Although later criticized for the pompous tone of their live and recorded work, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were perhaps unrivaled in melding classical music conventions with the intensity and rhythmic drive of rock. Seemingly unafraid to take risks, the trio’s artistic successes ultimately overshadowed lapses in execution and good taste.
Formed in 1970, ELP personified the idea of a supergroup; Keith Emerson had built a considerable reputation in his native England as a keyboard virtuoso, showman, and arranger with the Nice, guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake had helped found King Crimson, and drummer Carl Palmer had been a key member of both the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. Signing with Island Records, the band was an immediate success; their debut album, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Cotillion 9040; 1970; #18), featured the pyrotechnics of Emerson and Palmer, accented by Lake’s subdued acoustic guitar work and warm vocals. The next two albums—Tarkus (Cotillion 9900; 1971; #9) and Pictures at an Exhibition (Cotillion 66666; 1972; #10)—experimented with extended compositions, the latter representing a rock transcription of the famous Moussorgsky tone poem. Listener interest was maintained through continual variations in pace, color, and texture (both LPs showcased Emerson’s versatility on a wide array of instruments, including piano, organ, and synthesizers).
Trilogy (Cotillion 9903; 1972; #5) and Brain Salad Surgery (Manticore 66669; 1973; #11) returned to a somewhat more traditional song layout, albeit with musical surprises (e.g., a rock treatment of Aaron Copland’s "Hoedown") interspersed throughout. While the band took several years off to pursue individual projects, a monumental three-disc live set culled from various 1973-1974 concerts, Welcome Back, My Friends,to the Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen (Manticore 200; #4), was released in August 1974. The threesome regrouped in name to record two essentially solo albums, Works, Volume 1 (Atlantic 7000; 1977; #12) and Works, Volume 2 (Atlantic 19147; #37; 1977), both stylistically diversified packages ranging from Emerson’s "Original Piano Concerto No. 1" to blues-inflected pieces composed by Lake and former King Crimson mate Peter Sinfield. Following an aimless studio endeavor, Love Beach (Atlantic 19211; 1978; #55), the live In Concert (Atlantic 19255; 1979; #73), and a career retrospective, Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Atlantic 19283; 1980; #108), the band disbanded.
The relative failure of individual projects during the early 1980s led to a new collaboration between Emerson and Lake in mid-1984. Adding drummer Cozy Powell, a veteran of the Jeff Beck Group, Rainbow, and Whitesnake, they recorded Emerson, Lake and Powell (Polydor 829297; 1986; #23), a likeable, but undistinguished, LP. Disappointing sales led to a personnel reorganization, with Emerson, Palmer, and American bassist/songwriter Robert Berry coming together to produce To the Power of Three (Geffen; 1988). Its failure to chart spurred Lake’s return to the fold; the resulting album, Black Moon (Victory 80003; 1992; #78), did better, but seemed to indicate that the band’s best days were far behind them. Nevertheless, the trio soldiered on, releasing Live at the Royal Albert Hall (London 828933; 1993), the four-CD box set—containing old and new material—Return of the Manticore (London 828459; 1993), Works Live (London 828477; 1993), and In the Hot Seat (London 828554; 1994).
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