Tuesday, January 5, 2021

ELP - Trilogy - AM9.1

Trilogy (AM9.1)
Artist: Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Producer: Greg Lake
Length: 42:23
Released: July 6, 1972
Tracks: 1) The Endless Enigma I (6:41) 2) Fugue (1:56) 3) The Endless Enigma II (2:03); 4) From the Beginning (4:16) 5) The Sheriff (3:22) 6) Hoedown (3:47) 7) Trilogy (8:54); 8) Living Sin (3:13); 9) Abaddon's Bolero (8:08) 

Personnel: Keyboards (Hammond Organ C3, Steinway Piano, Moog Synthesizer IIIC, Mini Moog) – Keith Emerson; Vocals, Bass  – Greg Lake; Drums, Percussion  – Carl Palmer

Emerson, Lake and Palmer's fourth LP (third studio effort), Trilogy, opens with the sound of a heartbeat to frame the subject of the meaning of life, or life in a cultural construct. The eerie sounds Keith Emerson creates on the Moog, combined with sudden piano runs and fading bongos, establish a sense of mystery that quickly manifests itself into chaos, like the restlessness of a tortured soul. After the band slows the tempo to provide a proper introduction, the vocals begin, with Lake at his best. At first, we don't know to whom the narrator is speaking, until, late in the sequence he admits that the sins ascribed to others are his own, the personification of humanity looking at itself in the mirror. The instrumentation is phenomenal with synth, piano, even a zourka, Palmer's incessant drum fills and Lake's distinctive bass and clear tenor. The song is divided in half by "Fugue" a superb piano interlude with Lake's bass syncopated nicely in the background and Palmer's simple triangle adding a touch of counterpoint. The music changes mood and melody significantly through the pieces: some quiet, some heavy and full of passion. Emerson's synthesizer finally emulates bells and trumpets as Lake belts out the climax to the lengthy track. Lake's vocals are thrilling and hotly emotive, particularly in lines like "They make me sick and tired" and "Please, please, please open their eyes" against Emerson's intrusive Hammond. And then the compelling final verse:


Each part was played
Though the play was not shown
Everyone came
Though they all sat alone
The dawn opened the play
Breaking the day
Causing a silent hooray
The dawn will break another day
Now that it's done
I've begun to see the reason why I'm here.




"The Endless Enigma" is frankly fucking fabulous, one of the great works of progressive rock, followed by an FM standard, one of three by Lake in the canon, "From the Beginning." After the lyrical ballad concludes, Emerson's iconic synth solo ends the track. "The Sheriff" is a playful ditty and the chance for Emerson to show his prowess and diversity, as does "Hoedown," a send-off to Aaron Copland and finally "Abaddon's Bolero," with two tracks that precede the band's musical take on the Armageddon.

The lesser of those is "Living Sin," a heady, dark track, with Lake growling the lyrics in a theatrical seedy undertone: "If you never saw it coming, Hooked you up with Coca-Cola coming, Nice and slippery." While I enjoy the effort, particularly those lyrics, that Golem-esque voice is one of the reason's that Trilogy is only an AM9; while the track redeems itself in other ways.

On "Trilogy," the LP's side two opus, Emerson's piano again sounds the business: crisp, clear Steinway, with the introductory section sounding like progressive Gershwin. Later Emerson brings in Hammond and synthesizers and really rocks it up during a long instrumental section. The track tells the story of a breakup and the profound emotional trauma it entails. The patter-like lyrics, though, are what bring the track to life.


I've tried to mend
The love that ended
Long ago although we still pretend
Our love is surely coming to an end
Don't waste the time you've got to love again
We tried to lie
But you and I
Know better than to let each other lie
The thought of lying to you makes me cry
Counting up the time that's passed us by
I've sent this letter hoping it will reach your hand
And if it does I hope that you will understand
That I must leave in a while
And though I smile
You know the smile is only there to hide
What I'm really feeling deep inside
Just a face where I can hang my pride
Goodbye...
Goodbye...
We'll talk of places that we went
And times that we have spent
Together penniless and free
You'll see the day another way
And wake up with the sunshine
Pourin’ right down where you lay
You'll love again, I don't know when
But if you do I know that you'll be happy in the end

While the rhyme scheme is quite clever and pronounced, it's the content of the lyrics that capture the story's essence, particularly in the use of three separate tenses as the lyrics progress.  The lyrics in the first verse are past-tense; reflective and looking back at what the relationship once was. The second verse is written in the present-tense describing the day when the "ex" no longer feels pain over the breakup. After the extended instrumental section, the third verse, in the future-tense, reassures her that they will find love and happiness once again, in time.

Rather than being left with some kind of false Disney ending, the listener hopes instead that the breakup works out for the best. There isn't an overwhelming urge to hear the narrator and the ex getting back together. The listener, first hand, has also been exposed to the pain, the confusion, the anxiety, and the loneliness of the breakup, but then as well, the clarity, simplicity and optimism of what lies ahead. The ending is a rational reflection that doesn't call for back-pedaling to the way things were.

Two solid epics, two glorious instrumentals, a phenomenal love song, some kitchy western hoopededoo and a disposable, if acceptable three minute toss-out, make for a solid AM9, vying for one's attention as a 10. 

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