Encores, Legends & Paradox
Magna Carta Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/07/1999
There are two main schools of thought regarding '70s progressive rock superstars Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In this corner, we have those who believe that the group was years ahead of its time and remains cutting-edge to this day. In the opposite corner, we have those who believe that ELP represented the bloated, overbearing side of prog-rock and epitomized its excesses in the worst way.
Me? I'm just Mills Lane standing in the middle of the ring, waiting for the blood to start spurting. There have been some efforts of ELP over the years that I've absolutely loved, while there have been others that I've wanted to take outside and beat to death with an axe.
Whatever your opinions of ELP are, there is no denying that they did blaze a trail for progressive rock that is still being carved today. Hundreds of groups would not have had the chances they do today had it not been for Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer taking musical chances at a time when record companies weren't afraid of pouring money into such experimental groups.
Their "children" - the bands that carry the progressive rock torch today - now have paid tribute with Encores, Legends & Paradox: A Tribute To The Music Of ELP. While there are some interesting takes on the music here, the disc itself is hampered by the fact that it is a "for the fans" release. While there may be some people who would check out the disc because of the long list of guest musicians (inluding Jethro Tull's Martin Barre, Dream Theater's James LaBrie, Mike Portnoy and now ex-member Derek Sherinian, Geoff Downes and John Wetton), I don't see many people getting into ELP thanks to the new spins on their music.
Some of the arrangements are very interesting, and are enough to make me go back to the orignal albums to give them another listen. "Knife Edge" (featuring Glenn Hughes, Simon Phillips, Marc Bonilla and Robert Berry) is one such track, one that captures the essence of the original's plodding tempo while giving the sound a kick into overdrive. Likewise, "The Endless Enigma" (a track I wasn't previously familiar with) is a winner, with Portnoy, Downes, Trent Gardner and Wayne Gardner sending this track through the roof. (Another track I liked that I wasn't too familiar with was "Tarkus," featuring Phillips, LaBrie, Bonilla, Sherinian and Berry.)
A few other tracks fall a little flat - surprisingly, this includes "Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression," quite possibly the best-known ELP song in their catalog. Berry, Phillips, Mark Wood and Jordan Rudess (now with Dream Theater) do their best to put a unique spin on the song, and it does get better with repeated listens, but in this case, this song is an example of why you don't want to mess with the classics.
A few other tracks, like "Toccata" and "Bitches Crystal," were songs I just couldn't build up enough excitement for to really get into. Likewise, "Hoedown" (featuring violinist Jerry Goodman) was a major disappointment, though I think we're at the point where anything but the original version by Aaron Copeland will disappoint.
However, all the artists should be commended for tackling such a difficult subject for a tribute album as ELP. Any tribute album is a difficult task to put together, as you don't want to mimic the original note-for-note, but you don't want to distance the long-time fans by radically altering the song. Encores, Legends & Paradox tries to walk the line, and in many cases, does so admirably. Unfortunately, unless you're really into Emerson, Lake & Palmer, this disc might not do very much for you.