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Review: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Emerson, Lake and Palmer” and “Tarkus” Expanded Editions

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Ooh, what a lucky man I am!  Chances are you will be, too, if you’ve been anticipating the just-launched series of deluxe reissues from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, available now from Razor and Tie in the U.S. and Sony Music internationally.  It’s back to the very beginning for the progressive rock supergroup, with 1970’s eponymous debut and 1971’s Tarkus both having been revisited in 2-CD/1-DVD editions as you’ve never heard them before.

Keith Emerson (organ/synthesizer/piano), Greg Lake (bass/guitars/vocals) and Carl Palmer (drums/percussion) were all young music veterans when they joined forces.  Emerson was a founding member of The Nice, Lake an integral part of King Crimson, and Palmer an alumnus of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds.  ELP wasn’t the first time these musicians had desired to push the envelope in popular music, but the marshaled powers of all three created a legacy that places them at the vanguard of progressive rock.  The genre itself was an answer to the compact pop song that dominated the United Kingdom charts.  The so-called prog-rockers found expression via classically and psychedelically inspired forays into longer song forms, symphonic instrumentation, and “heavy” sounds.  For their mighty debut together, Emerson, Lake and Palmer combined classical (the grandeur of each composition), jazz (the free-form melodic explorations) and rock (the raw, primal power of just the trio).

These new editions are set apart from past reissues as they offer numerous ways to approach each album.  Both ELP and Tarkus offer three distinct versions of the album: the original LP, in freshly remastered form; a 2012 Alternate Version in stereo (on both CD and DVD-A); and a new 5.1 mix.  Each set contains the original vinyl mix on CD 1, remastered by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham.  CD 2 is dedicated to an all-new Alternate album.  Producer Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree (also the man behind the impressive, recent series of King Crimson CD/DVD-A sets) was given carte blanche to re-envision these seminal albums originally produced by Greg Lake, and the Alternate Versions of both ELP and Tarkus include bonus tracks.  But in the case of ELP, Wilson was forced to leave some material from the original LP off, as original multi-track masters no longer exist, precluding a remix being created.  The third disc is in the DVD-Audio format, and contains a brand-new 5.1 mix of all available album tracks by Wilson, plus the Alternate Version in high-resolution stereo.  (See below for complete track listings for each version.)

Of course, in any version, these albums, both produced by Lake (and “arranged and directed” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer) remain stone-cold classics of the genre.  Of the original LP mix and the 2012 Alternate, which will you prefer?  It will largely depend on your familiarity with the original, and your willingness or desire to see it approached from a different angle.  One thing is clear, however: Wilson has remixed these albums with utmost respect for the material.

1970’s ELP planted the seeds for the continued growth of the group’s sounds, a mélange of classical, jazz and heavy rock sounds.  It’s primarily instrumental, though not without sung fragments and fully developed songs.  Though album-opening “The Barbarian” (adapted from music by influential 20th century classical composer Béla Bartók) isn’t conventionally melodic, it’s wholly stirring in ELP’s hands, rhythmically pulsating and majestic; a jazz interlude only adds to its grand ambition.  Yet, for all its unflinching tension, anchored by Lake’s furious bass, Emerson’s charged piano and Palmer’s lightning-speed drums, it’s ultimately a curtain-raiser.  “Take a Pebble,” the band’s first original song to be written and rehearsed, was developed by Lake and Emerson from a pre-ELP song Lake had written, and has the feel of a folk ballad altered into something much bigger: “Just take a pebble and cast it to the sea/Then watch the ripples that come float into me…”  Emerson, Lake and Palmer would continue to take a transformative approach to compositions of varying origins.    Clocking in at over twelve minutes’ length, it’s an exercise in theme and variations that compels the listener to pay close attention.

“Knife-Edge” was arranged by Emerson from music by Leoš Janáček and J. S. Bach, with lyrics by Emerson and Robert Fraser, bringing a recognizably rock dimension on the organ to this classical piece.  Emerson’s “The Three Fates” might be the album’s pièce de résistance, a three-part suite.  The first section, “Clotho,” features the virtuoso on an organ recorded at London’s Royal Festival Hall, while his gorgeous piano reigns on “Lachesis.”  The third segment, “Atropos,” features pianos and percussion locked into a percolating Latin groove.  Another pre-ELP song to be given a new life was “Lucky Man,” according to legend written by Lake when he was just twelve years of age.  Regardless of its origin, it’s a stunning pop achievement, complete with vocal harmonies.  The gentle acoustic ballad was given the ELP touch with its far-out Moog solo.  It’s one of the two shortest tracks on the original LP and perhaps the band’s best known song, even though it sounds altogether unlike the rest of the album.  No matter, though; its shimmering folk balladry capped off a diverse debut.  (And “Lucky Man” was extracted from the album to become a successful single.)

