Works, Volume 1 [2017 Remaster]
By Leo Trimming
By Leo Trimming
“Welcome Back my Friends to the Show that Never Ends” is a phrase forever associated with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the legendary progressive rock supergroup. Apart from being the title of their live triple album released in 1974, it is also a phrase that could be applied to the repeated rounds of re-releases for their classic era albums, which seem to come out very regularly indeed. There is clearly a continuing market for these albums 40+ years after their first releases. Amongst the latest albums being re-released in a remastered and repackaged format is their 1977 double album Works, Volume 1, which for many fans marks the end of their classic era.
Works, Volume 1 encompasses all that made them loved by so many and reviled by some since that time. Received wisdom is that punk killed progressive rock in 1977, so it’s curious to recall that this ambitious double album came out and was very successful just as the musical tides were supposedly changing. Mirroring the format of The White Album by The Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer released the black covered Works on which each individual band member had his own ‘side’ of vinyl, and they combined for the fourth side. There may have been some hubris in going down the same format path as the ‘Fab Four’ but it should be recalled just how MASSIVE this band were in the early ’70s with multi-million selling albums and as one of the highest grossing live acts in the world.
After taking a break since 1974, the band members recorded throughout 1976. Each band member had been ‘doing their own thing’, including a U.K. Number 2 hit in 1975 for Greg Lake with I Believe in Father Christmas. Eventually it was decided that rather than a series of solo albums they would assemble their material together and add some collaborative compositions. Therefore, Works, Volume 1 is only partially an Emerson, Lake and Palmer album in the truest sense. Such an approach in recording was a double edged sword for the band – their very different skills and styles made for an interesting and diverse album, but it also laid them open to accusations of pretentious self indulgence. They also probably lost something recording so much as individuals rather than as a band.
There is no real new material in this package so the focus is upon whether it is worth buying this re-release if one already has previous releases of the album, which is probably dependent upon the sonic quality and the whole package, including sleeve notes and presentation. Of course, some ‘completists’ will just have an essential yearning need for a new edition!
The album begins with Keith Emerson’s Piano Concerto No 1. I recall as a teenager when first hearing this piece finding it accessible and in the latter stages it sounded heroic with echoes of The Magnificent Seven film music. The first two movements are in a largely gentle, pastoral style, but it seems that during the recording process Keith’s house burnt down, which he later revealed influenced the final section to be far more aggressive and dramatic. It works for me (no pun intended) and did encourage me as a younger man to consider other classical music which cannot be a bad thing. It is clear that Emerson wanted to be taken seriously as a composer and not just someone who re-interpreted classical music in the rock idiom. This sort of ambition led some to think of E.L.P. as ‘pretentious’, and it is certainly a long way from mainstream rock or pop, but for others such excursions into classical music showed adventure and virtuoso talent. The interesting sleeve notes reveal that the renowned composer Leonard Bernstein visited the studio and asked Greg Lake to play him what they were doing – after hearing the concerto Bernstein indicated that he liked it but compared it to the primitive painter Grandma Moses, which Lake later realised was probably Bernstein’s way of saying it was rather naïve. Such anecdotes in the sleeve notes are interesting and enlightening, and a real plus point for this release.
The sleeve notes also reveal Lake’s reservations about the more individualised approach they were taking. “I believe we were stronger together and there was a kind of magic created by the chemistry of these three individuals. When it was seen through the prism of an orchestra it was no longer E.L.P.” There is some irony in his statement because as it turned out, of the three solo parts of Works it seems clear that Lake’s was the strongest ‘side’ of the trio by some distance. This was the chance for Greg Lake to shine as a solo artist, and some of his finest moments are found among his suite of songs. Lend your Love to Me Tonight immediately highlights the superb clarity and quality of his warm voice, one of the finest in rock history, set against lush orchestration.
