and avant-garde cult status to wide acceptance and general acclaim.

This release had impact even beyond the music or the genre's spiralling trajectory. In the field of technical advances, it showcased what may have been the first use of percussion synthesizers and keyboard sequencers. H.R. Giger's cover artwork spawned a new trend in art with his frighteningly surrealist cover art. The collaboration between Greg Lake and Pete Sinfield on the lyrics of the albums "Karn Evil 9" suite may have even had some influential effect on the embryonic cyberpunk school of literature. The dichotomy presented in the album's lyrics inspired many hours of discussion regarding the potential conflicts between man and his technology. Remember that, in 1973, computers and digital technology were largely the domain of pointy headed academics and high school geeks. Only recently has the prescience of these fears spread beyond the realm of the conspiracy and black helicopter crowd.

In addition to all the technological and social importance of this album, it also boasted some great music, some of the best music that ELP would ever produce. The album would also be the last important release of new music that ELP would put out. The album began with the band's take on a favourite English hymn, "Jerusalem." A beloved poem and stirring example of English romanticism, written in 1804 by William Blake, and set to music by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in 1916, this track was an ELP favourite, though it was roundly criticized by many as a wretched example of pointless bombast and pretension. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the critics of this adaptation completely missed the point. This hymn, and its arrangement are completely appropriate here, as the overriding lyrical theme of this release is the dialectic between humanity and technology. The poems text alludes to obtaining freedom from the "dark satanic mills" which, on one level, can be seen as a sort of luddite condemnation of the industrial revolution, keeping with the album's overall lyrical and visual theme, but ? digress. Nevertheless, the arrangements bombastic approach is fully warranted, as this is an Anglican Church standard and Emerson's heavy handed organ rightly reflects the compositions origin and Parry's intent in setting this work to music. Emerson's B-3 and synthesizer work on this arrangement are outstanding, particularly his use of the Moog to simulate a group of trumpeters. Carl Palmer's use of tympani and tubular bells perfectly augments his tight drumming, and Lake's choir boy vocals are among the best he had ever done.

Jerusalem" was followed by another cover, "Toccata." Emerson's arrangement of composer Alberto Ginastera's "1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement" was ELP's most successful adaptation of a classical piece, and one of their most impressive moments ever. The story goes that the band's attempt to obtain the publisher's permission to record and release this work was rejected, so Emerson himself went to visit Ginastera and so impressed him with his vision of this composition that the composer overruled his publisher and heartily endorsed ELP's version. The song featured an original addition in Carl Palmer's percussion movement which was notable not only for its frenzied power, but its pioneering use of drum triggered synthesizers. The resulting drum barrage is heightened by a cacophony of squawks, squeaks and burbling, yet entirely musical sound effects. Emerson's B-3 and Moog work on this piece are simply astounding and even after seeing this masterpiece played live, I still find it baffling that three men could produce all the fury that goes down during this number. With this work, Emerson finally seemed to have grasped his potential with the Moog, and it is, in my opinion, his best work with that instrument. As Ginastera said, this is a work of diabolical brilliance.

The third track of Brain Salad Surgery, Lake's obligatory acoustic ballad "Still ? You Turn Me On" is one of his best, with a beautifully played acoustic guitar augmented with touches of electric guitar on the chorus. His overdubbed, muted, simultaneously ascending and descending single note lines which end in a wah-wah'ed melodic riff (curiously reviled by many writers) complement his rhythm guitar work nicely. Emerson's accordion, harpsichord and understated synth. work, along with Palmer's simple use of tambourine for percussion complement Lake's lovely ballad nicely.

Speaking of critical revilement, track four, "Benny The Bouncer," was the subject of a great deal of disdain. Tarkus and Trilogy had their light hearted, somewhat goofy tunes, and Brain Salad Surgery was no different. Songs like "Jeremy Bender," "The Sheriff," and, to a lesser extent, "Nutrocker" and "Are You Ready Eddie," were usually vilified, generally with little in the way of substantial reasoning. "Benny The Bouncer" was a straight-forward Dixieland style honky-tonk tune with excellent fleet fingered piano from Emerson and very nice trap set work from Palmer. They are both fine jazz players, and I see no reason to hold this tune in such disdain. Few pianists could match Emerson's abilities in any genre and, frankly, I usually enjoy his performance in whatever style he chooses to play, and "Benny The Bouncer" is as enjoyable as most any honky-tonk tune I have heard. Lake adopts an amusing Cockney accent on this tunes vocals, and I will gladly forgive even this. Compare this with another lyrically similar tune, Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown", and then tell me how bad this song is, ok?

