Works, Vol. 1

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Atlantic, 1977

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Though they are often held up as the prime example of excess and overindulgence in the progressive rock era, Emerson, Lake & Palmer actually took the longest to record a double album. And, true to form, it is full of excess and overindulgence; not coincidentally, 1977 also was the year punk broke in England.

Marking the point where ELP fell apart musically and personally – and attempting to follow up the excellent Brain Salad Surgery – this album has little of the substance and cohesiveness of the band's previous compositions. There are a handful of passages of beauty, drama and outright rock, but they are quickly lost among the classical overkill and sheer bloat of this thing.

The trio had evidently intended to record three solo albums, but decided instead to each record one side of an album, with group songs rounding out the fourth side. Free to indulge their every creative whim without input from the others, each man takes his worst musical personality to the extreme, with only Carl Palmer emerging somewhat unscathed (because, hey, who can hate on a drummer?).

Emerson's side is one 20-minute piano concerto, split into three parts. Only the third part is truly memorable, starting with a pounding piano motif and insistent strings that weave in and out, but this doesn't last for as long as one would hope. The rest is just standard piano playing, lots of solos and little of the fire that imbued Emerson's earlier work on songs like "Tarkus" and pretty much all of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Not surprisingly, only this third section was included on the band's box set.

Greg Lake delivers five mind-numbingly boring acoustic love ballads with titles like "Lend Your Love To Me Tonight" and "Hallowed By Thy Name." "C'est La Vie" is actually not half bad, plaintive and melancholy and accented with a French-inspired accordion solo in the middle. Again, Lake has done much better in this vein before, and these songs don't build on that.

Palmer's songs are short instrumentals that fuse rock and classical, but only "The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits" really stands out. The piece features a menacing brass section, starting with a strident two-note march and then moving into a short section with shrieking strings before piling everything on in a climactic finale. It's a bit ridiculous, but in three minutes it's more entertaining and dramatic than pretty much anything else here.

The fourth side is given to the 13-minute "Pirates" and an overlong take on Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man." The former is something of a fan favorite, but this reviewer finds it a colossal bore, an attempt at a sort of bombastic sea shanty that belongs in "The Pirates Of Penzance," not on a progressive rock album. "Fanfare" is better once past the introduction; Lake's rumbling bass, Palmer's steady drums and Emerson's stately keyboards reinterpret the piece as rock without being too least until the last few minutes, when Emerson seems to just be pushing as many keys as hard as possible, and it becomes irritating. Lake brought this one out for his solo tour in 2007 and absolutely crushed it with an intense rhythm section and a guitar solo; the studio version on Works pales in comparison, but for a while it's a good thing.

Works, Vol. 1 ends up being decent in fits and starts but is far too long and indulgent for the scant musical ideas contained therein. Of course, at this point, the egos, infighting and general exhaustion had spun the band into a nosedive, and within a couple of years they would call it a day. This album marks the point where things went south, and it's mostly a chore to get through.

Rating: C-

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