Emerson, Lake & Palmer High Voltage Review

Live. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A fourth-hand retelling of a story best heard elsewhere.

Mike Diver 2010

The recently reanimated corpse of 1970s prog giants Emerson, Lake & Palmer has been picked over numerous times, the trio’s iconic logo appearing on no fewer than five best-of releases. High Voltage is another to add to the pile, issued to coincide with the band’s 40th anniversary appearance at the London festival of the same name. But while it’s sold as being based on the group’s setlist at the late-July two-dayer held in Victoria Park, fans are advised to save their money.

For one thing, this is not the set played by ELP at High Voltage. No Karn Evil: First Impression Part II, the band’s opener on the night of July 25, makes that clear. And with nothing here taken from said track’s parent LP, 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery – their best album alongside an eponymous debut of 1970 – High Voltage doesn’t even qualify as a recommended entry-point for any newcomers.    

There are a handful of cuts from the debut: three of disc two’s five tracks – Lucky Man, Take a Pebble and The Barbarian – are drawn from the supergroup’s well-received first record. Although very much a band in their own right, the nature of ELP’s formation – members came from The Nice (Emerson), King Crimson (Lake) and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (Palmer); each has quite the CV – means that these early songs are notable for usually being the work of just one man. As such they’re a lot less theatrical and compositionally complex than what followed – Lake’s Take a Pebble is a little drawn-out, but its fast piano lines are charming rather than confusing.

Disc one is home to just three ‘songs’ – but numbers one and two are divided into seven and 11 movements respectively. Tarkus is the entire 20-minute title-track of the band’s second album of 1971, a dizzying concoction with keyboardist Emerson on particularly dazzling form; Pictures at an Exhibition and Nutrocker comprise the whole of their live LP of the same year. Pictures… is an example of the band’s incorporating of classical music into their own, many movements interpretations of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s 1874 piano suite. Nutrocker, a cover of B Bumble and the Stingers’ 1962 number one hit, takes its cues from Tchaikovsky’s March of the Wooden Soldiers (from The Nutcracker).

With nothing here from beyond 1977 – the group’s 1990s efforts are sensibly ignored – there’s no doubt High Voltage offers a snapshot of a band at its prime. But this era is already well documented, and this double-disc affair comes across as a fourth-hand retelling of a story best heard elsewhere.

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