Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, remians the progressvie rock band's ultimate masterpiece alongside their self titled debut album, Tarkus and Works Volumes 1 & 2. As with much of their albums, a lot of elements is what makes that album famous, starting with the exoskeletal futuristic X ray of the woman's face, done by Swiss artiste Hans Rudi Giger of Alien fame (along with photos of the trio by Rosemary Adams), Keith Emerson's Moog modular and Hammond work, Greg Lake's vocal and acoustic, electric and bass guitar artistry, as well as his producing work, especially at London's Advision Studios where much of their albums were recorded, the lyric contributions from King Crimson colleague Pete Sinfield as well as the powerhouse drumming from Carl Palmer, who for the album, experimented with electronic drums at one point, the album's centrepiece titled Karn Evil 9, not to mention the classic trademark line, "Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends." Quite a lot went into that album and would be the last album on their Atlantic distribuuted Manticore record label before switching to Atlantic in 1977, not to mention Emerson switching from his Moog and Hammond to the famous Yamaha GX1--anyway.......
An adapation of the classic British hymn, it starts with Emerson's flanged and double tracked Hammond organ, augmented by the Moog modular synth, with Lake's vocal work par excellance matched by his Zemaitis bass, paced off well with Palmer's drums in the right places. Bring me my chariot of fire!!
Toccata (An Adaptation Of Ginastera's First Piano Concerto, 4th Movement):
According to Emerson, Ginastera's first piano concerto, the fourth movment, was the most complicated piece to use, because it couldn't be done in the same way Ginastera did it originally because all of it used the whole keyboard on the piano. So Keith had to listen to the whole thing, to bring out the sections of it that he thought were the most crucial, so that he could get his Moog and Hammond to do. In the end, Ginastera, for his part, loved it when he listened to it, saying that was how his work should sound (for those of you that own the lyric sheet to the album, there's a line from Ginastera saying, "Keith Emerson has beautifully captured the mood of my piece."). Indeed, listening to the sci fi battle like sounding track, it's easy to see why Ginastera loved it--jet propelled by the Moog modular synth and the Hammond organ, Greg's bass and Carl's drumming (along with his privately built electronic drumming--that before Simmons drums, no less), Toccata is a feast for your hearing. Oh, and listen for for the section where we hear the piano with the blowing wind, the tympani and the bells that sounds like someing thing is taking place somwhere in the cold North Pole.
Still........You Turn Me On:
A real favourite of mine, it's one of Greg's compositions, that envisions a Greco/Roman poetic play in the works, with acoustic, electric and bass guitar mixed with harpsichord, koto and tambourine supporting Lake's vocal quite well. No other track could stand up to that, until 1977's C'est La Vie, from Works, Vol. 1.
Benny The Bouncer:
A sense of humour helps break the mundaneness and here Emerson, Lake & Palmer did just that with Benny The Bouncer, a honky tonk hall tale of the Palais De Danse bouncer named Benny, who like the late Jim Croce's Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, was a bully who thought he was unstoppable until he met his match with Savage Sid, a greaser. Dominated by Keith's Moog at first, then his honky tonk piano, Greg's East London cockney vocal and bass and Carl's well placed drumming, Benny the Bouncer is a lesson that any bouncer should take heed to.
Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Pt. 1:
Now we come to the main event--the centrepiece that dominates the rest of the album known as the Karn Evil 9 saga, starting with the first half of the first impression, which is split in two sections; the first, driven by the Hammond (and Greg's bass and Carl's drums), features a rare vocal performance by Keith who pulls off his work like a pro, describing that no matter what happens to those he cares for, he promises to be there for them. After that, there's the second section in which Greg takes over (and for the rest of the album, I may add), starting off in introducing a circus like performance that promises to be "the most amazing show," staring off with the side shows, before the big performance.
And that concludes side one.
Karn Evil 9, The 1st Impression, Pt. 2:
Side two opens with the Moog fading in and then Greg's immortal line; "Welcome back, my friends/to the show that never ends/we're so glad you could attend/come inside, come inside," before we're treated to the most fantastic audio tour de force, with Lake describing "the greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth," when it comes to the main performance, with solos abound, such as Emerson's Moog and Hammond, along with bass synths and Greg switching from his bass for some memorable Zemaitis guitar solos, even Carl making some fantastic drum playing and solos as well, before we hear Lake's "See the show!!" prior to Keith's portamento Moog coda and Palmer's cymbals finishing it all.
Karn Evil 9, The 2nd Impression:
The album's second instrumental track, a jazz driven creation from Emerson, whose piano, augmented by Lake's bass and Palmer's drums and steel drums at one point, is something not to be missed. My favourite part in that is when we hear Keith's dissonant piano chords here and there that sounds as if the listener is wandering and exploring an apocalyptic building in ruins.
Karn Evil 9, The 3rd Impression:
At last we reach the album's finale, with a sci fi battle concept on ther order of Toccata, Emerson's Moog and Hammond supporting Lake's vocal and bass expertise which leads the charge, along with Palmer's acoustic and electronic drums from behind. It also feature some unique voice processing effects for the computer saying "Load your program, I am yourself." What happens next is a fantastic solo unsurpassed by any of their work so far, including a superb organ solo that brings to mind visions of a motorcycle gang speeding down a dusty road in the desert. Finally we reach the big finish with victory won for Greg's side, as he and the computer exchange words as follows:
Greg: I am all there is.
Computer: Negative!! Primitive!! Limited!! I let you live!!
Greg: But I gave you life.
Computer: What else could you do?
Greg: To do what was right.
Computer: I am perfect!! Are you?
After that, we hear a synth sequence that builds up in speed, shifting from one speaker to the other before reaching an abrupt end, capping off Brain Salad Surgery in a perfect finsh.
Mind you, even after the group broke up twice, they will always be remembered for the albums they did, among which Brain Salad Surgery features the trio at their best. The Beatles may have had Sgt. Pepper, The Electric Light Orchestra, their Out Of The Blue, Pink Floyd, The Wall, Prince, his 1999, so it seems of all the albums Emerson, Lake and Palmer did, Brain Salad Surgery stands as one of their crown jewels in their collection--in fact, it should be the crown jewel in anyone's album collection.