Friday, January 29, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works, Volume Two

5/10

Works, Volume Two is made up of stuff that didn't make it onto previous albums, and it's pretty obvious which albums some of them were originally recorded for- "Brain Salad Surgery" was left off of the album of the same name, "Bullfrog" didn't make the cut for Palmer's slice of Works Volume One, and "Watching over You" is another lame Lake/Sinfield ballad. Other tracks are harder to place, but many of them have a pretty strong barrelhouse/boogie-woogie/blues/old-time jazz feel (there's even a cover of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"). Unfortunately, I don't really care much for keyboard-based blues or jazz styles that predate the hard bop revolution of the fifties, so these tracks don't do much of anything for me.
While Works Volume One was all over the place but ultimately mediocre, Works Volume Two is just dull but fairly pleasant throughout. I don't know if they were burnt out on bombastic prog songs or what, but there's basically none of the epic sound of their first four albums (five if you count Pictures). I'm sure the Dixieland sound prevalent here will appeal to some people, just not fans of ELP's classic era.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works, Volume One

5/10

After the Brain Salad Surgery tour, ELP took some time off so the members could record solo albums. Unfortunately, none of them managed to finish them, so they decided to release the material on Works, Volume I. Each band member got a side, with another side featuring the entire band. As can be expected, the end result is kind of a mess.
Emerson's side is taken up by a lengthy piano concerto. I felt that, while decent, this piece was all over the place and tried to do too much. I don't have much else to say about this side except that I give it a 5.
Lake's side consists of dumb orchestral ballads co-written with Peter Sinfield (his lyrics here are far closer to the Sinfield that wrote lyrics for Celine Dion than the Sinfield that wrote lyrics for King Crimson). The one song I liked here was "Hallowed be Thy Name," with its off-putting string chords, it's almost scary at times. This side gets a 3 and likes it.
I enjoyed Palmer's side the most against my better judgement. There are arrangements of pieces by Prokofiev and Bach, a hilarious song with a vocoder, and "L. A. Nights," an unholy fusion of proto-80's synths, jazz fusion, and boogie-woogie rock that shouldn't work at all, but somehow does. There's also a pretty decent symphonic re-recording of "Tank" from the debut, although it's hardly the definitive version. Palmer's portion gets a 7 from me.
The full band side has one pretty good song, a rendition of "Fanfare for the Common Man" with some entertaining synth jamming, but the other, called "Pirates," is just incredibly lame. The instrumental parts are okay, but the rest is Broadway tripe of the worst sort, with dumb, dumb orchestration and worse lyrics, and the whole thing goes on way too long. There are a few parts where I think the Broadway stuff gets so cheesy that it sort of works, but that fact's enough to make my heterosexuality want to shrivel up and die. I give side 4 a low, low 6.
As a whole, I can't really recommend Works, Volume One, although it's not an unqualified disaster. You'd be better starting off with the albums that preceded ELP's hiatus.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends

7/10

This triple LP/double CD is a pretty good live summary of the band's classic period, containing material from every studio album they'd recorded up to then. Karn Evil 9 is here in all of its glory, and it's a fine rendition for the most part (although Lake sounds more than a little bored at the end, and Palmer's solo didn't have to be six minutes long). Unfortunately, the production leaves quite a bit to be desired- this album was recorded in an arena setting, and there's a washed-out feel to all the songs. Even worse, there's virtually no low end at all. It's a shame that the sound quality isn't better, because the performances are fine all around, the synth tones have a more primitive quality than the studio version that I enjoy, there's a quote from King Crimson's Epitaph in the middle of Tarkus (the crowd goes wild over that) and even the twelve minutes of piano improvisations by Emerson are enjoyable. It just could have sounded considerably better.

Friday, January 22, 2010

One Year Blogiversary

Well, as of tomorrow I'll have been working on this blog for an entire year. I really wasn't sure that I'd be able to make it this long when I started, but I'm glad I've made it this far. Unfortunately, I know jack shit about how to promote a blog, so I've gotten barely any comments, but at least I have a backlog of reviews that people can look over (I probably wouldn't have started reading Prindle or any of my other favorites if I caught them when they were starting out).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery

10/10

This is, if not in my top 10 albums of all time, certainly in the top 20. It's definitely as bombastic as any other ELP release, but there's plenty of substance here. I may be a little partial to it for personal reasons, though- it starts off with a rendition of the unofficial English national anthem "Jerusalem," which was my school song (although I doubt that the Quaker school that I went to would approve of any version with Emerson's keyboard theatrics).
The best known song off of Brain Salad Surgery is the Karn Evil 9 suite, which outdoes previous sidelength tracks by taking up even more than an entire side. To tell the truth, it could easily have been split up into three tracks that would be merely lengthy instead of the mammoth that it is, but it's still excellent all the way through, and there are smaller, subtler touches that one might not notice at first (the dissonant piano overdubs early on, Emerson playing keyboard bass during a Lake guitar solo, the steel drums in part 2) that really add to the listening experience. There's barely a dull moment, and that's really saying something for a song that's half an hour long. Peter Sinfield also helped to write the lyrics in the third section, and althoughthey're somewhat better than what ELP could come up with themselves- after 9/11, the line "walls that no man thought would fall" takes on a new meaning.
Karn Evil 9 takes up nearly two-thirds of the album's running time, but there are some other good songs. Toccata is reminiscent of the noisy parts in Pictures, but it actually works; it's almost scary in place, and "Still... You Turn Me On" is sweet-sounding even though some of the lyrics are dumb. The only clunker is "Benny the Bouncer," a "humorous" barrel-house ditty that really shouldn't have made the cut. I've also never been a fan of H. R. Giger and his "DONGS ARE SCARY" style of art, and though I'm categorically opposed to censorship, airbrushing out the penis on the album cover probably improved it.
This is one of the crown jewels in the genre of progressive rock. If you don't like it, you're a fucking homo!
(That last part was a joke, of course. As can be seen from my Queen reviews, I can't get enough of the homos.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Trilogy

9/10

ELP's third studio effort was the charm: It's strong all the way through, and the "lesser" tracks are only such compared to the rest of the album. Things get off to a great start with a creepy theremin intro, which leads into "The Endless Enigma," with its surprisingly hooky melody, great fugue interlude and wonderful keyboard noises in the last part. Then there's the laid-back Lake song "From the Beginning," which actually uses Emerson's keyboards in a way that doesn't sound even remotely invasive. "The Sheriff" starts off with an awesome drum solo and actually manages to sound both Western and futuristic at the same time, and while I haven't heard a more traditional version of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown," the one here is very enjoyable.
The title track, not surprisingly, has three parts, the first being just Lake's vocals and piano, the second and third featuring the entire band. There's more than a little Latin influence here, but it doesn't come off as cheesily as one might expect. "Living Sin" is the one weak link here, with Lake doing this dumb "threatening" voice that just ends up sounding insanely goofy. However, things finish off well with "Abaddon's Bolero," which is less of a rip-off of Ravel's original Bolero than a different piece in the same repetitive but compelling style.
This is a great ELP album that doesn't go quite as far over the top as some of their others, and it would be a pretty good choice to show to people who think the progressive genre as a whole sucks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Pictures at an Exhibition

7/10

This was the first of many of ELP's performances of Pictures to be released, and I think it's pretty damn good when it stays more or less faithful to the original. Unfortunately, there are far too many points where ELP made some truly decisions that range from "questionable" to "what the FUCK?"
Adding original lyrics to parts of such a famous classical piece was an incredibly audacious thing to do and it just doesn't work that well in most places. In addition, there are some sections which are just plain dull ("The Sage," an acoustic Lake section) or just plain difficult to listen to (some parts are basically synthesizer noises and nothing else). One of the more original parts that I liked was "Blues Variation," but then again, I'm a sucker for the Hammond. I did enjoy the entire "Baba Yaga" part, which is noisy but fun, and a great lead-in to "The Great Gates of Kiev," which really should have been the closer (nothing sounds good following that). Pictures is pretentious but fairly good fun, if you can get past a few dry spots.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Tarkus

6/10

Tarkus is a bit of a mixed bag. One of the first sidelength tracks in the history of progressive rock (the only previous one I can think of is Procol Harum's "In Held 'Twas in I", although there were others in other genres, such as Love's Revelation and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) starts off amazingly well, with awesome keyboard breaks from Emerson and drum fills from Palmer, and the variety of keyboard tones is just amazing. Unfortunately, there are some really dull, quieter parts in the last third or so (although that part does feature a rare Lake guitar solo and an amusing bit with a keyboard solo that sounds like a duck quacking), and the lyrics are some kerfluffle about a giant armadillo and man's inhumanity to man. It's still pretty good overall, though.
Unfortunately, the second side is largely made up of throwaways; the most memorable part of the whole thing being some terrible, terrible lyrics (the verb "fist" is used as a synonym for "beat up" at one point, and another song has the line "Why did you lose/six million Jews". Christ, "The Only Way" would've been my favorite song on side two if not for that little clunker). It's obvious that ELP's focus was on the title track, and it's basically all that's worthwhile here. I guess I can recommend this album, but think of it as a really, really long single with a bunch of really lame B-sides and it'll probably go down better.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live at the Isle of Wight

