Emerson Lake and Palmer Fanfare Super Deluxe Box Set Video Review

Fanfare (9*CD, 2*2CD, 5*live CD, 3LP, blu-ray, book, repro brochure, 2 * repro tour programmes, badge, book, box BMG

Watch the video above to see the full contents of the box set

Progressive rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer formed in 1970 and have quite the legacy. During the first half of the 70s the band were prolific, and had many top selling albums too. There have been a couple of reformations, and sadly drummer Carl Palmer is the only survivor. 

This box set was originally released in 2017 and soon sold out, copies starting to go for silly prices, so BMG have kindly reissued the set. And in keeping with other recent reissue campaigns, the packaging is superb. 

Kicking off with the original album run, their 1970 eponymous album was recorded soon after formation, with pianist Keith Emerson having had success with The Nice (their debut The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack widely considered the first prog rock album), bassist/guitarist and vocalist Greg Lake fresh out of King Crimson (whose In The Court Of The Crimson widely considered the best ever prog rock album) and drummer Carl Palmer an alumni of Atomic Rooster and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. The band stripped much of the blues, soul and psychedelia out of rock and beefed up the classical influence. In many cases the classical music was played by a futuristic heavy metal machine. The debut opens with the manic The Barbarian, followed by the 12 minute Take A Pebble. This is partly acoustic and features a lengthy piano passage. Still a wonderful. The last track, Lucky Man, was released as a single too. The album incorporates work by composers Bach, Janacek and Bartok. Throughout the album there are changes of key, time and temp, the vocals often poetic, and the edge shifts from aggressive to whimsical and back again.

The 1971 follow up, Tarkus, was much more epic, with the 20 minute title track taking up side one of the LP. The Tarkus is am armadillo / tank cross that adorns the sleeve. It is a musical and lyrical journey. On side two there’s the more light hearted Jeremy Bender, the sometimes harsh Bitches Crystal, and even the church organ led The Only Way. The album closes with a blast of rock’n’roll, in Are You Ready Eddy? 

Third album Pictures At An Exhibition is a live album, where ELP rework the Mussorgsky piece of the same name, and a suite that had already been in the live set. From the grandiose organ opening to some seriously rocking moments; turn a robot up to 11 and give it some LSD. The Old Castle has a jazzy rock’n’roll rhythm with some OTT keyboards over the top, marvellous. And to close, a rousing rendition of The Nutrocker. The crowd love it, and so should you.

Trilogy, the band’s fourth album and  third studio outing, was released in 1972 and is by all accounts the most accurate record and was difficult to record, with the most number of overdubs of any ELP album. As before there’s the usual mixture of rock/metal classical reworkings with jazzy, acoustic, whimsical and poetic interludes. A standout is Hoedown which became a live staple. 

1973’s Brain Salad Surgery and if ever there was a studio album to define monster and magnum opus, this has to be a prime candidate. Released with it’s iconic HR Giger sleeve, the album opens with a take on Jerusalem, before the 7 minute Toccata (again a live favourite). A lot of fun is Benny The Bouncer, uptempo. And then, split between the last track on side 1 and the entire side 2 of the original LP, is the truly epic Karn Evil 9. Segments have frequently played live, the full version here running to 30 minutes. Then 1974 and the triple live album Welcome Back My Friends, here over 2 CDs. Another classic, epic, and defining as live albums go. 

The band took a break so jump to 1977 and the double album Works Volume 1 (again here over 2 CDs), and a 3 sides were dedicates to the individual band members (one side each). Keith Emerson presents an 18 minute piano concerto, Greg Lake 5 songs including C’Est La Vie and Hallowed Be Thy Name, and similarly Carl Palmer on side 3. The last side features the full nine minute version of Fanfare For The Common Man (an edited version was a hit single) and the lengthy Pirates. The same year Works Volume 2 was more a compilation, with the single Tiger In A Spotlight, the track Brain Salad Surgery (previously issued as a b-side) and a couple of solo tracks, including Keith Emerson’s Honky Tonk Train Blues and Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas. 

The band’s last album before splitting was 1978’s Love Beach. On it’s own it’s a rather good album, but is far from classic ELP. Exhaustion, changing music scene, internal tensions, whatever the reasons, the band finished with no tour. Good, but Brain Salad or Tarkus it is not. 

There was a final live album, “In Concert”, but not included here because it appeared in its expanded form as Works Live as part of the recent live box set. Skip the Emerson Lake & Powell album and various solo projects (Keith Emerson recorded some film soundtracks, Carl Palmer joined Asia, the Three project), and the band reformed for 1992’s Black Moon album. A solid affair and with much more modern sound and production, it is much less overblown or whimsical, it’s quite a decent rock album. The title track and Paper Blood are excellent, and I’ve always been partial to the (admittedly a little plodding) cover of Romeo And Juliet. 1994’s In The Hotseat would be their last. Another modern rock album that isn’t as bad as the reviews made out, but it just didn’t hit the zeitgeist. Again there is a live album from the era, Live At The Royal Albert Hall, that forms part of the live box.

The bonus live material includes a triple live LP which sounds as good as it looks and really adds to the value of the release. There are also five live CDs. The Paris live set, recorded during the reformation, is a solid recording, and the band included Emerson Lake & Powell’s Touch And Go in the set, along with King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man. Many of the longer tracks, including Tarkus, Pictures At An Exhibition and Karn Evil 9 are rearranged in shorter or medley form. 

The 1972 show at the Pocono International Raceway is a period epic, the 22 minute Tarkus is worth its weight in gold, and the 18 minute take on The Nice’s Rondo includes a drum solo. Lovely. 

The Waterloo Concert Field show sees more recent tracks like Black Moon sit well next to older tracks, and the 15 minute take on Fanfare For The Common becomes a jam and medley (a few bars of a heavy and frenetic Rondo), another marvellous listen. There’s another 90s show from Birmingham Symphony Hall, and a Live At The BBC set, featuring performances on The Old Grey Whistle Test and Pop Goes Summer. 

So the main and official part of the band’s catalogue and some fantastic bonuses. Now onto the packaging: 

The CDs come in card sleeves, some of them gatefold, and look and feel fantastic. These are the 2012 masters so sound good too. These come laid into the base of the box; above that we have the 3LP, a nice heavy duty release. A metal pin. Then the 12” hardback book that features lots of photos, and extensive sleevenotes from Chris Welch, plenty of quotes too. Then an A4 card wallet, which includes a period brochure and two replica tour programmes. And two 7” 45s in picture sleeves to boot. Lastly, for the audiophiles amongst us, is a blu-ray featuring surround sound mixes.

This is a fantastic package and a huge collection completer. What may leave fans and collectors sat on the fence is that the extras from the last expanded editions are not included. But this is such a lovely package that I’m sure I’m not the only fan who will have and appreciate both. And I applaud BMG for the repress as there is clearly the demand. And rightfully so.

Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine 

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