Brain Salad Surgery
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Three years after their formation, Emerson, Lake and Palmer successfully infused elements of classical and jazz into their dynamic and eclectic repertoire. Which each album, ELP ambitiously raised the bar, pushed the envelope and defied convention — effectively becoming rock and roll trailblazers in the truest sense of the word. And while the critics of the day called their music pretentious and pompous — millions of music fans recognized the proficiency and genius behind the distinctive progressive rock power trio. With Brain Salad Surgery, their fourth album of original material, the splendor and virtuosity behind ELP fell perfectly into place.
Reissed numerous times — most recently reproduced in its original gatefold with two bonus tracks from the Shout Factory — Brain Salad Surgery would be the most collaborative effort of ELP’s career. From the noble opening notes of "Jerusalem," a traditional British anthem with lyrics by poet William Blake, Brain Salad Surgery assumes a rather majestic affectation. Typical of each ELP release, there is a classical interpretation — an adaptation of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement, entitled "Toccata." Dominated by electronic drums and percussion synthesizers — developed specifically for the piece — ELP’s arrangements reliably maintain a beleaguered sense of tradition within their own monumental spins. Before all hell breaks loose, we get the obligatory Greg Lake acoustical number, "Still…You Turn Me On." The centerpiece of the album is, however, the three-suite epic, “Karn Evil 9.” Bolstered by the prophetic lyrics of Pete Sinfield, including the signature line, "welcome back my friends to the show that never ends," "Karn Evil 9" is the defining balance of ELP’s strengths — Keith Emerson’s masterful organ, synthesizer and piano playing; Lake’s rich baritone vocals and stalwart bass lines; and Carl Palmer’s steadied, almost contrapuntal percussion work.
To lend to the album’s larger-than-life stance, ELP commissioned an obscure Swiss surrealist named H. R. Giger to come up with the cover art, capturing the theme and title perfectly. He would eventually gain fame as the artist behind the Alien movie series. Unfortunately, Brain Salad Surgery would be the apex of ELP’s own bumpy career. The Works albums that surfaced in 1977 and 1978 failed to sustain the collective feel and drive of the trio. Even when the band reunited in the 90s, the aura behind Brain Salad Surgery seemed too far out of reach. Sadly, just as the group was preparing to write and record a conceptual, back to roots album, Lake tendered his recognition and ELP was laid to rest in 1998.
~ Shawn Perry