Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Album of the Day

Works, Volume 1, by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (1977):Kids, back in the old days – before the Internet and iPods and flying cars (er, wait a minute . . .) – music used to come on things called “albums.” “LPs” to be precise, which stood for “long playing.” They were big black (usually) discs with a groove on each side, from which the stereo fairies harvested recorded sounds. Since a person had to get up and turn a LP over midway through, each side was kind of thought of as a separate unit.

I say all that as background, ‘cause otherwise you won’t understand the operative theory behind this album. See, as a double LP, it had four sides. Thus, the guys in the band decided to each have a side for themselves, before returning to ELP in all its glory on side four. Emerson takes side one and fully gives in to his classical pretensions, producing a piano concerto. It’s not a masterwork, but it’s got its moments (as was highlighted by a kick ass drum corps adaption by Blue Devils, IIRC). Side two belongs to Lake, who poots forth an entire side worth of acoustic ballads. You can’t be too hard on Lake’s stuff – “Lucky Man” and the like are as much a part of ELP’s legacy as “Tarkus” or “Karn Evil 9” – but an entire slab of it at once is a little too much. Palmer takes up side three, with an interesting collection of instrumental stuff, on which he gets help from Joe Walsh, of all people. But the highlights of the album come on side four, where the band reunites for an extended workout of “Fanfare for the Common Man” and the epic seafaring tale “Pirates”. Honestly, post 1974, that’s the best the boys would manage.

In the wake of such indulgence, there was only one thing to do: load the whole kit and caboodle up on a series of semis – the band, the orchestra, Emerson’s massive Yamaha GX-1 synth, Lake’s infamous carpet, Palmer’s equally infamous (to the road crew, anyway) stainless steel drum kit – and tour the world. It was, in a real sense, a twilight of the prog rock gods (Godderwankerung?).

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