Black Moon Review
From its muscular, urgent opening chords on the first title track, through an inspired and spectacular arrangement of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," to the final heartfelt flourishes of "Footprints in the Snow," BLACK MOON finds ELP once again at the height of its considerable power.
In an era when too many bands seem to be willing slaves of fashion and uncertain of their own convictions, ELP marches confidently across today's musical landscape, unafraid of its own shadow, happy to take risks, and secure in its own image and place in history.
Says drummer Carl Palmer, "There's no compromise in this new album. For better or for worse, no-one could ever mistake 'BLACK MOON' for anything other than ELP, and I personally approached it as if we'd never stopped making albums."
"So many bands today seem to have no recognisable sound or personality. Well we do, and we're not going to apologise for that," agrees singer and bass player Greg Lake. "'BLACK MOON' is a classic ELP album with all the sounds and textures our fans have come to expect."
Certainly no-one could ever accuse ELP's 12th album of sounding like anyone else. With virtuoso keyboardist Keith Emerson back at the Hammond organ and playing at the peak of his powers, the supremely balanced trio of Emerson, Lake and Palmer has crafted an alluring aural masterpiece that is directly in the traditions of such classic ELP albums as "Brain Salad Surgery" and "Tarkus."
"I think the great thing about this new album is that there was never any pressure, either from the record company or from ourselves, to do anything other than ELP," notes Emerson. "It's also the most mature album we've ever recorded. We just went into the studio and did what we do best."
Ironically, however, 'BLACK MOON' did not start off life as the latest ELP record. "We were first approached by Phil Carson, president of Victory Records, about the possiblity of doing a couple of tracks for a film score," recalls Emerson. "So we started playing again, it was so great that we decided to make an album."
Palmer agrees that the band's long sabbatical "helped rather than hurt, because we were able to work on outside projects, and then could bring those outside experiences back into ELP. It's not as if we sat around twiddling our thumbs since we did our last album, 'Love Beach,' in 1978."
Indeed, all three members of ELP have been prolific on several fronts in recent years. Emerson, who released two solo albums, quickly established himself as a much-in-demand composer for film soundtracks (his credits include 'Nighthawks' starring Sylvester Stallone). Palmer worked with supergroup Asia; and Lake, in addition to his solo projects, performed with Asia in Japan. This show was broadcast live via satellite.
Still, nothing matched the pure excitement of the three musicians back together again and alone in a studio. "There was a thrill, and a genuine feeling that we could make a great record," recalls Lake. "And it turned out to be the easiest record we've ever made, because we all had such tremendous motivation. I think we all heard something none of us had heard for many years, and that is the real power, the sheer dynamism of ELP."
"Now we can't wait to get back on stage and play these songs live," adds Palmer, referring to ELP's upcoming tour this summer. "It'll be the first time in fifteen years we play live together, and if it's anything like making this record, it's going to be a very special occasion."
According to Emerson, the recording process of 'BLACK MOON' greatly benefitted from the helping hand of outside producer Mark Mancina. "It really helped to have an objective voice involved, and Mark really brought a lot to this album. For a start he's a good keyboard player and writer himself, and he really understands ELP's background. He knows what makes this band tick and knows how to pull the best out of all of us."
Before recording 'BLACK MOON' in London, band members spent some four months writing songs, polishing ideas and working on pre-production. For Lake, who as usual wrote all of the lyrics, apart from 'Burning Bridges' which was wholly contributed by producer Mancina, writing is "a strange process which, oddly enough, is difficult to put into words. My ideas obviously come from different sources. Some are emotionally driven, some of them are just simply intellectually driven, and some of them are stolen," he laughs.
He readily admits that "ELP lyrics are not what someone would call normal song material. Often the songs are not the usual relationship-based kind. I prefer to start off with an unusual image or a scene that strikes me, then work on it from there."
As an example, Lake cites his inspiration for the menacing and powerful opening track, 'BLACK MOON.' "The image came to me during the Gulf War," he explains. "I was watching television one day, and I saw this report about all these oil fields being set alight, and this picture had the sun, blacked out by all this smoke, but you could still see it and it looked like a moon, and then a black moon, and that started me thinking."
