Tuesday, 31 January 2017

"Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Deluxe Edition" by EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER (2016 BMG/Manticore 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Reissue - Andy Pearce and Steve Wilson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Oh What A Lucky Man He Was..."

In many ways Emerson, Lake & Palmer's November 1970 debut LP (Island Records in the UK and Cotillion in the USA) was Part 2 of the Prog explosion set off in earnest by another extraordinary debut - King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" in October 1969.

Dorset Guitarist and Singer GREG LAKE had been a founder-member of Crimson and featured on that first LP – Yorkshire keyboard virtuoso KEITH EMERSON had played with Gary Farr, The V.I.P’s and done his five-album stint with The Nice (even adding keyboard touches to Rod Stewart's "I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing" on his debut album "An Old Raincoat Won't Let You Down" released February 1970 in the UK) - whilst Brummie Drummer CARL PALMER had whacked his sticks for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and formed Atomic Rooster with Vincent Crane. When these three huge forces of 60ts Avant Garde came together as a band in June 1970 - their initial album was always going to be an event.

But before they unleashed that beast on a fractured counter-culture - a spot of Proggy grandstanding was in order. On the 29th of August 1970 - they took to the stage at the Isle Of Wight Festival with suitably bombastic crowd-pleasing results - cannon fire mixed with neo-classical arrangements and squealing keyboards with more wires and jump leads than Mission Control at Cape Canaveral. Island Records immediately thought - that's the band for me. They signed ELP pronto and in November the record was out - peaking at No.4 in the UK album charts with the Yanks waiting until February of 1971 to eventually push it up to No. 18 (it stayed on their charts for an impressive 42 weeks only to be replaced in July 1971 with the similarly challenging "Tarkus"). Which brings us to an equally tortured history of this first ELP album on CD...

In truth I've lost count at how reissues/remasters of their catalogue there's been – seven or eight hundred maybe – but I'm sure that this 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' for 2016 will offer fans what they've always wanted – the album in its best sound and tastily presented too. But therein again lies another battle. Some felt that the 2012 remix done by Reissue Godhead Steve Wilson was clean for sure but also sonically neutered from the waist down. Others loved it. What you get here is two versions – the 2012 Remaster carried out by an Engineer I hugely favour – ANDY PEARCE (who works in tandem with MATT WORTHAM) on Disc 1 – with the STEVE WILSON Alternate Version of Disc 2. Andy has even mastered this release for both discs. If the Wilson Mix is too clinical for your tastes – the warmer Pearce version is the baby for you. Pearce and Wortham have twiddled the knobs on CD reissue catalogues for Rory Gallagher, The Kinks, Frankie Miller, Pentangle, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Budgie and the recent Free reissues (all praised) and are currently tackling Deep Purple's Seventies output as we speak (a knicker-wettingly exciting prospect). Wilson has transformed Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and Yes catalogues with universally worshipped outcomes. All three Audio Engineer names are about as respected as it can get these days. So let's knuckle down to the details at hand...

UK released 29 July 2016 (1 September 2016 in the USA) - "Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Deluxe Edition'" by EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER on BMG/Manticore BMGCAT2CD1 (Barcode 4050538179897) is a 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' which features the Andy Pearce Remaster of the album on Disc 1 (2012) and the Steven Wilson 'Alternate Album Stereo Remix' from 2012 - both mastered in 2016 by Andy Pearce. It plays out as follows:

