ELP's masterpiece, this is one of the "must have in your collection" albums. The artwork is fantastic (the same guy on the Alien movies). It' a sad that this would be their last good studio album to be released...
Song by song review:
This is a very beautiful song, with deep lyrics, and very nice vocals. Emerson and Lake are everything one can expect from them.
Perhaps this is blasphemy, but I don't like this song. It's Emerson on the piano. I won't make a review, because I don't even listen to this one...
“Still...You Turn Me On”:
A very beautiful song, with Lake on the acoustic guitar (drop D as usual) playing a sweet melody. It's basically a solo song of his. The vocals are ok, but the lyrics... "everyday a little sadder, a little madder, someone get me a ladder" Judge for yourself :)
“Benny the Bouncer”:
Hilarious! This is about two fellows, Benny and Sidney, that want to be the bad ones. The music is a saloon-style, with Emerson shining as usual. The lyrics are the strong point here. It shows how innovative ELP were.
“Karn Evil 9”:
This is THE song. You MUST listen to it. There are no words to describe it. It's powerful, beautiful, warm, funny, everything in perfect harmony. Worth the price of the album.
I give it 10 on a 10 star rating.
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If you could play only one album for someone who wanted to know what classic progressive rock was, what album would you choose? In the Court of the Crimson King? Close to the Edge? In a Glasss House? While several different albums could adequately give the uninitiated a good idea of what progressive rock is, possibly none other than Emerson Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery contains all the ingredients of prog in as potent a mixture; and probably nowhere else are those ingredients so clearly defined. This is not to say that Brain Salad Surgery is the "best" or "most progressive" prog album ever made, but it is possibly one of the most archetypal prog albums in history. And yes, it's a good one too.
From the very beginning, it is obvious that this is no ordinary rock and roll album. The first impression one is likely to get from the experience that is Brain Salad Surgery is its extravagance. Everything about this album is over-the-top. The original album package itself was an exercise in excess. The imposing, mechanical-looking cover opens down the center to reveal a second painting of the woman's face we catch a glimpse of on the outside. She is entombed in some sort of cryogenic sepulchre. A faint infinity symbol on her forehead reinforces the idea of the permanent preservation of her body. The cover art plays to the concept of humanity versus machinery, which was the subject of many a prog concept album, this one included. It also expounds on the lyrics of the third track "Still You Turn Me On." Inside is a large folded poster. Here, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are each entombed in the same mechanical coffin found on the cover. Even in this state of death, we find that they are larger than life. The pictures of each member are huge – each man getting his own 12-inch by 12-inch portrait. They're each prog rock heroes, idolized for their instrumental virtuosity, massive stage presence and cultured hippie good looks. (This is all lost on most CD reissues of the album, by the way, though there have been various versions which have made some attempt to restore the original package. The cardboard digipak version released on Victory several years ago is a good one.)
Once we get past the spectacle of the album art, we find that the music inside is no less massive and ambitious. The opening track, "Jerusalem" is a very short, but fitting fanfare of near-Biblical proportions – literally. The lyrics are taken from William Blake's "And did those feet?" This is a famous poem based in part on the once widely believed English legend of Jesus Christ's visit to England after his ministry in ancient Palestine. This song is actually a cover of a famous anthem known by every Englishman. The subject matter of this song indicates a nod to ELP's unabashed Englishness (some might say Anglocentrism) and simultaneously lends an air of timeless tradition and ceremony to the music.
Track two really gets things going with an instrumental called "Toccata." This is yet another cover of a modern classical piece (an ELP trademark) by Alberto Ginastera, who lends his blessing to the inclusion of the piece on the original LP liner notes. Toccata actually proves to be one of ELP's most ambitious recordings to date. It is nearly unmatched in ELP's catalog for intensity and complexity. Fast, heavy-handed, organ chords and portentous synth melodies are the name of this game. Carl Palmer's drum solo, complete with triggered synth sounds, foreshadows what Neil Peart would be doing over a decade later, all while sounding a whole lot like the inside of a busy video game arcade.
"Still... You Turn Me On" provides Gerg Lake an opportunity to display his trademark acoustic guitar balladry and another chance at radio airplay, but is the least interesting track on the album. "Benny the Bouncer" fills the comedy spot on this particular ELP album. It's another installment of the "Jeremy Bender" phenomenon, started on Tarkus. Its silly, banal lyrics and catchy honky-tonk piano provide some necessary comedy relief before getting to the real meat and potatoes of the album. This track also helps show what a talented, well-rounded musician Keith Emerson really was in his prime. Classical, jazz, rock, blues and honky-tonk were all well within his repertoire. What rock musician of today even approaches this level of proficiency on his or her respective instrument?
Finally, we come to the ever-popular sidelong piece of this particular prog album. In keeping with the spirit of this album's grandiosity, this sidelong piece is actually so long it takes up a little more than one side! "Karn Evil 9" is among the grandest, most overblown compositions ever written by a prog rock band. It's pretentious, self-indulgent, theatrical and excellent. "Karn Evil 9" is divided into three distinctly different movements or "impressions." The first impression is the epitome of classical keyboard prog, loaded with huge-sounding fanfares and solos from Emerson's organ and modular Moog (itself an enormous beast of a machine, which was almost as much show as it was substance.) In this movement, Lake plays the role of a carnival barker, inviting potential customers to "roll up" and "see the show." The show is full of all kinds of bizarre and supposedly amazing sights. The music is fittingly dramatic and hammy, but very energetic and compelling. It's hard to resist playing air-drums or air-keyboard to this piece. One can almost see the image of the show-biz type of spectacle the band was trying to evoke with the lyrics and music.
The second impression is a more diverse and subtle instrumental affair. Some wonderfully intelligent piano workouts make up a large part of this section. Emerson's classical and jazz training really show here. Many serious musicologists would probably be amazed to hear this piece and learn that it was performed by a rock band.
The finale contains some really stirring instrumental and vocal sections, but portions of it go on just a bit too long. Here the prog rock stereotypes about endless keyboard solos and unnecessarily episodic compositions actually come true. This section of "Karn Evil 9" deals with a battle between man and machine in which man is ultimately dominated by his own creation. The end of the piece finds the machine saying to man, "I'm perfect! Are you?" This is followed by a sequenced riff from Emerson's Moog that, as it repeats, quickly speeds up well beyond human comprehension. This seems to symbolize man's inability to restrain that which he has set in motion. He can only watch helplessly as situations and mechanisms of his own design spin rapidly out of his control.
Rock operas, concept albums and excessive displays of all kinds were all popular in '70s rock music. Artists like Queen, Elton John, Styx and Kiss all made a big deal of the "show" both in concert and on record, but none of these even approached the display of musical cajones and skill ELP offered on Brain Salad Surgery. While some of ELP's catalog has aged poorly and served only to further marginalize progressive rock's appeal to modern audiences, Brain Salad Surgery is an exception. While it is very strong stuff by today's standards, Brain Salad Surgery is an absolutely essential document in any progressive rock enthusiast's collection.
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