Greg Lake

By: Yan Friis

Few, if any, pop stars have taken more beatings from the critics than Greg Lake. But he will have the best and last laugh. Rhino’s new double ‘Best of’ compilation set proves that the man with the voice of a trumpeting angel is, and has always been, damn good all the way, regardless of musicians used or musical style played.

When the gun smoke drifts away and the critics are weary and tired, Greg Lake will still be standing. Nothing can shake his position as one of rock & roll’s most wonderful voices. The choirboy voice has given life to an amazing array of versatile music throughout the years. And it moves as strong today on his more recent recordings as it ever did.

Lake’s sound has always been something of a mix between a trumpeting angel and the sound of a mountain river in the spring. When it rises, it rises as if up to the arches of a cathedral. You can’t help feeling awestruck and humbled when the man opens his mouth. Regardless of the bombastic musical surroundings he sometimes chooses, the sincerity is so authentic that it shines.

Yes, even in the last decade when he has often leaned towards ‘wall to wall adult rock’, he has, with his voice and the words it sings, been able to elevate his fellow musicians above the middle-of-the-road level. Indeed, Greg Lake is actually an exceptionally fine lyricist too. He is rarely commended for that. It’s hereby done!

Add that to the fact that the man is a bass player world class, and knows his way around the acoustic- and the lead - guitar, and we’re getting the picture of a true profile in this circus.

So there’s nothing wrong with Rhino’s decision to cover this man’s career by launching a double CD. That the first part of this compilation is convincingly good is not all that surprising. Lake’s voice, combined with Robert Fripp’s insane balancing of avant garde and fully matured art rock, yielded extreme profit in King Crimson. Sadly, the original recording of “21st century Schizoid Man” (the most inflamed and deranged metal rocker) isn’t included on this CD, but on a later solo album released in 1981. Lake’s work in the supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer varies between advanced musicality and very cleverly performed pop ballads. Both expressions are as critically needed for the group as Keith Emerson’s keyboard wizardry.

Greg Lake also contributed some beautiful solo recordings towards the end of the seventies, the Christmas single “ I Believe in Father Christmas” and “C’est la Vie” leading the way. But we know all this.

CD2 deals with the difficult second part of his career. In fact, this one actually brings the most pleasure and excitement. Who remembers that GL released a damn good album in 1980 including, among others, Gary Moore as lead guitarist? Who remembers that Bob Dylan sent him an unfinished song and allowed Greg Lake to deal with it as he saw fit (“Love you too much”)? Who realized that the much-flamed Emerson, Lake & Powell actually created something of value on their self-titled album from 1986? And that the reunited Emerson, Lake & Palmer was not a pathetic attempt to recreate the past, but was actually an ingenuous, honest and pretty good contribution to the nineties?

This particular part of Lake’s history can take the best man by surprise, but it’s really true. The way CD2 rakes in the highlights from this period, Greg Lake stands tall even in this day and age. That’s probably what is most rewarding with this fine Rhino CD collection. Among the 32 songs, there are also 2 outtakes previously not released from the eighties.

The enclosed booklet that comes with the CD includes a thorough essay with quotes from Greg Lake himself. It also includes lots of information about the different recordings and tracks.

A good 2 ½ hours of music accompanied by a trumpeting angel is absolutely worthwhile.

 ~ Translated from Norwegian to English with permission of the author Mr. Yan Friis,

by Even Gaarder  (with a little help from Kate)