The new Alternate Version of ELP offers numerous distinctions even beyond the crisp mix, which provides clear, equal emphasis on all instruments.  But only the third section of “The Three Fates,” entitled “Atropos,” is present.  “Tank,” with a solo drum showcase for Palmer, has also been removed from the sequence.  “Knife-Edge” features an extended outro.  A previously unreleased version of Mussorgsky’s “Promenade” recorded during the album sessions has been restored; the song, of course, was later recut for 1971’s “live” Pictures at an Exhibition.  Perhaps to replace “Tank,” “Rave-Up” and “Drum Solo” have also been added.  These seamless pieces are fast, furious and in your face, with aggressive playing.  Palmer’s drums come on like machine guns in the former, while Lake wails and Emerson provides accents.  At just under three minutes, Palmer’s solo doesn’t threaten to wear out its welcome.  Four bonus tracks round out this reshuffled new version: alternates of “Take a Pebble,” “Knife-Edge” and “Lucky Man” plus Greg Lake’s first solo take of “Lucky Man,” as well.  “Take a Pebble” shows off Emerson’s fluid, dexterous piano and “Knife-Edge” is likewise an instrumental, with impassioned interplay.  Lake’s solo “Lucky Man” is tender and reflective, and the group version lacks the Moog solo but makes up for it, particularly via even more fiercely resonant playing from Lake.  Does the alternate assembly of tracks improve on the original?  It’s doubtful, but that was never Wilson’s intention.  He succeeds mightily in allowing this album to be discovered anew with unheard material that should be sure to whet the appetite of any longtime ELP fan.

Six tracks on the debut album have been mixed into 5.1 for the DVD-A: “The Barbarian,” “Take a Pebble,” “Knife-Edge,” “The Three Fates: Atropos,” “Rave Up” and “Lucky Man.”  From the very first notes of “The Barbarian,” sound is swirling all around you in this incredibly immersive, yet sonically tasteful, new conception.  For those equipped with 5.1 capabilities, this might just become your go-to for ELP.  Even though “Tank” and the remaining sections of “The Fates” are missed, the remaining tracks sound bold and beautiful in surround.  The high-resolution stereo presentation brings out even more nuance in Wilson’s mix than is audible on the CD.

After the jump: on to Tarkus!

If Emerson, Lake & Palmer is somewhat of a stylistic mélange, its follow-up Tarkus is laser-focused.  The entire first side of the original LP was dedicated to the title track, a sprawling seven-part, nearly 21-minute opus consisting of compositions by Lake, Emerson and the two gentlemen in tandem.  It can’t help but remain the centerpiece of this reissue, whether in its original LP mix (CD 1), new 2012 Alternate Version stereo mix (CD 2) or most especially the revelatory 5.1 surround version on the DVD-A.  “Tarkus” the epic album opener naturally gives showcases to all three members of the group as the tempi and mood constantly shift, from the roiling opening through alternating moments of ferocity and calm, anger and regret.  But it’s impossible to consider “Tarkus” the song without taking into account the album’s artwork, an integral part of the overall experience.

It’s been suggested that the album and song name was derived from both “Tartarus” (in Greek mythology, a prison under Hades) and “carcass” (hence the name being written in bones on the album cover, which doesn’t even mention the band). Artist William Neal designed the eponymous armadillo-tank, and in Chris Welch’s liner notes, Neal recalls the band members getting involved in his design and development.  The character and his story carried over into the album’s center spread in which Tarkus fights various other fantastical creatures. Neal recalls listening to “Tarkus” while creating the art, and indeed, his drawings reflects the story being told in the extended suite of compositions (i.e. Tarkus emerging from an erupting volcano corresponds with the segment “Eruption,” etc.)