Disc 1 - The Original 1970 Album (2012 Remaster) - 41:18 minutes
1. The Barbarian
2. Take A Pebble
3. Knife-Edge
4. The Three Fates [Side 2]
(i) Clotho - Royal Festival Hall Organ
(ii) Lachesis - Piano Solo
(iii) Atropos - Piano Trio
5. Tank
6. Lucky Man
Tracks 1 to 6 are their debut album "Emerson, Lake & Palmer" - released November 1970 in the UK on Island ILPS 9132 (Pink Label Pressing) and February 1971 in the USA on Cotillion SD-9040. Arranged by ELP and Produced by GREG LAKE (Eddy Offord of Yes fame was the Engineer) - it peaked at No. 4 in the UK and No. 18 in the USA. "The Barbarian" is based on "Allegro Barbaro" by Bela Bartok (arranged by ELP), "Take A Pebble" by Greg Lake (arranged by Keith Emerson), "Knife-Edge" by Leos Janacek and Johann Bach (arranged by ELP), "The Three Fates" by Keith Emerson (all three-parts), "Tank" by Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer with "Lucky Man" by Greg Lake.

Disc 2 – The Alternate Album (2012 Steven Wilson Stereo Mix) – 55:41 minutes
1. The Barbarian
2. Take A Pebble
3. Knife-Edge (With Extended Outro)
4. Promenade
5. The Three Fates: Atropos
6. Rave Up
7. Drum Solo
8. Lucky Man
9. Take A Pebble (Alternate Take)
10. Knife-Edge (Alternate Take)
11. Lucky Man (First Greg Lake Solo Version)
12. Lucky Man (Alternate Version)

The three-way foldout card digipak has a series of three black and white photos of the boys larking about (ELP Archives) – various live shots of all three – a superlative worldwide 7” singles display on the centre-pages of the album's lone 45 "Lucky Man" b/w "Knife-Edge" (Holland, Germany and Japan are in there) – as well as new liner notes from noted writer and music buff CHRIS WELCH. The reissue is dedicated to Keith Emerson who died 14 March 2016 – and released in July 2016 – couldn't have known of Greg Lakes' sad passing on 7 December 2016. There's a full page trade advert for the album on Page 13 – the usual reissue credits – and interviews with Emerson and Lake regarding the recordings (Keith was only just learning the Moog when he played his solo on "Lucky Man" – done in one take – it was owned by Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann). Downsides - both CD labels are Manticore only - the reissue label from the mid Seventies - where's the British 'Pink I' Label or the American Cotillion original? The liner notes are good as I say but there's not a word on Disc 2 – no insights into the Alternates or Remix process. But that all goes out the window once you hear the actual audio on 'both' CDs...

ANDY PEARCE did the Remaster for Disc 1 back in 2012 – while Disc 2 is Porcupine Tree's STEVEN WILSON version also from 2012 – with both now mastered by ANDY PEARCE is 2016. I take on board what some have said about the cleanness of Wilson's take in 2012 – but frankly whatever Andy has done with this slight tweak in 2016 - I think most will absolutely love it. So if you want more breathing - AP's take is the one for you – if you want a more humane clean cut – then Disc 2 is your go-to. Either way – you're quids in. And I'm also shocked at the quality of the outtakes on Disc 2...superb stuff we'll get into later...

As the heavy-heavy monster sound of "The Barbarian" comes stomping into your living room (based on "Allegro Barbaro" by Bela Bartok and arranged by ELP) – in less than 20-seconds you’re immediately aware of the power of the band and that this is no-prisoners Progressive Rock. The audio is amazing – full and in your face – not over-trebled – but thumping you in the chest and making you think – this is probably what that Isle of Wight audience felt. "...Then watch the ripples that unfold into me..." – Greg Lake sings on the undeniably pretty "Take A Pebble" – for me one of their greatest moments on record. Opening with piano-frame strums that are soon followed by Bass and Drums – the Audio on this 12-minute album centrepiece is fabulous – Emerson showing beautiful piano delicacy as he plays – Palmer snaking his percussive way over those hi-hats. Then you get that distant acoustic guitar section – a very sweet transfer where Lake’s playing comes sailing out as the hand-claps build – finally followed by Keith showing his musicality. Before all the pomp took over – this is surely the ELP many fans want to remember – minus all the flashy synths – there’s just the three of them and their virtuosity making a sound that is Emerson, Lake & Palmer. For a band that’s (let’s face it) so often derided – I often play this track alone to prove the opposite – a piece of music that warrants respect. Again amazing clarity on the Bass and treated-vocal of Greg Lake as he sings about spread-eagle claws on "Knife-Edge" – a very Crimson song and the one chosen to represent ELP on the 2005 Island Records 3CD Mini Box Set "Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal".