Things get even better with the delightful and resonant C’est La Vie, influenced by Lake’s time living in France, and even including that most ‘un-Prog’ instrument, the accordion. In contrast, Hallowed be thy Name, featuring Keith Tippett on a rather abstract piano and Lake on harmonica, is much darker and weightier in tone and theme as Lake wanted to show he was not just a ballad singer with some raunchy vocals. Pete Sinfield co-wrote these songs and this includes some peculiarly phrased lyrics such as “Very few folk in focus…” and the frankly painful “mostly a thinker thunker”, played against a rather discordant and jagged orchestral backing. The Orchestre de L’Opera de Paris provide rather more gentle and beautiful accompaniment on the achingly beautiful Closer to Believing. Credit must go to Godfrey Salmon and Tony Harris for a magically delicate and sympathetic orchestration and choir. As a teenager I loved this seemingly translucent song (and this side of Works in particular) and all these years later this remastered version makes this song even more resplendent in its crystalline clarity – it’s near perfection.
Carl Palmer is a master drummer with an outstanding reputation, and he decided that his ‘side’ would demonstrate his versatility, taking him into new areas with instruments such as the xylophone. The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits, adapted from The Scythian Suite by Sergei Prokofiev, really benefits from the remastering process with added sharpness and power emphasising Palmer’s percussive masterclass. My younger self distinctly recalls being less enamoured with the rest of his side which veered across genres such as jazz (L.A. Nights, featuring Joe Walsh on guitar), funk (New Orleans), classical (a Bach adaptation on xylophone with strings… yes, really!) and a big band number (Food for your Soul). The passage of about 40 years has not resulted in me liking these tracks any more – with more maturity as a listener I appreciate his desire to break out of his mould and show his versatility, but they’re just not my proverbial ‘cuppa’. However, my disappointment back then with those songs was as nothing to my astonishment, mixed with a touch of horror, about what he did to Tank. Tank was a song which I adored from E.L.P.’s truly great debut album, and a number I have very fond memories hearing as a youngster accompanied by a spectacular laser show at the London Planetarium. I just could not understand why Palmer would adapt (and in my view spoil) this exciting instrumental by having it played with an orchestra and a strident soprano saxophone… and I still don’t understand it now!!
The final side of the album features E.L.P. fully integrated as a band, and this results in two of their finest pieces. The spectacular adaptation of the renowned modern classical piece Fanfare for the Common Man, of which the original composer Aaron Copland approved, even achieved the surprising feat of reaching Number 2 in the U.K. charts, and it is still one of the biggest selling instrumental tracks ever. Its distinctive and persistent melody, rumbling riff and dynamic power has become iconic and is probably the band’s most successful adaptation of a classical piece into rock, used countless times for sporting events and in films/TV. The dramatic finale Pirates came about partly because Emerson’s attempt to write film music for The Dogs of War was rejected by the film studio, so Lake suggested they adapt it into a maritime theme, and the film world’s loss was progressive rock’s gain! The full-on orchestration is evocative and majestic in its drama, and Lake’s agile and powerful voice perfectly conveys the swashbuckling atmosphere – one can almost smell the gunpowder and sea air! Emerson takes the piece into a frenzied keyboard orgy with Palmer’s debauched drumming pounding along to add to the impact of this very cinematic epic. It’s like no other E.L.P. song and stands out as one of their greatest pieces – they never really came close to this highlight ever again.
If you haven’t already got this album then it is DEFINITELY worth getting if you like melodic rock and epic dramatic ‘Prog’, although I predict that you’ll almost certainly find yourself mainly listening to Greg Lake’s side and the final full band side. Indeed, those two ‘sides’ would have made a very fine album on their own, and this is an album most certainly worth exploring if you have never delved into this aspect of the E.L.P. story.
I suppose one main question needs asking about this or any re-release:
‘If I already have this album is it worth shelling out for this new version?’