In between the varied instrumental segments, with their unusual time signatures, funereal organ, malevolent bass, burbling Moog, gong, bluesy guitar and potent drums, the vocal segments offer even more boldly provocative food for thought.  Greg Lake’s calm, almost unaffected vocal on “Stones of Years” ponders, “Has the dawn ever seen your eyes/Have the days made you so unwise…Have you walked on the stones of years?  When you speak, is it you that hears?” bringing the impressionistic lyrics to vivid life.  “Battlefield” is tinged with bitter sadness: “Clear the battlefield and let me see all the profit from our victory!  You talk of freedom, starving children fall.  Are you deaf when you hear the season’s call?”  Both “Stones of Years” (with some lovely Hammond organ from Emerson) and “Battlefield” make a strong anti-war statement, but the overall arc of the “Tarkus” medley has been subject to numerous interpretations over the years.  You’ll doubtless create one of your own, if you haven’t already, but chances are the unforgettable cover image of that armadillo-tank creature will figure into your story!  Suffice to say, though, that “Tarkus” has never sounded better than in Wilson’s truly stunning 5.1 mix.  Palmer’s drums might envelope you one minute from side to side, then be directly in front of you as Emerson’s organ assaults you from a rear channel; the “Mass” section is particularly ear-opening.  The intense, dramatic “Tarkus” crystallized Emerson, Lake and Palmer, as rock renegades, with that rock quotient coming more in attitude than from the classical and jazz sounds within the grooves – progressive, indeed.

The second side of the album doesn’t attempt to compete with the first, though it’s not without its own ambitious efforts. Even in shorter pieces, numerous sides of the band shine.  Emerson and Lake’s “Bitches Crystal” features a throaty, aggressive vocal from Lake, with Emerson’s piano shifting from tense to lyrical.  Their “The Only Way (Hymn)” incorporates a theme by Bach and showcases Emerson on both a grand, haunting organ and a jazzy piano, leading into Emerson and Palmer’s “Infinite Space (Conclusion).”  Emerson, Lake and Palmer were unafraid to flirt with bombast; “A Time and a Place” has some of the most pained but passionate music on the album.

The lighter side of the band is evident, though, on two of Tarkus’ tracks.  The comic relief number “Jeremy Bender,” contrasts Emerson’s rollicking, honky-tonk piano with nearly-nonsensical, rhyming exercise-style lyrics: “Jeremy Bender was a man of leisure/Took his pleasure in the evening sun/Laid him down in a bed of roses/Finally decided to become a nun… Talk with the sister, spoke in a whisper, threatened to fist her if she didn’t come clean/Jumped on the mother just like a brother asked one another if the other is a queen!”  Then there’s the album’s last piece of music, the rock-and-roll pastiche (spoof?) “Are You Ready, Eddy?” directed at ELP’s engineer Eddy Offord (“Are you ready, Eddy, ready to rock and roll?  Are you ready, Eddy, to pull those faders down?”).  Emerson tears into the boogie-woogie with relish.

As on ELP, Wilson’s stereo remix of Tarkus is intelligently crafted and best enjoyed by those familiar with the album and eager to pick up new subtleties in the arrangement and performances.  It adds three tracks, Lake’s “Oh, My Father” (also available in 5.1), an alternate take of the “Mass” section of “Tarkus,” and a controversial piece entitled “Unknown Ballad.”  Why controversial?  Despite being included here, there seems to be some doubt that the song is actually an Emerson, Lake and Palmer recording.  As a result, various corners of the ELP online community have bandied about the possibility of the song’s removal from this reissue.  Regardless of whose work the song actually is, it’s an earnest, piano-based ballad with a lovely, gentle melody and lightly hallucinogenic lyrics:  “Flying so high, I don’t know why it feels so real/Maybe it’s just a dream…”

“Oh, My Father,” reportedly written by Lake about the death of his father, is a tender and accessible ballad, and from a musical standpoint, it’s inexplicable how it would have remained on the cutting room floor for all these years.  It’s a very welcome addition to Tarkus, and as Steven Wilson points out in Welch’s excellent notes, it’s more stylistically compatible with the rest of the album than the goofier tracks like “Are You Ready, Eddy?” and “Jeremy Bender.”

These new editions make an invaluable addition to any progressive rock shelf, but also are designed to serve as an introduction to the band for new listeners, as well.  (Though the overall sets may be unlikely to win over any ELP detractors, the surround mixes are sufficiently impressive to floor anyone with 5.1 capabilities – fan or otherwise!)  The attractively-designed digipaks for both titles contain all three discs plus a booklet with full credits and informative liner notes from Chris Welch about the history of the album and the band.  The notes for Tarkus also recap the history for those who don’t wish to pick up ELP.  Welch’s essays contain quotes from Wilson as to his choices in assembling the stereo and surround remixes, and the booklets are also loaded with photos and memorabilia, and the design elements carry over to the digipaks, too.

