Razor and Tie Revisits Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” For 40th Anniversary
Keyboardist Keith Emerson, vocalist/bassist/guitarist Greg Lake and drummer/percussionist Carl Palmer were innovators in the progressive rock genre, fusing classical, jazz and heavy rock on a regular basis since their 1970 self-titled debut album. ELP was an answer both to the compact, three-minute pop songs that dominated the airwaves and to the blues-rock genre epitomized by the likes of Led Zeppelin, and the group pursued a refinement of their sound via their second and third albums, Tarkus and Trilogy. Yet the best expression of what made Emerson, Lake and Palmer so distinctive and so excitingly experimental can be heard on their fourth studio long-player (and fifth album overall), 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery. The mission statement for the album was simple – to follow up the dense production of Trilogy with an album that the “power trio” could play live – but the results were anything but. Razor and Tie has recently issued a new edition of Brain Salad as a 2-CD/1-DVD-A set to belatedly celebrate the landmark release’s fortieth anniversary.
This new reissue follows the label’s 2012 sets for ELP and Tarkus and follows a similar format: the original album in remastered form on Disc One, a different album presentation with an array of outtakes, alternates and early mixes on Disc Two, and new, high-resolution mixes on Disc Three, a DVD-Audio disc. Much has changed since 2012, however, not least of all the parting of the ways between the band and producer Steven Wilson. Prog hero Wilson has recently remixed albums from King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, and it was anticipated that he would continue his association with ELP for Brain Salad. He’s been replaced by producer Jakko M. Jakszyk, currently of King Crimson, who is responsible for the new stereo mix available here in lossless 24/96 Advanced Resolution and 24/96 LPCM Stereo on the DVD-Audio disc. A key component of those earlier deluxe editions is missing, however: the new 5.1 surround mix which is only available on an import Super Deluxe box set.
Brain Salad Surgery –its title derived from a Dr. John lyric referencing fellatio – remains the most ambitious entry in the ELP catalogue. Produced by Lake, it proved an amalgam of the styles that propelled the group to success – and also was their loudest and most aggressive release. In addition, it marked ELP’s heaviest and most skillfully integrated use of electronic sounds and voices to that point. Nobody could accuse the supergroup of resting on its laurels. In attempting to get back to basics, ELP continued to push the envelope with impeccable musicianship and brainy bombast.
Certainly it was a brave move to open a hotly-anticipated album with an adaptation of a Hubert Parry (1848-1918) hymn with lyrics adapted from a William Blake poem (1757-1827) but that’s precisely what ELP did with “Jerusalem.” It was banned upon its release by the BBC on the grounds of its desecration of the classic hymn. It’s all rather stately, though, and a bold affirmation of the group’s English heritage – not to mention a grandiose and unexpected way to open a so-called rock album. “Toccata” also found ELP serving as adapters. Keith Emerson arranged the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s First Piano Concerto for the group, with the piece a showcase for not only his dexterous, cosmic synth explorations but for Palmer’s furious drumming. Ginastera, an acclaimed figure in 20th century classical music and in the music of his home country of Argentina, approved of Emerson’s radical transformation complete with its groundbreaking electronic drum solo.
The eclectic variety of sounds continued with the haunting baroque ballad “Still…You Turn Me On,” a pretty Lake ballad in the vein of “Lucky Man.” Its psychedelic flourishes and touches of funk retained the element of the unexpected, but the track was an oasis of accessibility on the album’s first side. In the liner notes for this reissue, Lake still laments his bandmates’ reluctance to issue the song as a single when it could have followed in the footsteps of “Lucky Man” to expose the group to a broader audience. “Benny the Bouncer,” an electronic-infused music hall pastiche with a cheerfully violent storyline, was written by Emerson, Lake and King Crimson’s Peter Sinfield, and features Emerson’s best barroom boogie-woogie piano licks. Lake’s exaggerated vocals are aptly described by Emerson as in the style of Stanley Holloway, the great British actor who originated the role of Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
The first four tracks on Brain Salad Surgery, however, served as prelude to the lengthy suite “Karn Evil 9” (a play on the word “carnival”). The nearly 30-minute track, beginning on Side One of the original vinyl and occupying the complete second side, as well was split into three movements (or Impressions) with two parts to the first movement. Like the epic title track that opened Tarkus, “Karn Evil” excitingly shifted moods, tempi and style, with standout moments for all three members. (Emerson and Lake shared writing credit along with lyricist Sinfield.)