One of the main selling points for Works, Volume 1 is the extended sleeve notes with much interesting background detail about the songs and the history of the band, although disappointingly there are no lyrics printed. The artwork is not a major feature, being mainly black, but it is packaged neatly to emulate the original triple fold of the vinyl album, and there are some interesting additional photos.
I played this re-release in comparison to the 2011 version, and there is a definite improvement in the sharpness and clarity of sound with more depth and a distinct separation between instruments. The kick ass finale of Tank is particularly enhanced by the remaster, and the softer songs on Greg Lake’s side, especially Closer to Believing, shine even more with the improved remastering.
The choice of whether to get a new version is down to the consumer, but no worries – if they miss this re-release the chances are that another one will be along in the not too distant future (such as a 5.1 version…?), after all, with E.L.P. it’s always been “Welcome Back my Friends to the Show that Never Ends…”
01. Piano Concerto No 1
– i) First Movement: Allegro Giojoso
– ii) Second Movement: Andante Molto Cantabile
– iii) Third Movement: Toccata Con Fuoco
02. Lend Your Love to Me Tonight
03. C’est La Vie
04. Hallowed Be Thy Name
05. Nobody Loves You Like I Do
06. Closer to Believing
01. The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits
03. New Orleans
04. Bach Two Part Invention in D Minor
05. Food for Your Soul
EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER
07. Fanfare for the Common Man
Keith Emerson – Keyboards, Steinway Piano, Yamaha GX-1
Greg Lake – Vocals, Bass, Harmonica, Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion, Xylophone, Vibraphone
~ Additional Musicians:
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Orchestre de l’Opera de Paris (on Closer to Believing)
Joe Walsh – Guitar and Scat Vocal (on L.A. Nights)
Colin Hodgkinson – Bass (on L.A. Nights)
Ron Aspery – Saxophone (on L.A. Nights)
Keith Tippett – Piano (on Hallowed be Thy Name)
James Blades – Marimba (on Bach Two Part Invention in D Minor)
Record Label: BMG
Original Year of Release: 1977
Date of Release: 26th May 2017
Works, Volume 2 [2017 Remaster]
By Mel Allen
By Mel Allen
Works, Volume 2, alongside the previous double album of Volume 1, was released after a three year gap following the Welcome Back My Friends… live album in 1974. Volume 2 appeared as a single LP but still provided another selection of rare ELP material, both solo and ensemble. This special edition release contains all the tracks from Volume 2 but also includes Works Live which was recorded on their mammoth – and on the whole successful – 1977 tour of North America, at the historic performance at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. All the tracks have been remastered from the original tapes by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham. The package is nicely presented with replica art work from the original Works, Volume 2 release, an informative booklet with photos, with the music spread across two discs. It is here that I feel the set could have been improved by keeping Works 2 to its own disc and Works Live across a further two. Only a small point, but I can understand the economics of keeping it to two discs, that’s just my personal feeling.
I purchased the original LP way back in 1977, and have not played it for many years. This review has given me opportunity to revisit it and compare it to the new remaster, which does sounds good, cleaner, sharper and more dynamic, but interestingly it has managed to keep some of the vinyl’s warmth. The individual instruments are clear and precise, from Emerson’s keyboards to Palmer’s drums; Lake’s vocals are nicely balanced with his bass work well defined. This was ELP’s sixth studio album, released amid break-up rumours. There appears to be more consistency on this release than its predecessor, mixing the individual songs amongst the band ones. There is more variety here, from Keith Emerson’s raucous showcase Barrelhouse Shake Down to Honky Tonk Blues, to Greg Lake’s famous hit I Believe in Father Christmas and Carl Palmer’s dramatic and exciting, jazz influenced Bullfrog. This is a different sort of album compared to, say, Brain Salad Surgery in that they appear to be demonstrating their considerable skills rather than stretching further their ‘prog rock’ sphere. That said it is not a bad album, just different and there is much to enjoy here, which I discovered upon returning to it after a long absence.