Razor and Tie promises that the catalogue campaign will continue with similarly expanded reissues of Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), Trilogy (1972), Brain Salad Surgery (1973) and Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen (1974).  Should those sets be produced with the same hallmarks of creativity and respect for the original albums, 2013 at your local record shop will doubtless be a time and a place to be a fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Razor and Tie, 2012)

CD 1: Original Album (originally released as Island (U.K.) ILPS-9132, 1970)

  1. The Barbarian
  2. Take A Pebble
  3. Knife-Edge
  4. The Three Fates (Clotho/Lachesis/Atropos)
  5. Tank
  6. Lucky Man

CD 2: The Alternate Emerson, Lake & Palmer (New 2012 Stereo Mix)

  1. The Barbarian
  2. Take A Pebble
  3. Knife Edge (with Extended Outro)
  4. Promenade
  5. The Three Fates: Atropos
  6. Rave Up
  7. Drum Solo
  8. Lucky Man
  9. Take A Pebble (Alternate Version)
  10. Knife Edge (Alternate Version)
  11. Lucky Man (First Greg Lake Solo Version)
  12. Lucky Man (Alternate Version)

Tracks 1-5, 8 previously unreleased in this mix
Tracks 6-7, 9-12 previously unreleased in any format

DVD-Audio:

New 2012 – 5.1 Mix (Previously Unreleased)

  1. The Barbarian
  2. Take A Pebble
  3. Knife-Edge
  4. The Three Fates: Atropos
  5. Rave Up
  6. Lucky Man

New 2012 Stereo Mix (Previously Unreleased)

  1. The Barbarian
  2. Take A Pebble
  3. Knife Edge (with Extended Outro)
  4. Promenade
  5. The Three Fates: Atropos
  6. Rave Up
  7. Drum Solo
  8. Lucky Man
  9. Take A Pebble (Alternate Version)
  10. Knife Edge (Alternate Version)
  11. Lucky Man (First Greg Lake Solo Version)
  12. Lucky Man (Alternate Version)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus (Razor and Tie, 2012)

CD 1: Original Album (originally released as Island (U.K.) ILPS-9155, 1971)

  1. Tarkus (Eruption/Stones of Years/Iconoclast/Mass/Manticore/The Battlefield/Aquatarkus)
  2. Jeremy Bender
  3. Bitches Crystal
  4. The Only Way (Hymn)
  5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
  6. A Time And A Place
  7. Are You Ready Eddy?

CD 2: The Alternate Tarkus (New 2012 Stereo Mix)

  1. Tarkus (Eruption/Stones of Years/Iconoclast/Mass/Manticore/The Battlefield/Aquatarkus)
  2. Jeremy Bender
  3. Bitches Crystal
  4. The Only Way (Hymn)
  5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
  6. A Time And A Place
  7. Are You Ready Eddy?
  8. Oh, My Father
  9. Unknown Ballad
  10. Mass (Alternate Take)

Tracks 8-10 previously unreleased

DVD-Audio:

New 2012 5.1 Mix (Previously Unreleased)

  1. Tarkus (Eruption/Stones of Years/Iconoclast/Mass/Manticore/The Battlefield/Aquatarkus)
  2. Jeremy Bender
  3. Bitches Crystal
  4. The Only Way (Hymn)
  5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
  6. A Time And A Place
  7. Are You Ready Eddy?
  8. Oh, My Father

New 2012 Stereo Mix (previously unreleased)

  1. Tarkus (Eruption/Stones of Years/Iconoclast/Mass/Manticore/The Battlefield/Aquatarkus)
  2. Jeremy Bender
  3. Bitches Crystal
  4. The Only Way (Hymn)
  5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)
  6. A Time And A Place
  7. Are You Ready Eddy?
  8. Oh, My Father
  9. Unknown Ballad
  10. Mass (Alternate Take)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Tarkus will also be available on 180-gram vinyl versions of the original albums.

Written by Joe Marchese

September 13, 2012 at 10:02

2 Responses

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  1. when is elp’s trilogy and pictures at an exhibition going to be released by razor and tie ???

    audionut

    November 9, 2013 at 14:28

    • Jan 14 2014

      Richard

      November 13, 2013 at 17:15


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