Based on a Greek legend of three sisters who could control a person’s destiny and fate - Side 2 opens with the "The Three Fates" Suite by Keith Emerson. The first part is suitably grandiose utilising the Royal Festival Hall’s Organ for the massive chords of "Clotho" (special permission sought and given) while Part 2 is pure Emerson – sat at Advision Studios' seven-foot long Yamaha grand piano giving it some finger-plonking welly. Palmer and Emerson then join forces for the frenzied Piano/Percussion battle of "Atropos" that again feels like King Crimson having an epiphany moment. The near seven-minutes of "Tank" is a big ELP fan fave – a dancing Clavinet perfectly matched by Lake and Palmer – rounded off by Palmer giving it some Ginger Baker – a drum solo. Quite aside from the naff nature of Drum Solos in the live environment for the whole of the Seventies – you have to say that the audio here rocks. "Lucky Man" was apparently the first-song Greg Lake wrote after his mum bought him an Acoustic Guitar at the age of 12 (nice one Mrs. L). An obvious single with its ‘ooh what a lucky man he was’ voices and those lovely acoustic guitars – and of course the rupture-the-sky Moog solo that to this day sends chills up my arms (he used the Moog Mike Vickers from Manfred Mann had left in the studio).

Disc 2 offers up a lot more than I’d bargained for. The very hissy “Promenade” features Lake and Emerson duetting on Vocals and Organ for one and half minutes – while track 5 cleverly isolates "Atropos" in "The Three Fates" Suite and accentuates that rattling percussion as Keith hammers those piano keys. Of real interest is the near five-minute "Rave Up" where Lake flicks about on an Electric Guitar as Emerson and Palmer keep jabbing with Keyboards and Drums – like they’re searching for something interesting to happen. It descends into a go-as-fast-as-you-can-go race to the instrumental finish – but I love it and the Audio is absolutely blistering. The three minutes of "Drum Solo" pretty much does what it says on the tin – Carl hitting his kit like he’s doing Brand’s Hatch in a E-Type Jag and needs to get round in a hurry. If I’m truthful I prefer Wilson’s version of "Lucky Man" – gorgeous Audio that seems to get more out of the Vocals. The Alternate "Take A Pebble" is preceded by some studio banter (let’s do it from the top) but despite its wickedly good sound quality – it disappointingly only lasts just under four minutes. But that’s not to say that I don’t think ELP fans will be chewing this up for breakfast – Keith’s playing – Greg on a clear Bass while Palmer caresses those cymbals. It ends quickly because someone fluffed their part and they giggle about it in some more dialogue. It’s fantastic stuff. The Alternate Take of "Knife-Edge" has huge sound and Keith’s extraordinary playing. Another prize is surely Greg Lake’s First Acoustic Solo Version of "Lucky Man" – those voices different yet still beautiful and no Moog break - while the final Alternate Version of the song has a thrashing Electric Guitar solo instead of that keyboard moment we all know and love – interesting

ELP would conquer the Prog world with "Tarkus" in 1971, "Trilogy" in 1972 and the delightfully titled "Brain Salad Surgery" in 1973 – before it all went preposterous and OTT. But there was a reason why they were huge – and that’s more than evident of this timely 2016 reissue. And with the 2012 version deleted and now starting at £50+ on the used marketplace – this is a ten-spot well spent on Amazon (UK)...

PS: This review is affectionately dedicated to Keith Emerson and Greg Lake who both passed in 2016 - thanks for the pebbles and the ripples...

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