As ELP gained ground in their fame and grew in the ranks of rock music with their blends of progressive rock and forays into classical, jazz, and folk, they also began to change their styles. The band, gaining confidence by their new-found fans, who adored them by attending their guaranteed elaborate concerts (which would become far more elaborate over time, eventually producing a short set of legendary mega-shows before reducing the remaining shows to avoid bankruptcy) and snapping up their new releases.
After 1971’s quick two studio works, the successful debut of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and their lavish Tarkus, they released a live document in 1972, Pictures at an Exhibition, and a stunning third studio album, Trilogy, also in 1972.
Pictures at an Exhibition is the band’s live document of their 1971 Newcastle City Hall performance. Since ELP had the attention of a young and impressionable audience, their mix of classical appreciation in a progressive vein went a long way in not only cementing ELP’s legend, but in fomenting an expansive interest in music that might have otherwise gone unnoticed and thus unexplored by that audience. Using the composition of famed Russian composer, Mussorgsky, ELP embellished this expressive and noted piano suite with elements of their own. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, were scored in parts – as “pictures” – using “Promenades” in variation as stones, some soft, and others grand.
ELP expanded the Pictures with use of electronics, guitars, and percussion making their version of Pictures at an Exhibition a master stroke, less interested in original material (plenty of time for that – their star was rising AND they had a brilliant Trilogy on the way) than perhaps seeing an opportunity to offer a fantastic reinterpretation of this classical gem, one of few by Mussorgsky, who died early in life. Although most of Pictures at an Exhibition were adaptations of the classical suite, there were band originals inserted between the interpretations. Also, there is an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” here known as “Nutrocker,” as interpreted by the eccentric LA music producer and songwriter, Kim Fowley (solo – check out International Heroes (Capitol Records) if you can find it - , The Runaways, The Quick) and reinterpreted by ELP. With classics works as launching points, ELP, who would honor famed composers in their albums throughout the band’s all too short career, had plenty of material with which to work with.
Trilogy was a turning point in the band’s style, allowing for more experimentation (hear the brief Middle Eastern snippet in “The Endless Enigma (Pt 1),”) and a darker, moodier arena of music. As such, not only was Trilogy one of the band’s most important albums, even more so than the highly appreciated Brain Salad Surgery, but it allowed ELP an ability to craft an album of songs that belonged more to the trio than anything they have done up to this point.
Keith Emerson, revealing an early affinity for Aaron Copland, arranges the classical composer’s “Hoedown” from his ballet work, Rodeo, in a lively and expert rock-out adding to the overall allure of Trilogy. But it is songs like the single, “From the Beginning” with its spare, classical guitar and that entrancing electric guitar line from Greg Lake that makes this more a Lake tune than an Emerson one although Emerson’s Moog synthesizer here is one of the more memorable ones in the album.
“Living Sin” is more a rock song outside the usual scope of ELP tunes. It made the band a more cohesive unit in that it not only told their still growing audience that they were very capable of creating an arresting rock tune in the conventional sense, but it also reaffirmed to the band that they could do these easily enough if they chose to do so. It’s ironic that it was sandwiched between two large, 8-minute plus, ELP epics, “Trilogy” and the darker (in keeping with the scope of Trilogy), movie score-like “Abaddon’s Bolero” by Keith Emerson, in a buildup resemblance of Ravel’s extraordinary classical piece, “Bolero.” The band‘s next album, Brain Salad Surgery, would arrive more than a year later, with the band carefully producing their next classic at a time when they were ascending.
Shout Factory began an ambitious update of the relatively small ELP catalogue with the 2CD career retrospective of 28 classic, newly remastered ELP tracks from 10 albums, several of which were large in scope (the Works efforts), called The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Chronologically reissued, Shout Factory then began their ELP catalogue updates with the 1971 self-titled debut, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the band’s second album, Tarkus, also from 1971, on April 24. Those were followed with the subjects of these reviews, Trilogy, and Pictures at an Exhibition, both from 1972 and reissued on June 26 of 2007.
These albums were remastered from original master tapes by Andy Pearce at Masterpiece London. I haven’t compared these to more recent remasters that are available from other markets however; I can tell you that they are much better than the aging original Atlantic CD releases, which sadly, were all that were in my possession. If there are better remasters out there, I’ll leave those to the more astute audiophiles to bring to attention (however, trusted readers have reported to me that these Pearce remasters are comparable to the best ELP remasters available). But for those that want a reasonably priced, easy to acquire, update of their older ELP catalogue discs, these do the job quite nicely. They are not expanded with bonus track inclusions but do have 8-page updated booklets with a few photos and artwork added along with a short set of notes from Steve Hochman. The series (Emerson, Lake & Palmer Remasters) sets are housed in jewel cases (I think I might have rather enjoyed the quality digipak packaging like those used for the Herb Alpert Signature Series collection). These reissues will nicely replace the aging originals in your collection until someone undertakes a Definitive Edition project for each of these albums, filled with bonus tracks and memorabilia. Watch for the next batch of ELP remasters – Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends – to arrive shortly.