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Circus, September 1972 - Part Two

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Carl Palmer

Greg Lake

Carl Palmer

Greg Lake

Continued from Part One: Read Part 1

Now, to most fans Lake is important, but he is by no means a focal point in the band. In fact, he's never considered himself the center of attraction. Onstage, he always stands off to the side playing second fiddle (well, bass guitar) to Emerson's classical/rock/jazz/theatrical extravaganza. He's even third to Carl Palmer because he hasn't the benefit of all those slick, fast-handed drum solos. Greg just has his sleepy-time soft voice and, of course, his solid musicianship. The place that he shines the brightest is in the recording studio: after all, let it not be forgotten that he is the lyricist and the producer.

...Whatever is done is done

I just can't recall - it doesn't matter at all

You see it's clear [sic] - you were meant to be here

From the beginning

"From The Beginning" (Trilogy)

Garbage mouth: One of the high-points on this latest ELP album is Lake's accoustic song "From The Beginning." It is melodiously quiet, a delicious moment of peace sandwiched between the roaring holocausts of Emerson's compositions. The words are delicately sentimental: but there is an unbelievable contrast between the Greg Lake who wrote those words and the clowning, goofy, smiling boy who greets you when he's "off." He's the type who can't speak without a foul word or two. All you have to do is ask him to tell you something simple, such as a little something about his background, and he's on.

"I balled a lot of chicks, did a lot of dope and here I am, the same as every other musician in the world," Greg laughs with a boyish twinkle in his eye. Continuing he explains, "I played with a group called The Gods (the 'Cods') and then I played for King Crimson ('Kink Rimson') and that was a fucking disaster and then came Keith and Carl."

Perhaps this is the essence of Greg Lake: he's definitely the kind of person you'll have difficulty holding a serious conversation with, but he is terribly sensitive inside and music is his outlet for his true emotions.

Lake comes out of the corner: Greg Lake bares his soul in his songs, but on earlier albums those songs have been squeezed uncomfortably into cramped three-minute tracks by Emerson's complicated eight-minute organ solos. Finally, on Trilogy Emerson has stepped aside and let Palmer move to the center of the stage. The organ outpourings have been tightened, shortened, and riveted between stunning hunks of Lakery. There's even a Lake-dominated Country & Western effort called "The Sheriff" opening with a rather ear-catching drum solo which is followed by what has come to be expected from our man at the keyboard, more of the "usual" majestic Emerson rifts and chords. Then, Lake begins to sing. It's a song of the Wild West as only an Englishman could imagine it, sort of baroque C&W. Lake is singing "He says he'd put a bullet hole [sic] right through Josie's chest." Emerson is doing his synthesizer thing; and as the narrative comes to a halt the song fades off into a ricky-tick/honky tonk piano-type sunset.

An unexpected change: Trilogy: showing three Grecian profiles staring off into a mauve and blue streaked sky. The passivity on the album's cover simply does not reflect the Emerson, Lake and Palmer the world loves (all the fire is gone). Perhaps it's there to indicate the change in pace that's come over the three. As English columnist Chris Welsh [sic] put it: "Something happens half-way through Emerson, Lake and Palmer's new album that their sternest critics might find unusual. They relax. And then they rock. And the neurotic tension that marks a lot of their work gives way to funky good humor." The humor, the funk, the tranquillity - they're all a sign that Greg Lake's spirit has been quietly taking over.

In concise and simple terms, that is the difference. ELP is no longer the trudging tank-monster that was Tarkus. The closest they get to that level of heaviness is something called "Living Sin." Greg lowers his voice several octaves and grunts: "turn your inside out in/Still you don't know where she has been/living sin/can't you see through/She's gotta realize a way to sound you/finally ground you..." It's the first thing even vaguely resembling an original "chick song" since The Nice's "Little Arabella" on Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Immediate). (This probably has something to do with the preposterous abundance of female attention offered them on their long jaunts away from home.)

