Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Tarkus

Year of Release: 1987
Label: Atlantic
Catalog Number: 19121-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 38:40:00

Reviewing Tarkus (1971) is a bit intimidating. There have already been numerous reviews published already over the last 30-plus years, some quite in depth. These icons of progressive rock have probably been analyzed right down to what brand of underwear Keith Emerson was wearing when ELP was first coming together (and maybe even what day he bought it). And so I know there's a contingent of readers out there who will scruntize this review meticulously. I'd better have something new to say then hadn't I? I'll at least try.

Tarkus is often mentioned as ELP's signature album, their greatest work. Of course, I think that when folks make that comment, it is specifically about the "Tarkus" suite that comprises the first seven tracks (20-plus minutes of music). In it's vinyl format, it was side one. There needed to be a side two, of course; what record was only one sided (barring demos or test pressings and such)? So, after the impressive side one, we get less impressive, comidic "Jeremy Bender," the western-themed honky-tonk piece. Not that performances are bad, but it breaks the mood set by the first half - and much more so on CD where you don't have the added "pause" of turning the vinyl over. Sometimes there's a reason for outtakes, let's say. Emerson puts the honky-tonk sound to much better use - and less overt - on the rockier "Bitches Crystal." Side two ends with the rave-up rocker "Are You Ready Eddy?" (a reference to Eddy -or Eddie - Orford, who produced the album). Of course, if you were to describe the album's central theme in literal terms - about a giant armadillo tank roaming the earth - one would think "Jeremy Bender" was the most serious track of them all - at least the most plausible. View it all as metaphor, of course, and... well, if you don't like ELP, it probably still seems like a silly framework on which to hang an anti-war theme.

Anyway, what makes this an essential progressive rock release, however, are those first seven tracks. The concept is an idea of Emerson's and this is evident by how dominant his keyboards are (as ever); Emerson wrote or co-wrote all but one of the album's 13 tracks, "Battlefield" being a Lake only penned piece. Because of Emerson's plethora of keys - Moog, Hammond, church organ, and piano - and their percussive sound, which draws in the drums and percussion of Carl Palmer, if it weren't for vocals and some searing (and at times Gilmour-esque) guitar work, one might think this really was Emerson and Palmer (and Lake). Not to dimiss Lake as casually as that may sound, of course. It isn't as if Lake is a subpar vocalist riding the others' coattails... No, Lake is as very good vocalist... but his basswork doesn't "pop" as much as Emerson's keys and Palmer's drums do.

That percussive keyboard attack - a description I must credit to Ed Macan who said such in his book - is what is often imitated by ELP influenced bands, more so than Palmer's drumming or Lake's vocals. All of which may really make this trio Emerson with Palmer and Lake. The "Tarkus" suite begins with a timeless swell of atmospheric keys, leading into an "Eruption" of layers of keyboards from Emerson, the underlying layer quite percussive. If ever the term "percolating" were to be used, this'd be it; this verily cooks. Palmer aids this with drums, the bottom end well balanced by Lake's bass. The focus is Emerson's keyboards of course. The leads right into the dreamy "Stones Of Tears" and a very good vocal performance from Lake. A solo from Emerson is more marimba like than what one expects from keyboards (in general), but there's no mistaking them for keyboards either on the more elongated notes. We'll hear the clipped-notes technique later in "Mass." "Iconoclast" is a darkly churning piece, where the trio play off and with each other, Emerson and Palmer more at the forefront. Palmer's drum kit sounds massive - spacially filling all the space between your ears. One of my favorite Palmer moments is his drumming on the ballsy, beefy "Mass" - cool in its "simplicity" and a bit of funkiness. Not forgetting Emerson's deft control of his keys... precisely cutting off the notes for a different sounding percussive effect; you'd think they were plucked guitar strings being muted with the other hand. Very cool, and still cool 30-odd years later. And Lake does get to insert a comparatively brief, searing guitar solo. "Manticore" is Emerson let loose to follow his muse, bringing the others along and bringing in elements from previous tracks; notably this restates the churning rhythm from "Iconoclast." But for the respite of the comparatively mellow "Stones Of Tears," the "Tarkus" suite leaves you breathless from start to finish. Lake's vocal delivery on the mainly drum focused "Battlefield" is a bit haunting.

"The Only Way (Hymn)" is another showcase for Emerson's playing, here on a church organ. In this piece, Lake's bass is more strongly felt. "A Time And A Place" is wild prog rock piece - that is, Emerson's keys and Palmer's drums are just barely tamed, as are Lake's vocals. There's a tension in each just chomping to break free. It a monster of track, fairly on par with the material of side one. Leaving you with the same kind of thrill... ending on this note, your hair would be standing on end, there's so much electricity.

Thrilling terrific stuff - the best musical weapon that ELP have (had) in their arsenal and worth getting for the 75% gold among the 25% bronze.

Released originally in 1971 by Island Records (ILPS 9155) in the UK; by Cotillion (SD9900) in the US (and released in other regions in 1971 and 1973); re-re-released on CD in 1993, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 in Europe, UK, US, and Japan

Tarkus: Eruption (2:43) - Stones Of Years (3:43) - Iconoclast (1:16) - Mass (3:09) - Manticore (1:49) - Battlefield (3:57) - Aquatarkus (3:54) / Jeremy Bender (1:41) / Bitches Crystal (3:54) / The Only Way (Hymn) (3:50) / Infinite Space (Conclusion) (3:18) / A Time And A Place (3:00) / Are You Ready Eddy? (4:09)

Keith Emerson - Hammond organ, St. Marks Church Organ, piano, celeste, Moog Synthesizer
Carl Palmer - drums and percussion
Greg Lake - bass, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals

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: October 19th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.emersonlakepalmer.com
Hits: 1275
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]