Thursday, July 26, 2018

Brain Salad Surgery - ELP - AM10

Brain Salad Surgery (AM10)
Producer: Greg Lake
Length: 45:04
Released: November 19, 1973
Tracks: 1) Jerusalem (2:44) 2) Toccata (7:20) 3) Still You Turn Me On (2:52); 4) Bennie the Bouncer (2:15) 5) Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression (8:39) 6) Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part II (4:43) 7) Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impre4ssion (7:07); 8) Karn Evil 9, 3rd Impression (9:07)
Personnel: Keyboards (Hammond Organ C3, Steinway Piano, Moog IIIC, Mini Moog, Poly Moog, Moog Taurus) –Keith Emerson; Vocals, Bass, Acoustic, Electric and 12 String Guitars  –Greg Lake; Drums, Percussion, Tympani, Tubular Bells  – Carl Palmer

Brain Salad Surgery is ELP's over the top masterpiece. While the first two LPs were like three mega-talented, off the cuff musicians finding a niche through their venture into art rock, and Pictures was a grand experiment if reasonably straightforward, Trilogy veered into territory that the band was hard-pressed to take on the road. Carl Palmer stated that "For the first few albums, we were just a really good three-piece band, and our sound was on the record. From Trilogy and into Brain Salad Surgery was that big overdubbing period. That's why you've never heard the whole of Trilogy or Brain Salad Surgery [live] in their entirety. We were never really able to take those records to the stage." That complexity, even more pronounced on Trilogy, was nonetheless a reason that, despite its un-swaggering success, Brain Salad Surgery was the LP that put ELP behind the 8-ball. Palmer again said, "Our timing in how we projected ourselves within the industry was rubbish. We took too long before putting out Works, and then we went out with the orchestra—it was wrong. At a point in time in the '70s, we were in that top echelon of groups like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. We were there for three or four years. After that, we moved down to the second echelon. We had brilliant music, but our timing was off and the way we were directed hurt us." In essence, the lengthy production times and the snail's pace required for ELP to manage the complexities of the music thrust them into a musical ghetto, one that was otherwise populated by bands as diverse as the Ramones, Talking Heads and the disco-era Bee Gees. ELP's bombast made them seem like dinosaurs. None of that discounts the music.

The LP was ELP's crowning achievement, from its brilliant cover, by artist, Hans Giger to the immensity of "Karn Evil 9." "We were still ascending when we made Brain Salad Surgery," Keith Emerson said. "We were enjoying a sensational amount of success, and I suppose we felt as if we could do anything – and we certainly tried. Musically, lyrically and visually, we really went for it." The album would be the inaugural release by the band's newly formed Manticore label and would differ from the extensively overdubbed Trilogy in that the group plotted out the music as a largely live creation. At the start of 1973, Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer purchased an abandoned cinema in Fulham, London, and converted it into a rehearsal and production facility, using an upstairs foyer to assemble and run through new compositions. "That was the general idea, to play the album live," Emerson recalled. "I pretty much had the whole concept in mind. We had taken a bit of a break to be with our families, so that gave me a fair enough time to put down enough hand-written ideas for the "Karn Evil 9." I then approached Greg and Carl with a sheaf of manuscript papers, and we set about rehearsing, going over the material and being sort of repetitive about it." 

It begins with a track that every British School Boy and School Girl would know, the E of C hymnal standard "Jerusalem," with its lyrics by William Blake. The track features the debut of the prototype Moog Apollo, the first-ever polyphonic synthesizer (meaning that more than one sound could emanate from the source at the same time); the famous poem based in parts on the once widely believed English legend of Jesus Christ's visit to Glastonbury, escorted by Joseph Of Arimathea, after his ministry in ancient Palestine. The subject matter of this song indicates a nod to ELP's unabashed Englishness and simultaneously lends an air of timeless tradition and ceremony to the music. But "Jerusalem" was banned on the radio in England when issued as a single and therefore failed to chart. The track is followed by another stellar ELP jaunt into classical, an adaptation of Alberto Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement: Toccata Concertata. An incredible arrangement whittling the orchestration down to the trio without the use of overdubbing.

The LP's lyrical ballad, "Still, You Turn Me On" is Brain Salad Surgery's "From the Beginning" or "Lucky Man," Lake’s continued venture into the madrigal love song; the love song of the troubadour. And somewhat formulaically, the track is followed by the bit of fun, "Benny the Bouncer," which of course is the album's take on "The Sheriff" and "Jeremy Bender." Formulaic, sure, but fun and each a welcome respite from the grand scheme of things.

The LP’s oeuvre is, of course, the nearly 30 minute "Karn Evil 9," which concludes side one and takes up the entirety of side two. The original idea for the song was a planet (called "Ganton 9") on which evil flourished. Peter Sinfield (of King Crimson) listened to the music and he and Emerson developed the name from their original idea, and from Pete's comment that the music sounded like a carnival. The 1st and 2nd Impressions generally follow this idea, dealing with inhumanities and exploitation. The 3rd Impression addresses the concept of computers taking over civilization. This dark prediction was made at a time when computer technology was just beginning to develop.

The 1st Impression was further broken down into two parts due to the time limitations of the LP format. 1st Impression-Part 2 is probably the most well-known track on the album. It has even been used as the theme for a British prime time TV show and the six o’clock news in Los Angeles. This impression, of course, includes those famous words, 'Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...' Initially, Lake felt the lyrical portions were pitched too high for his vocal range, and Emerson had to transpose everything down a step. It was Keith who provided the "vocal attribution" of the computer, which says, 'negative', 'primitive', 'limited', 'I let You live', 'what else could I do?' and 'I'm perfect. are You?' as counterpoint to Lake's human repartee, produced by running his voice through the Moog's ring modulator. Said Emerson of the epic, "It's basically a warning. Karn Evil is a place. Everything is heading for that place unless something is done about it. The first lines tell you that: 'I heard a warning...about an age of power when no one had an hour to spare.' But the rest of the song is more like a satirical sideshow, a joke. There's so much violence it becomes funny, a sick thing, rather like what happens in Clockwork Orange. It's about something gone out of control, which, in Karn Evil, happens to be a computer. It's something that affects everybody. "Karn Evil 9," indeed all of Brain Salad Surgery is either prog bombast or rock brilliance; maybe, somehow both, but nonetheless an AM10.

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