Keith Emerson : Variations 20 CD Box Set Review

Keith Emerson Variations: A Comprehensive 20-CD Box Set Exploration
The late Keith Emerson, a towering figure in the world of progressive rock and a founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, has been honored with a remarkable 20-CD box set titled “Variations.” Released by Unicorn Records in collaboration with the Keith Emerson Estate, this collection, priced at about £145, is a testament to Emerson’s expansive and influential career.

“Variations” is presented in a 10-inch box set format, a departure from the typical 12-inch sets often seen for comprehensive overviews. The CDs are neatly housed in foldout covers, color-coded for easy identification. While the set lists all albums on the back, a notable omission is the lack of track listings on the individual CD covers. This requires listeners to refer to the accompanying booklet to identify the tracks being played, a minor inconvenience for those exploring Emerson’s vast discography.

The set includes two booklets. The first is a memorabilia book filled with private photographs from Emerson’s career, offering fans a personal glimpse into his life. The main booklet, while not hardback, is thoroughly compiled. It features an insightful essay by Jerry Ewing, detailing Emerson’s career trajectory, and includes interviews and contributions from musicians like Marc Bonilla and Keith Wechsler. The booklet also provides detailed information about each album in the set, although some fans might desire more extensive credits and background stories.

“Variations” spans Emerson’s solo work, film soundtracks, and live performances, showcasing his versatility as a musician and composer. Highlights include the “Three Fates Project,” the tribute album “Beyond the Stars,” and live recordings like “Live at Manticore Hall” with Greg Lake. The set offers a comprehensive look at Emerson’s lesser-known works, making it an essential collection for fans and collectors.

While the set is an impressive tribute to Emerson’s legacy, there are areas where it could have been enhanced. The inclusion of track listings on the CD covers, more detailed credits in the booklet, and a hardback format for the main booklet would have elevated the overall presentation. However, these are minor points in the context of the set’s significance and the quality of its content.

Keith Emerson’s “Variations” box set is a reminder of Emerson’s genius as a composer and performer, and the set’s comprehensive nature makes it a must-have for fans of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and progressive rock in general. As we explore these 20 discs, we’re not only revisiting Emerson’s past achievements but also celebrating his enduring impact on the music world.

Phil Aston | Now Spinning Magazine

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