The torch of romance: One of the distinctively Lake-inspired changes comes at the opening of Trilogy. Emerson is tinkling the ivories in a way that lets you almost hear the glasses clinking and feel the smoke-filled room. It's cocktail lounge music. Is that Greg sitting on top of the piano? Of course not, but he might well be as he sings:

I've tried to mend a love that ended long ago

Although we still pretend

Our love is surely coming to an end...

We tried to lie, but you and I

Know better than to let each other lie

The thought of lying to you makes me cry.


This is not to say that Greg is the only one to shine on record. Keith in his flash, "now-famous" style is just as amazing as ever. Though half the fun of listening to Emerson is lost when the visual isn't there to compensate for some of the noise that often comes in the heat of his excitement.

Then, there's Carl, he's just about the best rock drummer there is, not really flash, but fast. Carl's father was a drummer and a dance band leader. Even his great uncle played the drums, and now his younger brother Steven is getting closer and closer to being serious competition. Carl went pro. at fifteen years old; but even before that he was drumming away like mad. "I played in my father's dance band," Carl remembers rolling his eyes back in his head, "and later, with trad groups and pop bands." Even then his ambition was to try and play as fast as Buddy Rich. Speed without any visible effort is Carl's specialty. "I'm pleased I've got speed, but I don't concentrate on it," Carl continues, absently drumming out a beat. "If I wanted to impress with speed I could play even faster - or make it appear faster. I want to concentrate on my reading and my style." That's what puts Palmer at the top of the heap: speed and style.

Who is the star? Keith is the quiet intellectual - soft-spoken and serious. But at heart, the pair who've bubbled to the surface in Trilogy - Carl and Greg - are still slap-happy high school jokers. You can see what makes the two of them tick when you talk to them off stage. When Greg is asked to speak about himself, he's actually a little shy and tries to be serious (though you always get the feeling he's stifling a mischievous laugh). All of a sudden he's talking about his role as a singer and how he doesn't feel the need to stand dead center onstage. "I'm not the star," Greg says. "CARUSO WOULD NEVER SAY A THING LIKE THAT," Carl screams shaking his finger and making faces at Greg. Lake smiles, he knows how to get back, "Front page news," he says (everyone turns to look at him and to hear the 'flash'). "Lake says Palmer is a fairy, go on 'sweety' answer your questions." Carl who had been fairly open before laughs but clams up a little, then opens a letter from his girl friend.

Trilogy was recorded over a period of time at Advision Studios in London. Eddie "are you ready" Offord was sitting at the mixing board. Part of it was recorded during October of 1971 shortly before E.L.P. did their Madison Square Garden dates on Thanksgiving; the remainder was completed when they arrived home from the tour. But, the question still remains, "Who is the star of Emerson, Lake and Palmer?"

The three-man answer: The answer lies somewhere between the mystery of the plastic disk, the excitement of onstage performance and the subtleties of all three's individual personalities. It's Emerson's show. Who can fight a man who does fantastic leaps over his organ while playing a tricky Bach fugue? Who can question a personality who falls to the ground and crushes himself to the stage under his organ while he "gets off" on the dramatics of the visual and the thunderous and overpowering music his hands are capable of making?

Lake is the man who makes the studio work one cut better than the performance. After all, when you can't see Keith fighting with his organ, the feedback is a little hard to get into: this is when Greg's lilting vocals and gentle melodies fill in the holes and make everything just that little bit sweeter.

Carl Palmer? What can you say about a drummer who just won't quit. He's the backbone of it all. Here lies the essence. There is no overly dictatorial master in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Each one could have a successful band on his own and be the STAR. The way it is now, they are all equals and all frightening incredible geniuses. Instead of three separate ego-trippers there is one collectively strong, bright light in the musical galaxy, a light that is made up of one taciturn intellect and two impetuous nut-cases: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer.

©1972 Circus. All rights reserved.