Sound — 9
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Emerson, Lake and Palmer (debut album) 1970. ELP's debut album was one of the great shots across the bow of popular music announcing that progressive rock (which, although it's open to debate and discussion, started in 1968-1969 with albums by the Pretty Things and the Who) was more than a passing fad. Keith Emerson, keyboardist of orchestral prog pioneers The Nice; Greg Lake, bass and voice of mellotron progsters King Crimson; Carl Palmer, drum prodigy of doom-rocker Vincent Crane and a brief stint with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown - he, the God of Hellfire with the flaming headgear - were greeted by a generation of fans interested in 'players' believing that rock music could be expanded upon - lyrically and musically - beyond 2 minutes and 30 seconds of predictable structure, and songs of love and tranquility. From the opening fuzz bass roar of The Barbarian, the serene cymbal brushes and plucked piano strings of Take a Pebble, the snarling Hammond organ on Knife Edge, the gothic church organ rumble of Clotho, the modern jazz clankery of Atropos, the mechanical funk of Tank, and finally the Moody Blues-ian acoustic ballad Lucky Man, ELP took pop-rock by the scruff of the neck, put it in a blender with a healthy dash of jazz, 20th century classical, church music, troubadour, and threw it up against the canvas like a mad abstractionist painter. The end result was an overpowering display of skill, blending of styles, and a sonic quality unheard of. No wonder ELP was greeted as conquering heroes; great rock is always over the top, and ELP fit that bill to a T. ELP's album was used as a sound system demonstration piece for many years, and while the aforementioned songs and inventive approaches were unique, it was Emerson's use of the Moog synthesizer that set it apart sonically. Sure, the Monkees fiddled with it on 'Daily Nightly', but to hear it used as a true solo instrument by a real player, more than a few teenagers were playing keyboard on the car dash before long and speakers suffered mightily from the Moog unrestricted low end rumblings. ELP set a standard for a trio allowing plenty of solos and solo spots, all while presenting the music as a band effort. While Lucky Man is the best known track to the general populace due to its endearing popularity on classic rock radio, it is 'Tank' - although it's an instrumental number - that showcases the formidable skills of all 3 band members. The first part of the song features overdubbed electronic harpsichord playing by Keith, one channel playing quasi-classical, while the other channel reveals bluesy licks all while played over a driving Palmer beat and a great fluid bass line by Lake. Following an artillery duel of keyboard-bass licks versus drum rolls, Palmer gets a chance to show his vast skills, often times sounding like 2 drummers. The ending is a repetitive blues drone fade-out where Emerson again shines with his inventive use of - then new - electronics, covering the sound and stylistic spectrum in a blizzard of notes.
Lyrics — 9
Lyrics have never been progressive rock's strong hand. From Pete Sinfield's over the top flower-power King Crimsonisms, the ramblings of Jon Anderson on Tales of Topographic Oceans to Greg Lake's massively obscure Tarkus, it was accepted that the lyrics were merely words to fill up space. ELP's first album, managed to break that mold (however briefly), with Lake (who wrote all the lyrics) coming up with words that matched, as necessary, the tranquility of the moment (Take a Pebble... Just take a pebble, and cast it to the sea/then watch the ripples, the unfold into me... ) or the creepiness/intensity (Knife Edge..On the streets of the city, only spectres still have pity/patient queues for the gallows, sing the praises of the hallowed... our machines feed the furnace, if they take us, they will burn us). Lake was as fine a singer as any during this time, and his smooth, choir boy vocals (one of the main reasons Emerson wanted to work with Lake) were key in giving ELP a bit of a commercial appeal in the midst of the instrumental excess. However with only 3 songs having lyrical content, it's certainly not the focal point of the album, it's the instrumental aspect that is the highlight.
Overall Impression — 9
As with many bands whose debut is the result of dedication, goodwill, and a desire to hit it big, ELP came strong out of the gate, the egos not yet in force, the three lads working hard not only showcasing themselves but putting the band on pedestal for all to see; a challenge to other bands of the era. Sadly, ELP - as they were initially accepted - only lasted 3-4 short years before infighting, bickering, and bad business decisions tore the band to shreds. Antipathy between Emerson and Lake was obvious, with Palmer reduced to playing the referee; never again would the band be as united and focused as they were on their debut, not even on their uber-popular 1973 Brain Salad Surgery album. Subsequent reunions of the original threesome 1992-1994, 1996-1998 were but sad imitations of what once was a ground-breaking, genre-shaking band. Emerson suffered from ulnar nerve damage, Lake's one majestic voice was reduced to a stiff, booming baritone, and Palmer flirted with a less busy style, electronic drums (1992, Black Moon) as well as a bout of carpal tunnel. Thankfully, ELP's debut captured forever the magic of these three, young, and determined musicians hell-bent on creating a new musical vision, a combination of the best of various genres into the dynamic and powerful medium that is rock music.