The inclusion of Works Live is what makes this re-release a more attractive purchase. Recorded in 1977 in front of 78,000 fans at the Montreal Olympic Stadium, it was one of the last shows to include the touring orchestra, before financial and other constraints caused them to have to continue as a trio for the rest of the tour. This is probably the tour that gave rise to their reputation for excess, as the touring party consisted of 160 musicians and crew, 11 trucks and 40 tons of equipment. The orchestra, made up of carefully handpicked young musicians conducted by Godfrey Salmon, was used for three week before circumstances caused their services to be dispensed with.
Understandably, the bulk of the included set list is taken from both of the Works volumes, along with some earlier material. We get the full version of Fanfare For The Common Man, and clocking in at eleven minutes it is a different beast to the more well known single version. Knife Edge and Tank, from ELP’s debut album, are rousing and exciting, demonstrating the band’s considerable skills. The inclusion of the orchestra is probably most noticeable on Pictures At An Exhibition, adding texture to the piece in what I feel may be the best version I have heard.
Overall this is a good remaster, probably a worthy addition to your ELP collection, if not for Works Live alone. The booklet has a dedication at the end, which I will quote to complete this review:
and Greg Lake (born 10th November 1947, died 7th December 2016).”
Disc One – Original 1977 album [2017 remaster]
01. Tiger in a Spotlight (4:36)
02. When the Apple Blossoms Bloom In The Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be Your Valentine (3:58)
03. Bullfrog (3:52)
04. Brain Salad Surgery (3:08)
05. Barrelhouse Shakedown (3:50)
06. Watching Over You (4:05)
07. So Far To Fall (4:57)
08. Maple Leaf Rag (2:02)
09. I Believe in Father Christmas (3:19)
10. Close But Not Touching (3:22)
11. Honky Tonk Train Blues (3:12)
12. Show Me The Way To Go Home (3:36)
Works Live (2017 remaster)
13. Introductory Fanfare (0:52)
14. Peter Gunn (3:35)
15. Tiger in a Spotlight (4:09)
16. C’est La Vie (4:14)
17. Watching Over You (3:56)
18. Maple Leaf Rag (1:11)
19. The Enemy God Dances with The Black Spirits (3:49)
Total Time – 61:57
Disc Two – Works Live [2017 remaster] (continued)
01. Fanfare For The Common Man (11:04)
02. Knife Edge (5:02)
03. Show Me The Way To Go Home (4:22)
04. Abaddon’s Bolero (6:03)
05. Pictures At An Exhibition (15:47)
– i. Promenade
– ii. The Gnome
– iii. Promenade
– iv. The Hut of BabaYaga
– v. The Curse of Baba Yaga
– vi. The Hut of BabaYaga
– vii. The Great Gates of Kiev
06. Closer To Believing (5:31)
07. Piano Concerto No.1, Third Movement: Toccata con Fuoco (6:42)
08. Tank (12:52)
Total time – 67:23
Keith Emerson – Keyboards
Greg Lake – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Carl Palmer – Drums & Percussion
~ Additional Musicians:
Ron Aspery – Saxophone (on Bullfrog (uncredited))
Colin Hodgkinson – Bass Guitar (on Bullfrog (uncredited))
Record Label: BMG
Original Year of Release: 1977 (Works, Vol.2) / 1979 (Works Live)
Date of Release: 26th May 2017
Love Beach [2017 Remaster]
By Jez Rowden
By Jez Rowden
If there was ever an album within the Prog sphere that has had a bad rap over the years, it’s ELP’s final album from their first run, 1978’s Love Beach. Long derided and seldom defended over the years, it has now been reissued in remastered and expanded form. But does it deserve its execrable reputation?
Well, honestly, yes and no.
It’s an album of contrasts, some not very subtle. It includes both one of their better long-form pieces and one track in particular which is so laugh-out-loud bad that it is astonishing how it ever saw the light of day in the first place.