By contrast, Lake was inspired to pen the lyrical 'Affairs of the Heart' during a trip to Venice. "I was there on holiday and Venice is such a beautiful and romantic setting, a lovely place and full of art and a history of art, so it's just a great environment to write a song," he notes. "there is a hotel there called the Danielli, and in the lobby is this huge and beautiful chandelier, and there was a beautiful girl sitting across the other side of the lobby and for some reason it all added up - Venice, the chandelier, the girl. The whole opening of the song just wrote itself, there and then."
Very different again is the caustic 'Paper Blood,' which was inspired by another true life incident. "I was driving in London one day and I stopped at traffic lights and on the right hand side of me was a chauffeur-driven car with a dog in it on the front passenger seat and the man was driving with a chauffeur's hat on," recalls Lake. "On the left of me there was a tramp fishing for stuff out of the dustbin, looking for food."
Lake says he couldn't shake the image. "This ridiculous sight stuck with me for days: the dog being chauffeur-driven and the man looking in the dustbin for food. And I thought, what is that about? And the answer is money, the lack of it and too much of it, and then I thought it's like blood, money is like blood, paper blood. That was the catalyst for the song."
"For me, 'Paper Blood' was a great opportunity to rip hell out of the Hammond," laughs Emerson, who reports that, "the truth is, I was never completely happy with the sound I used to get in the Seventies. But on this album, I think I've finally achieved the ultimate Hammond sound."
The band has recorded a dazzling version of Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet.' "I guess doing a classical adaptation is almost expected of us, but we never try to force it," explains Emerson. "if it doesn't flow naturally, then it's never going to sound right. And in a larger sense, that's true of ELP today. We've all reached a point in our careers where we all feel very comfortable with each other's contributions."
Palmer agrees that the concept of maturing is very important to 'BLACK MOON.' "We've all grown up a lot and learned a lot, not only about the music business and production, but about ourselves and about life," states the drummer.
"It's definitely affected our relationships with each other, and for the better," admits Emerson. "I remember the early days, I used to say, 'Hey Greg, sing this,' and he'd say, 'Come on, I'm not singing that.' Well there was quite a bit of frustration in that sense. But today we're all much more comfortable about that sort of thing, and much more aware. Greg knows what we can handle."
The singer agrees. "I think the truth of it is that Keith has learned a lot in the years since we last worked together, and he's also learned a lot more by working with other singers who were possibly not as flexible as I was. He came to realize how lucky he was," he laughs.
"I think we've all learned to support and accomodate each other more, so that what Keith now writes is really more suitable to sing," adds Lake. "And the result is really the most accomplished record we've ever made."
Emerson, Lake and Palmer first got together in the early Seventies when each was a member of a revolutionary British band. Emerson had helped pioneer rock/classical/jazz fusion with The Nice, Lake was a founding member of King Crimson, and Palmer played with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. Fronted by Emerson's dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics and showmanship, and Lake's lyrical singing and playing, and propelled by the percussive powerhouse attack of Palmer, the band took no prisoners as it quickly conquered charts and concert halls around the world.
ELP's eponymous debut album was released in the Spring of 1971 and it immediately set a new standard for musicianship in the world of rock and roll. 'Tarkus' quickly followed in late 1971, with ELP next releasing its ambitious and wildly successful 'Pictures At An Exhibition' suite, a 45-minute work based on Mussorgsky's famous classical composition.
Over the next eight years, ELP reigned supreme with a series of platinum albums that include 'Trilogy' and 'Brain Salad Surgery' and which culminated in 1978's 'Love Beach.' The band also tirelessly toured the globe with ever more elaborate stage shows and enormous state-of-the-art sound systems that were a logical extension of ELP's relentless pursuit of sonic perfection.
"We're extremely proud of our past and of our old albums, and we see 'BLACK MOON' as a direct descendant and continuation," states Palmer. "Of course, everything is so much more technical today than when we started, and on this album we've used everything that was available to us, whether it was computers or MIDI, to make the best record we could - but without sacrificing any of the personal playing, technique, vocal approach, whatever, that characterizes an ELP record. We've stayed true to what we always were. You won't find any rap songs on this album."
To prove the point, the band will be touring 'BLACK MOON' this summer, starting in the U.S. and Canada before visiting Europe and the Far East. "For all those fans that feel they've been starved of music that challenges and pushes, we plan to put on a hell of a show," sums up Emerson. "ELP is back!"