Review Summary: Botchery, pretentiousness, and wankery are still contained in Brain Salad Surgery, but this is much improved from previous ELP works. Add Karn Evil 9 and Brain Salad Surgery isn’t as bad as it seems.
It’s a little depressing that Emerson, Lake and Palmer gets a bad rap. This is probably due to their ability to create pretentious works and struggle with the lyrics and vocals. The first self-titled album proved that beginnings can sound glorious. Tarkus, also proved that the pretension can damage a group’s reputation. However, the prog supergroup wouldn’t bend because of these mistakes. They wanted to breakthrough with the power of “King Crimson” proportions; thus, Brain Salad Surgery is the result of this demand.
Once again, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are the masters of pretentiousness. However, unlike previous albums, Brain Salad Surgery’s pretensions evolve to a new level. Need proof? Listen to Toccata. Unlike past efforts, this power of insanity sounds a little more mature and advanced than that of Tarkus or just certain songs from previous albums. Sometimes, ELP seems to be deluded by this, and you get rather annoying songs like Benny the Bouncer. Not sure how they got that idea.
As usual, ELP takes a lot of classical music strokes on this album. Take to note to Jerusalem, in which an unofficial English anthem is turned into a grand fanfare. However, it’s also filler to make the album sound better. Although a lot of classical style is put into this album, it also balances pretty well with the counterpart jazz style. Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression is proof, making a very well balanced take on improvisation and a not so super overdriven display of power or talent, but rather complexity, instead.
Another not so shocking element of ELP is the usual state of the lyricism and vocals of Greg Lake. While he certainly sounds better in certain songs such as the sweet, calming, and cheerful Still…You Turn Me On or the glorious Jerusulem, he also gets some help with the lyrics. EX-Crimson member, Pete Sinfield, arrived and wrote the lyrics for this album. Yes, some of his content is really good, such as story incorporated into Karn Evil 9, but he is also responsible for the rather morbid lyrics of Benny the Bouncer. This is because these lyrics don’t fit with the mood of the song, which is of course: upbeat, authority pompous and pretentious, for that matter.
Something new to Brain Salad Surgery is the surprisingly correct use of dark imagery in this album. Although it was incorporated in some of the past albums, it didn’t have as much emotion or feeling to the actual song, which is a clear improvement. Toccata and Karn Evil 9, 3rd Impression, for example, display the dark mood more brilliantly. Unfortunately, this album still contains filler. Still…You Turn Me On and Jerusalem are picture perfect examples. Are they filler? Yes. Is it bad, though? Definitely not. Also, this album, as a small relief, has a little less filler content than that of Tarkus. This is a snapshot of the album that shows blemishes, but ones that aren’t major.
While the first four songs start the album on a pretty good note, Karn Evil 9 steals most of the album, snaking at a massive 29 minutes. The common stereotype for this whole piece is prominently, the 1st Impression, probably the most popular impression. The neat presentation of talent is heard in the 2nd Impression, while the least regarded on this piece, should be rather the most commended. The 3rd Impression, wraps up the epic with a musical war of unbelievable power and the rise of the computer age. One benefit of this song that immediately stands out on this song is the very surreal lyrics written by Pete Sinfield. They are much more prophetic, darker, and all in all, more satisfying than some of the past group efforts. It also loses some of the pretension and the filler of the other songs, only making this piece sound better. Lastly, the story created in this song is bound to jumpstart the brain in the 1st Impression, make it think more in the 2nd, and engage it in the 3rd. This is a prog rock masterpiece that can be compared to the likes of Close to the Edge, 2112, The Court of the Crimson King, and Supper’s Ready. It’s as if the album actually had substance to it.
All of this is why ELP hit the peak of the mountain and couldn’t get any higher. Built on the standards are grew up with from its self-titled album, they wouldn’t escape the pretentions, lyricism they built on. And so, this album would still have its flaws, but it also had Karn Evil 9 as well. And so ELP has its bright spots in what seems like just sheer darkness.