Lake comfortably adopted the role of the carnival barker in the sci-fi fantasia which told of a futuristic world where “all manner of evil and decadence had been banished.” The “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…” – the second part of the 1st Impression – likely remains ELP’s single most famous piece of music, but it’s surrounded by one of their most creative and sprawling sonic explorations. The 2nd Impression is the most jazz-oriented, a piano/bass/drums workout (with offbeat synthesized steel drums) that’s refreshingly straightforward in its instrumentation but varied in its execution. The 3rd Impression ratchets up the rock quotient, setting to alternately defiant and triumphant music a dialogue between man and computer, pitted against one another for supremacy.
After the jump: what sets this edition apart from the rest?
The first disc of this expanded Brain Salad utilizes Andy Pearce’s stellar remaster of the original album from the U.K.’s 2008 35th anniversary Deluxe Edition. The second CD repeats the eleven alternate mixes, B-sides and backing tracks from that release, and adds two previously unreleased tracks: an instrumental mix of the outtake/single release “Brain Salad Surgery” and an early, alternate arrangement for the 3rd Impression of “Karn Evil 9.” This disc, now as in 2008, is manna for ELP obsessives, with the early versions numerous differences in composition, improvisation and arrangement from the final album tracks. The original single versions of outtakes “Brain Salad Surgery” and “When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind, I’ll Be Your Valentine” are among the 13 tracks on this disc, although “Tiger in the Spotlight” – recorded for Brain Salad but not released until 1977’s Works 2 compilation – is absent.
The “Super Stereo” DVD-A includes both the original 1973 album mix and the new mix by “Jakko” in LPCM 96/24 and MLP Lossless 96/24 (the latter playable only in DVD-A equipped players). The new mix may be jarring to listeners familiar with the original LP, but the presence of both allows for worthwhile comparison. The missing 5.1 mix, however, can’t help but render this disc as a disappointment. John Kellogg’s surround mix of Brain Salad Surgery has been released twice on two now-out-of-print releases: a DVD-Audio from Rhino/Warner Bros., and an SACD as part of the 2008 Deluxe Edition. For this campaign, Jakko crafted a new surround mix which would have brought this 2-CD/1-DVD American release in line with ELP and Tarkus. Instead, it has only been released as part of the Super Deluxe Edition available in the U.K. from Sony/Legacy. To add insult to injury, the 5.1 mix is referred to in the booklet which appears to be a reprint from the Super Deluxe set and refers to discs missing in this slimmed-down configuration. (For the record, that box set also includes a vinyl LP of the original album and a second DVD containing a documentary film.)
Razor and Tie’s Brain Salad Surgery is packaged in a digipak retaining elements from Alien designer H.R. Giger’s iconic original artwork. If this reissue isn’t as impressive as its two predecessors from the label, it still is a fine introduction to Brain Salad Surgery for the uninitiated, with the original album and a solid appendix of bonus material. It just might turn you on.
- Still…You Turn Me On
- Benny the Bouncer
- Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 1
- Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2
- Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression
- Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression
- Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression (Original Backing Track)
- Jerusalem (First Mix)
- Still…You Turn Me On (First Mix)
- Toccata (Alternate Version)
- Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 1 (Alternate Version)
- Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2 (Alternate Version)
- Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression (Alternate Version)
- Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression (Alternate Version)
- Excerpts from Brain Salad Surgery (NME Flexidisc Version, no cat. no., 1973)
- When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind, I’ll Be Your Valentine (Manticore single K 13503, 1973)
- Brain Salad Surgery (Manticore single K 10946, 1974)
- Brain Salad Surgery (Instrumental)
- Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression (Different Version)
All except Tracks 12 & 13 appeared on Brain Salad Surgery: Deluxe Edition, Sanctuary 5308195, 2008
“Super Stereo” DVD-A:
Contains all tracks on CD 1 in original stereo mix and new 2014 stereo mix, both in MLP Lossless 96/24 and LPCM 96/24