5/10

This was the band's second ever live show in 1970 and was recorded before the studio debut, but not released until 1997. There are two songs here from the debut, the full Pictures at an Exhibition suite, Rondo and Nutrocker. On the tracks from the self-titled album, the band sounds awfully unpolished (as should be no surprise); Emerson, Lake and Palmer clearly weren't fully comfortable with each other at the time, and they interrupt each other at odd moments. I'll save my critique of their renditions of Pictures and Nutrocker for the Pictures live album that they would release later, but Emerson's keyboard tones are fairly off throughout and it's clear that their arrangements weren't as polished as they would be later.
Live at the Isle of Wight is more important for its historical value than as a great performance. It's not and embarrassment or anything, but while all three band members were very talented, they hadn't quite gelled yet here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - s/t

7/10

ELP's self-titled debut is fairly decent, although not quite a classic. "The Barbarian" certainly gets things off to a great start, with Emerson's great organ playing over a proto-metallic riff from Lake, but "Take a Pebble", while it starts out and ends superbly, certainly could have stood to lose a few minutes there in the middle. "Knife Edge" ends the first side with one of the harder rocking songs on the album.
"The Three Fates" is basically three Emerson keyboard solos; the first, on the organ, is absolutely great (I think I've heard it ripped off in some Final Fantasy game or something), but the second piano part just meanders, and Palmer's great drumming on the third section is probably more interesting than the keyboard part. Then we hit "Tank," one of the few Palmer compositions the band recorded, and it's quite good (although fairly obviously written by a drummer, what with the lengthy solo).
The closer, Lucky Man, one of the band's best known songs, is pretty good, but completely unrepresentative of the band's sound, being an acoustic ballad with no contribution from Emerson until the insanely out-of-place synth solo at the end. I haven't heard something so out-of-place in a song since the guitar solo on the last Enya album, or the song by the death metal band Six Feet Under where Ice-T starts rapping halfway through.
All in all, the self-titled debut isn't bad or anything, but there would be better stuff later on.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Emerson, Lake and Palmer are, in my opinion, responsible for some of the finest albums in the progressive rock genre (although I'll admit that they could be a bit one-dimensional at times). A keyboard-based power trio formed by former members of the Nice, King Crimson, and Atomic Rooster, they were absolutely on fire during the early half of the 70's. Then they took a hiatus, and they were never quite the same after it was over.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bob Vido - One Man Band

2/10

On several of his pages, Mark Prindle bemoans the fact that he heard a great song by some band on a compilation, but when he tracked down the band's only release, it wasn't good at all (check out his Count Five and Stranglehold pages for good examples). I first discovered Bob Vido through his song "Boo-Bah-Bah" on the 365 Days Project. It was entertaining as hell, with nonsense lyrics and horns and an accordion awkwardly dubbed over each other. Later, I found another song off of his only release, One Man Band called "High Speed" on one of the "Songs in the Key of Z" compilations, and greatly enjoyed it too. So when I found that One Man Band was available on the Amazon.com MP3 store, I thought that I would love the entire thing.
Boy, was I wrong. You'd think that all the songs on an album titled "One Man Band" would be something that couldn't be recorded by just one person with no overdubs, but you'd be wrong. The ENTIRE first half is nothing but Mr. Vido and a fucking accordion, performing songs that sound like they were made up on the spot. The second half starts out pretty strong, with the two songs that I had heard previously, but then we get two more vocals-and-accordion toss-offs (at least these are short). We get another overdubbed song with "Total Creative Music (Vidology 708)," but it's dreary as hell (there's some primitive synthesizer that sounds inappropriately "spooky"). This is followed by an insanely boring piano piece (actually an excerpt of a concerto- thank Cthulhu he didn't feel the need to include the entire thing), with two dull non-originals with some perfunctory overdubbing over the accordion closing the thing out.
It's amazing just how dull most of One Man Band is; the tracks I heard before I purchased it are the only two decent parts at all. The rest is something you might expect to find hidden in the desk of an older relative after he passes on, but without the sentimental value. The only tracks worth checking out here are available elsewhere; One Man Band is extremely skippable and even I, a fan of much outsider music, find very little to enjoy about it.