Sunday, September 10, 2017

Emerson Lake & Palmer - 1971 "Tarkus"

Tarkus is the second studio album by the English progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in June 1971 on Island Records. Following their 1970 European tour, the group returned to Advision Studios in January 1971 to prepare material for a new album. The first side is the seven-part "Tarkus", with a collection of shorter tracks on side two.

Tarkus went to number one in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at number 9 in the US.

The cover artwork was commissioned from the painter and graphic designer William Neal.

"The armadillo was simply a doodle created from a fusion of ideas while working on the Rare Bird album As Your Mind Flies By. I had produced a gun belt made up of piano keys, which somehow led to WW1 armoury; nobody liked the idea, but the little armadillo remained on the layout pad. Later on we were asked to submit ideas to E.L.P. for their second album. David Herbet and I put tank tracks on the little fellow ... yet it was still basically a doodle. However, Keith Emerson spotted it and loved the idea, so we developed him further ... After hearing the substance of Tarkus on the acetate I developed the ideas along with Keith and Greg, and painted all the other creatures too."

Keith Emerson said, "To everyone, it represented what we were doing in that studio. The next day on my drive up from Sussex the imagery of the armadillo kept hitting me. It had to have a name. Something guttural. It had to begin with the letter 'T' and end with a flourish. "Tarka the Otter" may have come into it, but this armadillo needed a science fiction kind of name that represented Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in reverse. Some mutilation of the species caused by radiation ... 'Tarkus'!"

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1970 eponymous LP was only a rehearsal. It hit hard because of the novelty of the act (allegedly the first supergroup in rock history), but felt more like a collection of individual efforts and ideas than a collective work. All doubts were dissipated by the release of Tarkus in 1971. Side one of the original LP is occupied by the 21-minute title epic track, beating both Genesis' "Supper's Ready" and Yes' "Close to the Edge" by a year. Unlike the latter group's cut-and-paste technique to obtain long suites, "Tarkus" is a thoroughly written, focused piece of music. It remains among the Top Ten classic tracks in progressive rock history. Because of the strength of side one, the material on the album's second half has been quickly forgotten -- with one good reason: it doesn't match the strength of its counterpart -- but "Bitches Crystal" and "A Time and a Place" make two good prog rock tracks, the latter being particularly rocking. "Jeremy Bender" is the first in a series of honky tonk-spiced, Far-West-related songs. This one and the rock & roll closer "Are You Ready Eddy?" are the only two tracks worth throwing away. Otherwise Tarkus makes a very solid album, especially to the ears of prog rock fans -- no Greg Lake acoustic ballads, no lengthy jazz interludes. More accomplished than the trio's first album, but not quite as polished as Brain Salad Surgery, Tarkus is nevertheless a must-have.

For Emerson, Lake & Palmer the year 1971 represented an opportunity to establish that this union of three giant talents was more than a mere supergroup, but the chance for the band to become a firm fixture on the prog scene. Their self-titled debut album from the previous year had displayed some spectacular performances, even if the songs themselves had been a little uneven. Tarkus was their opportunity to address that.

What was to give this album its tone, timbre and colouring was the epic title track, which, with its seven movements, took up the whole of the first side of the original vinyl. This was a bold step for the band, and one that relied heavily on Keith Emerson’s compositional dexterity. In fact, it was the keyboard player who came up with the musically complex composition in the first place.

“After the release of ELP’s first album and during the live recording of Pictures At An Exhibition, it was coincidental that Carl Palmer and I were working individually on the same sort of complex rhythm ideas,” recalls Emerson. “He was doing this on his practice drum pads, while I was at home on an upright piano in London and a Steinway in Sussex. As my ideas seemed to complement what Carl was up to, I pursued this direction.

“We focused on a centrepiece first to establish a concept. Sometimes we didn’t know if it would become a conceptual piece of work at all. All of the compositions had to bond and work together, and if they didn’t they were used somewhere else.”

For this 20-minute exposition, Emerson drew heavily on the work of both Frank Zappa and the Argentinian classical composer Albero Ginastera.

“I was a huge admirer of Frank Zappa, and had met him on a few earlier occasions when he wanted my advice on how to cope with English orchestras. Frank was of the opinion that there really should not be time signatures. That’s how I felt. Why be governed and dictated to by a 4/4 or 3/4 rhythm by adding or subtracting notes just to make it fit?”

Ginastera’s inspiration is also readily acknowledged by Emerson. In fact, he was to adapt the Argentine’s first piano concerto under the title of Toccata for the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery. Ginastera absolutely loved this adaptation, claiming that Emerson had captured the true essence of the piece.

Tarkus was the first ELP album I owned back in the early '70s. I've been a fan of ELP ever since. Pretentious, saber rattling, aggressive rock-n-roll. ELP was at the forefront of progressive rock, blending classical, jazz and rock in a frantic keyboard driven fusion. ELP's music is more complex than any other rock band I am aware of. ELP was not only complex in the scope of the music, but often used complex 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, which only jazz great Dave Brubeck and classical composers would dare use. They are as dark as Pink Floyd could ever be and just a touch more complex and grand in scope than the best work by Yes. And they manage to make this amazing music, which at times has the scope and feel of a whole symphony, with only three musicians and without any overdubs.

 Tracks Listing:

1. Tarkus (20:43)
- a. Eruption (2:44)
- b. Stones Of Years (3:44)
- c. Iconoclast (1:16)
- d. Mass (3:12)
- e. Manticore (1:52)
- f. Battlefield (3:51)
- g. Aquatarkus (4:04)
2. Jeremy Bender (1:51)
3. Bitches Crystal (3:58)
4. The Only Way (Hymn)(3:49)
(Themes used in intro & bridge from Toccata in F and Prelude VI, composed by JS Bach)
5. Infinite Space (Conclusion)(3:20)
6. A Time And A Place (3:02)
7. Are You Ready Eddy? (2:10)

Total time: 38:56

Line-up / Musicians:

- Greg Lake / vocals, bass, electric & acoustic guitars
- Keith Emerson / Hammond organ, St. Marks church organ, piano, celeste, Moog synthesizer
- Carl Palmer / drums, percussion

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