EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL – Complete Collection

Spirit Of Unicorn Music 2024

An album that almost had no right to remain on aficionados radar, yet proudly stood the test of time, shining brightly after all of its creators passed away.

Complete Collection

The ’80s didn’t bode well for Emerson, Lake & Palmer as an ensemble, the relative failure of 1978’s “Love Beach” – which saw them edge towards what could be perceived as contemporary sound – a clear symptom of things to come, yet the trio couldn’t let go of each other and kept of reuniting – partially, in smaller units within larger groups – for years. 1983 found Greg alongside Carl, if briefly and fruitlessly, in ASIA; 1988 saw Carl and Keith share space in 3 with Robert Berry; and then there were ELP in 1986, when Greg and Keith exchanged one musician whose surname started with “P” for another – although, according to the legend, it didn’t play a major role in picking of the fresh team member – and carried on rolling further on their glory road. What may not originally have been a concern got turned into a bonus, of course, allowing the band to retain their trademark acronym – and style, too.

Undeniably adhering to sonic pomp and circumstance so typical for the period, which looked like morass for lesser progressive rockers who had to curtail their prowess, this record’s bombast was actually a step down for ELP from their ’70s sound. Whereas the presence of Cozy Powell – a drummer very different from his predecessor but possessed of the same, or even deadlier in physical terms, force – empowered the decade’s breathy dynamics that no amount of plastic production would negate, the pathos of Lake’s delivery suited the times just as well, and Emerson’s reluctance to embrace newfangled synthesizers proved to be the platter’s saving grace. The songwriting didn’t feel inferior to the previous trio’s material, either, yet the choice of folk ballad “Lovely Joan” as a principal melody for the album’s leading single, the tremendous “Touch And Go” – launched towards the stratosphere by Keith’s trademark riff with Greg rolling out quite a few pseudo-ad-lib rhymes – should speak volumes of the ensemble’s mindset.

They made sure to link “Emerson, Lake & Powell” to the collective’s core corpus, however. Non-incidentally the record’s first cut “The Score” recycled the “Fanfare For The Common Man” vivacity and the ever-memorable “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends” line from “Karn Evil 9” and replaced the latter number as their concerts’ vibrant opener – as documented on the third disc here, a snapshot of the group’s performance at the Lakeland Civic Center on October 4th, 1986 – but it almost lost the choral elements ELP attempted to add in during their pre-tour sessions in London’s Sprocket Studios, as captured on the second CD of “Complete Collection” which is comprised of everything available before. Yes, this could be a strange place to locate Cozy between stints with WHITESNAKE and BLACK SABBATH, only Powell was no stranger to symphonic blast, his pièce de résistance since RAINBOW days having been Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and other classical snippets infusing his solos in MSG and later on, so hearing his epic thunder amid faux-orchestral battle of Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer Of War” seems rather logical.

Perhaps, “Learning To Fly” and “The Miracle” don’t offer immediately gratifying tunes, as opposed to the transparent “Love Blind” which could have easily shot up the charts, yet their punchiness intricate, spacious arrangements elevate any pop insufficiencies to a neo-prog level, letting instrumental passages and vocal choruses burst in color, especially once organ-sculpted jazzy splashes come to the surface – or even become the surface. At least this is the way the patinated acoustics of “Step Aside” and the gorgeous flow of “Lay Down Your Guns” highlight the three virtuosi’s sympathetic interplay, Emerson’s elegant piano and Powell’s delicate beat bolstering Lake’s dulcet-to-solemn tones, and the same approach marking the veterans’ unexpected, albeit routinely unhinged, wordless take on “The Loco-Motion” – one of their B-sides attached to the remastered album per se, together with “Vacant Possession” that soars so impressively to the skies.

And the sky was the limit for such re-energized for stage perennials as “Knife Edge” and “Pirates” to which Cozy’s mighty groove gave a distinct, from their usual dimensions, scope, his finely measured blows on “Tarkus” and “Pictures At An Exhibition” accentuating Greg’s percussive bass and supporting wild movements of Keith’s ivories – in particular on “Fanfare” and the fugue-augmented medley of “Karn Evil 9” and “America” with “Rondo” – or simply emphasizing the diaphanous wonders of “From The Beginning” and “Lucky Man” that kept on glistening under a thin electronic layer. Sadly, the new ELP’s endeavors didn’t last long and the trio sundered after their live trek finished, bring this interesting experiment to a close – the experiment to never happen again, as all of the greats who were involved in it passed away, leaving their sole platter to grow in status for the faithful and convert the uninitiated to its case.


May 5, 2024

Category(s): Reissues
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