Finally now, the real meat and potatoes of this release, the "Karn Evil 9" suite. At nearly thirty minutes, this work occupied part of side one and all of side two on the original LP release, and was broken down into three parts or "impressions." The first impression was further broken down into two parts due to the time limitations of the LP format, and it is part two of the first impression has received great FM radio airplay on "Classic Rock" stations. Lyrically, the first impression lays out a story "about an age of power when no one had an hour to spare, where the seeds have withered, silent children shivered in the cold." In this world, presumably one where technology had run rampant, the lyrics narrator promised to "be there" to "heal their sorrow" and to "fight tomorrow," tomorrow again presumably a metaphor for the future of technology. Musically, this suite is made up of three very different sounding pieces. The first impression is almost the progressive equivalent of heavy metal, with a furious tempo, non stop keyboard pyrotechnics and impossibly difficult stop and start construction. Emerson's Herculean virtuosity is a wonder to behold, and his Moog and B-3 work on this impression are without a doubt some of the most breathtaking work in the cannon of keyboard led progressive rock. Palmer's drumming on this impression must be the most intense aerobic workout ever conceived, his snare work in particular. Greg Lake's vocals were the best of the band's recorded work and the first impression also contains his best guitar playing, his guitar solo in part two being very impressive and well thought out, with soaring licks and ripping descending scales in its final moments.

The second impression is a brilliant piece of piano based jazz, the trio outdoing most established jazz artists. Emerson blurts out seven minutes of non stop 32nd notes, certainly well rehearsed, but capturing the feel and the fire of a brilliant improvisation. The middle section of this piece finds the group performing as a marimba combo gone wild, as this tropical sound reaches heights of insanity undreamed of. Before reprising the impressions initial theme, Emerson digs out some of the most unsettling and dangerous sounding dissonant piano lines ever heard.

The "Karn Evil 9" suite continues with the third and final impression, a much more low key effort when compared to the craziness of the first and second parts, but still quite beefy and hard hitting on its own. Emerson again rolls out some flaming B-3 playing, with heavy Jimmy Smith-style jazzy licks on the Hammond organ, and ends with octave leaping sequenced lines flying by at the speed of light. Lake and Sinfield's lyrics take us on an intergalactic journey of war, as man and machine square off in a final battle for the future of mankind.

This is, along with Tarkus and Trilogy, the core of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer collection and, of course, any collection of progressive rock. This is unquestionably the album that launched a thousand imitators, and is one of the greatest releases of this genre.

Released by Manticore in 1973 (MC66669)

Jerusalem (2:44) / Toccata (an adaptation of Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement) (7:22) / Still?You Turn Me On (2:53) / Benny The Bouncer (2:21) / Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression-Part 1 (8:43) / Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression-Part 2 (4:46) / 2nd Impression (7:07) / 3rd Impression (9:03)

Keith Emerson - organs, piano, accordion, Moog Synthesizer, Moog Polyphonic Ensemble
Greg Lake - vocals, bass, 6 & 12 string guitars
Carl Palmer - percussion and percussion synthesizers

Emerson Lake and Palmer (1970/1983/1996)
Tarkus (1971)
Pictures At An Exhibition (1972)
Trilogy (1972/198?/1996)
Brain Salad Surgery (1973/1983/1996)
Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends (1974)
Works, Vol. 1 (1977)
Works, Vol. 2 (1977)
Love Beach (1978)
In Concert (1979)
The Best Of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1980)
Black Moon (1992)
Live At The Royal Albert Hall (1992)
The Atlantic Years (1992)
Works Live (1993)
The Return Of The Manticore (Box set) (1993)
In The Hot Seat (1994)
The Best Of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1994)
Classic Rock (1995)
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival (1997)
King Biscuit Flower Hour: Greatest Hits Live (1997)
Then & Now (live) (1998)
The Very Best Of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (2000)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 1 (2001/2006)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 2 (2001)
Live In Poland (2001)
Show That Never Ends (2001)
Live (2002)*
Best Of The Bootlegs (2002)
Solo Anthology (2002)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 3 (2002)
Live In Poland (2003)
Greatest Hits Live (2003)
An Introduction To? (2004)
Three Classic Albums (2004)
Ultimate Collection (2004)
Critical Review 1970-1992 (2005)
Bootleg Box Set (2006)
Original Bootleg Series From The Manticore Vaults, Vol 4 (2006)
Lucky Man: Best Of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (2006)
The Birth Of A Band: Isle Of Wight Festival (2006)
The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer (2007)
From The Beginning (CD/DVD) (2007)
Works 1 & 2 (2009)
A Time And A Place (4CD Box) (2010)
Live At The High Voltage Festival (2010)

Pictures At An Exhibition (VHS/DVD) (1970/2002)
Welcome Back (VHS/DVD) (1993/2001)
Live At The Royal Albert Hall (VHS/DVD) (1996/2001)
Works Orchestral Tour: Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 1977 (DVD) (1998)
The Manticore Special (DVD) (1998) (broadcast on TV 1973/1974)
Masters From The Vault (2004)
Live At Montreux, 1997 (DVD) (2004)
Critical Review 1970-1995 (DVD) (2005)
Beyond The Beginning (DVD) (2005)
Music In Review (DVD) (2005)
Pictures At An Exhibition - 35th Anniversary Edition (DVD) (2005)
Live Broadcasts: Collector's Rarities (DVD) (2006)
Pictures At An Exhibition - Special Edition (40th Ann. Edition) (2010)

*this is of the Isle Of Wight festival, too.

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: May 16th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website: www.emersonlakepalmer.com
Hits: 1709
Language: english


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