Emerson Lake & Palmer - Trilogy

Emerson Lake & Palmer

Released 1972 on Cotillion (Atlantic)
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 07/07/2004ce

side 1
The Endless Enigma (part 1)
The Endless Enigma (part 2)
From The Beginning
The Sheriff

side 2
Living Sin
Abaddon's Bolero

Keith Emerson - very many keyboards
Greg Lake - vocals & stringed instruments
Carl Palmer - percussion

No three words connote "PROG ROCK" more negatively than Emerson Lake & Palmer. Their music is incredibly pompous, for they are incredibly pompous individuals. One of them (does it matter which?) famously said their goal was to create "a pure white European music with no black influences." Which they didn't really achieve, but in the attempt created a behemoth that certainly fit a lot of the setereotypical characteristics of "whiteness": stiff, unemotional, overintellectual, utilizing mechanization to improve "productivity", always going for quantity over quality, celebrating technical achievements for their own sake whether they are useful or not, and so on. Hell, the name of the band even sounds like an accounting firm!

So no wonder artistic souls despise them while computer geeks maintain the faith. In an even whiter, geekier world perhaps history would have turned out differently and they could have been Kraftwerk, and then Ralf & Florian would be the uncool ones, HA HA!

Side one of "Trilogy" begins with some spooky electronic woo-wooing and jumbled jazz-ish piano clusters (much like Cecil Taylor -- told ya they couldn't avoid the "black influence" for long.) It sounds a lot like the soundtrack music to the original "Planet of the Apes" film, and I mean that as a compliment. Then bongos and a shinai (probably a synth sound from Emerson actually) do a sufi-dance before it goes into a Bach-hyperdrive finger excercise jam. All this is meant to sonically depict the "dawn of man" or something, like the opening scenes of "2001: A Space Odyssey", cuz just like that movie the ELPers are going to explain all the mysteries of the origin of life, the universe and everything! "The Endless Enigma" in other words!

They settle into some mellow Procol Harum, er I mean Bach organ while Greg Lake intones his freshman college philosophy questions in the voice of a TV game show announcer:

"Why do you stare?
Do you think that I care?
You've been mislead
By the thoughts in your head"

(huge pompous drum roll & cue 10,000 amplifiers)


(dingly-doodley organ lick)


(complex chord progression to nowhere, lather & repeat)

The next couplet begins "Why do you think I believe what you said / Few of your words ever enter my head" -- so I guess the fact that Greg Lake listens to nobody, expecially you YA BLOODY IDIOT, means that he's a very profound and individualistic thinker. "Are you confused to the point in your mind though you're blind, can't you see you're wrong?" -- see I think this is all leading up to something eventually, but are we done with the abuse yet? -- "PLEEEEASE!!! PLEEEEASE!!! PLEEEEASE!!! OPEN YOUR EYES!!!!" OK Greg baby, I'm all eyes & ears! What great truth are you going to reveal!?!

"I ruled all of the earth! Witnessed my birth!
Cried at the sight of a maaaaaaan!!!!!

Did you catch that? No? Well, that's why they call it an "enigma" baby!

Next is the "Fugue" (Keith Emerson does finger exercises on a Steinway while the other guys go about back & smoke a cigarette) -- but hang in there cuz "The Endless Enigma (part two)" surely will get to the bottom of this business, and Greg Lake will finally learn who he is!

"Each part was played though the play was not shown!
Everyone came but they all sat alone!"

(huge pompous drum roll & cue 10,000 amplifiers)


(dingly-doodley organ lick)


(complex chord progression bit again)

"NOW that it's done, I've begun to see the REASON WHY I'M HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE?!!!!!"

(cue moogs boiling down the vortex)

And so it turns out "The Endless Enigma" is the song itself! It feels "endless", and you'll never figure out what it means, cuz it's an "enigma", get it?!

Lyrical abuse in the second-person disguised as profound cosmic revelation continues in "From The Beginning", the hit single off the album. The music is "jazzy" in a David Crosby sort of way, mostly Greg's acoustic & electric guitars & bass with just little squiggles of colour from the moog. Lake's singing is less stentorian and more whiny, which is meant to connote "emotions":

"Maybe I might have changed and not been so cruel, not been such a fool.
Whatever was done is done, I just can’t recall, It doesn’t matter at all.
You see it’s all clear, you were meant to be here . . . From the beginning."

In other words, he admits he's been a prick all along but that's all water under the bridge, so get over it beeotch. But cosmic fate sez you should have been here "from the beginning", and here you are! So take some comfort in that (whatever it means!)

The next song is a piece of faux-"Americana" gleaned from bad Hollywood cowboy movies. Josie & "The Sherrif" tangle, but who the fuck cares. I never hate these guys more than when they're trying to play "honky tonk", which they unfortunately did on more than just this one occasion. It ends with a sped-up tack piano, like from an old silent movie. Fingernails on chalkboard, GRRR!!!

The last track on side one, "Hoedown" is this LP's obligatory sacrifice of a classical music piece upon the altar of technology, in this case a tune from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo". But it's great! "Fingers" goes through all the different settings on his synths and moogs, the electronic souffle rises and falls getting bigger each time til by the end it sounds like police sirens, lasers & smoke bombs going off! A gloriously overblown spectacle of sound! The fact that Greg Lake does not sing also helps make this one of ELP's best tracks ever! If all of their stuff was this good (and sans crap lyrics) maybe they could have been forefathers of an entirely different type of "electronica" music after all.

Flip the record over and the title track "Trilogy" is a pleasing series of meandering prog riffs and textures. Greg sings some bologna about his lost love, but on the plus side there's a cool moog jam in 5/8 time.

"Living Sin" is some sleazy sexist bullshit. Greg Lake should stick to the phony-philosopher routine if he wants to pick up the chicks.

"Abaddon's Bolero" is one more example of Keith working out his classical jones. Pianos, and electric pianos, and moogs, and synths go up and down scales for awhile accompanied by a "rocknroll" rhythm section whose stated goal is to play as white as possible, "with no black influence!" (Guffaw!)

Brothers and Sisters, in order to change the system we must first understand how it works from the inside. Emerson Lake & Palmer records have much to teach us about the psychology of the fat rich white men who control the musical-industrial complex.

Reviews Index