A classic ‘contractual obligation’ album, the band were keen to go their separate ways, at least for a while, but Atlantic Records demanded one final album of more commercial material, otherwise they threatened to scupper any potential solo endeavours. With residences, for tax reasons, in The Bahamas, the band decided to record locally at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point, a location near the studio giving Love Beach its title.
The band compromised. The frivolous ‘Bee Gees’ nature of the sleeve image – which really is bad – confirmed the attempt at concise commercialism, exemplified by Greg Lake’s ‘side one’, which sits starkly against Keith Emerson’s ‘side two’ centrepiece Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman. Surely over the years the sleeve has put off more sales than it ever encouraged. What were they thinking? Keith appears to have a Tarkus down his trousers, and what has Greg done with his shirt? The look, the content, the lack of consistency? It all smacks of the ‘Good Old Days’ record industry of “Bugger the fans, we need to get out of this crappy deal asap.” It’s a recording that should not have been, in part an embarrassment but one which isn’t a complete waste of time. The result? An unbalanced album that’s a bit of a mess.
The late ’70s style shift which saw most of the major progressive acts of the decade flounder cannot be used as a convincing excuse for all the failings here, but the inclusion of an extended piece which chronicles the experiences of an upper crust Sandhurst graduate during and immediately before the Second World War is not typical fare for the period. If it were up to me the whole album should have followed a similar tone to Memoirs…; it may have sunk like a stone at the time but I think it would have a much kinder hearing these days.
The first three tracks here are love songs; All I Want Is You is fairly enjoyable, a straightforward Lake song with Keith attempting to add embellishments where he can. The title track has some energy but is in no way essential and…
…is beyond poor, the thought of Greg bearing down on you guaranteed to provoke nightmares. However, the banality of these words fade in comparison to the truly-bloody-awful Taste of My Love, the flip side to the album’s more romantic start. An attempt at erotic steaminess, it is instead a lyrical car crash that even makes the de rigueur casual sexism of the ’70s sound sophisticated and erudite in comparison. It’s steamy, but only in the same way that a fresh turd is, the intended charged sexual atmosphere full of arse-clenchingly awful schoolboy innuendo. M’lud, a sample of the evidence:-
Jesus! It makes me feel unclean and needing a shower every time I hear it. Pete Sinfield has been known to write a damn good lyric, but what the hell happened here?! There’s no influence of punk, or disco, it’s just bollocks.
However, throughout this opening trio of songs, Greg Lake is in quite magnificent voice and the playing is clearly ELP, if lacking in energy and a little inspiration, Carl in particular just going through the motions, although the material does not allow him much space. The Gambler is a lighthearted romp, in the same vein as The Sheriff or Benny the Bouncer from previous albums, and comes across quite well, despite being painfully cheesy in parts. The lovely Spanish flavoured introduction to For You is impressive, but while the rest of the song isn’t bad it just lacks any real spark.
So far, so inconsequential…
Ending side one is a classic ELP instrumental, a rumbustious reading of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Canario from Fantasía para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman, which ties in thematically with the album’s main event that follows). However, Keith insists on majoring with the high-pitched keyboard sounds that he discovered around Works, Volume 1, the result being far more frantic than might have been the result if other textures had been utilised. Still, it’s much better than having your mind dynamited with love by Greg Lake…
And so to the main reason for being remotely bothered about this album. Starting with piano and voice, there’s a stately grandeur to the first of the four parts of Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman, nicely structured and delivered with well observed lyrics from Sinfield, although his matching of “beating” with “central heating” grates every time. It is interesting that a quote from Emerson in the liner notes suggests that he thought it was about the First World War, not the Second, and you wonder how much conceptual thought went into the composition of the music. Love At First Sight features gorgeous solo grand piano from Keith, Greg coming in with a heartfelt and sensitive delivery of the words, acoustic guitar and glockenspiel added near the end before a triumphant and uplifting conclusion. Quite lovely; Keith’s piano work here is some of the finest he ever recorded. Greg’s range and ability to convey emotion come into full focus during Letters From the Front, militaristic drive and youthful energy turning to despair and desolation in a single line:
She was all I had… I just don’t understand.”
