By the time ELP arrived at their Works period, they had been afforded the freedom to whip up just about anything that suited them hoping that their built-in audiences could easily take the trip with them. On Works, Volume One, the band split to create sides that meshed with their personal musical pleasures, cutting grooves that highlighted their passions. Keith Emerson began the set with the large, self-composed Piano Concerto No. 1, an excellent piece that not only unveiled Emerson’s passion, but also looks deeper into the band’s set of influences.
Greg Lake, who cut his progressive and creative teeth with a stint in King Crimson, adds five compositions with “C’est La Vie” as their cornerstone. However, none of the five songs that make up his “solo” contributions to Works, v1, are extraordinary enough to be set apart and as memorable as the album is. Carl Palmer adds six cuts that are interesting, but also in the realm of self-satisfaction. “LA Nights” is a better track than “The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits,” but I still believe that Palmer could have turned in better pieces than are found here.
It is their two collective songs, Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and the band-penned “Pirates” that stand out the best on Volume One. Both songs are what all ELP fans would have likely expected from the band although a further show of maturation as a unit would have fared better.
Together, the sides of the first volume of Works easily reveals the essence of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. ELP utilized the grandness of classical magnificence, girded with progressive rock learned so eloquently by Lake in his tenure with Fripp, and stamped by the power of Carl Palmer’s spectacular percussion and drum-work. It is what made the band so important, one that stands out in the period. But separated, as they are here, one begins to get the feeling that if the band wasn’t hurting for useable ELP material, then they must be somewhat disinterested in the collective health of the band. Surely, they were egotistical enough to think that fans would buy anything with ELP on it. And Works sounds a million miles away from their previous two excellent albums, (Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery). Therefore, much of Works Volume One is merely a surgical examination of each member’s musical strength with a small offering of a united band.
Works, Volume Two is better in the sense that it is a collection of assorted odds and ends, outtakes and such that never had the luck of an album other than this compilation. It becomes a collectible as such. Many things happen on this album with a jaunt between genres, including some very solid pieces that include the memorable ELP Christmas classic, “I Believe in Father Christmas.” The song, “Brain Salad Surgery,” a holdover from the album of the same name although not on it, is quite good. I am forever glad that it was eventually included on something so that it would not be lost. As a whole, Volume Two is a much more satisfying part of the ELP catalogue than its earlier, bigger brother (Volume One) is.
The following year, ELP would release Love Beach. It would be clear that the band has seen its best days, and those days were sadly behind them. A new era of Rock was pushing in and ELP would be lost in that flood.
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 Trilogy, and Pictures at an Exhibition, both from 1972 and reissued on June 26 of 2007. Welcome Back, My Friends to the Show That Never Ends…was officially released in 1974 and after Brain Salad Surgery.
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 – Love Beach.