Oh how they laughed at DiS towers when I stuck my hand into the air like a swot child in maths class and offered to wrap my ears around this, the best of, nay, the ultimate Emerson Lake and Palmer collection. Oh how they pointed their fingers, chortled and went back to their Mars Volta and Oceansize records; prog rock mark two, basically. Oh how little they know - without ELP there probably wouldn't be any Mars Volta or Oceansize records.
Y'see, whilst prog rock is hardly fashionable today, it's considerably more acceptable than it was when ELP first emerged, back when my dad had longer hair than mine (past my shoulders and still going. If you're a dab hand with scissors, give me a call). With punk exploding all around, men who should have known better sought refuge from the sneering mohawks and snotty safety pins in ridiculously prentious and over-the-top compositions, and thus prog rock (mark one) was born. Why write a three-minute pop-structured song when you can fill that entire time with just one keyboard solo? Indeed, many bands - King Crimson, Yes et al - often saw fit to fill the length of time occupied by an entire pop album with a single solo. Not music for the impatient, then...
Which brings me to ELP. You might not know it, but you've heard them plenty of times already - 'Fanfare For The Common Man' and 'Karn Evil Part Two, Second Impression' have oozed (that's what this type of music does y'know, ooze) from the speaker/s of televisions nationwide an astonishing amount of times since their creation. You know smug-faced 'comedian' Jim Davidson? As funny as cot death he may be, but he saw fit to use them as the theme tune to The Generation Game. Thus, prog rock infiltrated dinnertime households across the country and millions of kids were subjected to its evil, synth-happy powers - it haunts me to this day; that and the seemingly endless car journeys with nothing but early Genesis for company. As for 'I Believe In Father Christmas', well, if you've never heard that in your life then you're either incredibly lucky or have been living in a pit on Dartmoor for the last twenty years.
It was ELP's stage shows that separated them from the pursuing cape-clad pack. You think Tommy Lee pioneered revolving drum kits? Think again - Carl Palmer was hanging on to his stool for dear life decades ago. (The band's name is simply the member's surnames, the other two being Greg Lake, once of King Crimson, and Keith Emerson.) The shows also featured a grand piano that would rise some 30 foot into the air. It's all enough to begin wondering where Slipknot got their inspiration from, stupid masks and actual music aside.
However, without the stunning visuals to accompany it (and occasionally incredible album art, in the case of 'Brain Salad Surgery' at least), this music sounds terribly dated. Yes, its influence is obvious - bands like ELP were among the first to drag experimental music into the mainstream - but that grown men ever wrote an album based on a mythological half-tank, half-armadillo creature called Tarkus is just silly, and would be laughed out of town today. (Unless your town's mayor is Thom Yorke or it's governed by the members of Cave In, possibly.) Much of prog was style and flair over substance, and much of this 'ultimate' collection reflects that - as skilled as these musicians are/were, their repeated 'mummy, look what I can do' attitude soon wears thin. Then again, many of today's envelope-pushing acts are the same; tell me you'll still hold that Mars Volta album of yours in such high regard in ten years and I'll call you a bare-faced liar.
So what's the point of this exactly? Let's be honest, Mars Volta fans are hardly going to rush out and get this when there's Pink Floyd records to be had (for all their failings - well, Roger Waters' massive ego anyway - the Floyd were very much the pick of the first progressive rock generation), and any older fans of ELP are going to have these songs already - there's nothing new here because the band haven't so much as played golf together for years, let alone any music. Basically, there is no point. At all. No wonder they laughed so heartily at me...
4Mike Diver's Score