The finale, Honourable Company, is noted to be ‘A March’, but is in fact a classic ELP fugue, built from a solid military rhythm into an instrumental fantasia and exuberant celebration. Yes, there’s clearly some padding in order to fit the ’20 minutes a side’ ethos of the time – ironic in that the story itself has plenty of scope to be expanded further – but Memoirs… bears repeated listens with ease and I’m glad to have become reacquainted with it after all these years, even if it is lacking the manic energy of ELP’s earlier classics.
Overall, the sound of the new remaster of the original album, by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham, is crisp and clear, but the music still seems quite thin, noticeably so when compared with Carl Palmer’s massive drum sound on the trio of included rehearsal recordings from 1978. Original pressings of Love Beach carried no producer credit, but production and mixing duties were largely performed by Keith Emerson; “everybody but me wanted to get the hell out of Nassau… in the end I stuck the whole album together… and sent it off to Atlantic”. The other bonus tracks feature five alternative mixes, including another version of Taste of My Love (give me strength!), but these are certainly not essential and any actual differences between the versions aren’t blindingly obvious.
The digipak reissue is very well put together, the booklet nicely laid out with a Chris Welch essay which is a good read, including excerpts from what would turn out to be Greg Lake’s last interview. There are a few interesting tidbits to be had, but there still seems to be a lot left unsaid.
ELP split up shortly afterwards without touring Love Beach so it appears that none of these songs were ever performed live, which in some cases is a great shame, although they did turn up on The Old Grey Whistle Test miming All I Want is You, as can be seen below. Greg is clearly on fire vocally throughout Love Beach and, when the material allows, Keith and Carl are more than able to add trademark instrumental flights, however the opportunities for this are few and far between, particularly in Carl’s case. It all sounds like ELP, but without the fire lit under them that you find on earlier albums.
Is it the worst ELP album? Probably, although it is very different to the other contender for this dubious honour, In the Hot Seat. That said, the inclusion of Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman gives it a major boost, but it is still so far removed from their best work that it hurts, Rolling Stone’s review at the time of release having more that a ring of truth: Love Beach isn’t simply bad; it’s downright pathetic. Stale and full of ennui, this album makes washing the dishes seem a more creative act by comparison”.
As a nice touch, this reissue of Love Beach is dedicated to the memory of Keith and Greg after their tragically early deaths in 2016, but in all honesty they deserve better. Brain Salad Surgery this ain’t.
Original 1978 Album [2017 Remaster]
01. All I Want Is You (2:36) Lake, Sinfield
02. Love Beach (2:46) Lake, Sinfield
03. Taste of My Love (3:33) Lake, Sinfield
04. The Gambler (3:23) Emerson, Lake, Sinfield
05. For You (4:28) Lake, Sinfield
06. Canario (from Fantasía para un gentilhombre) (4:00) Joaquín Rodrigo
07. Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman (20:12) Emerson, Sinfield
– a) Prologue / The Education of a Gentleman
– b) Love at First Sight
– c) Letters from the Front
– d) Honourable Company (A March)
~ Bonus Tracks:
1978 Alternate Mixes
08. All I Want Is You
09. Taste of My Love
10. The Gambler
11. For You
12. Honourable Company (A March)
1978 Rehearsal Out-Takes
13. Canario (4:38)
14. Letters from the Front
15. Prologue / The Educaton of a Gentleman
Keith Emerson – Keyboards
Greg Lake – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Harmonica
Carl Palmer – Drums & Percussion
Peter Sinfield – Lyrics
Record Label: BMG
Original Year of Release: 1978
Date of Release: 26th May 2017