Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

The problem with me reviewing anything ELP (hmmm, that rhymes!) is that I love, love, LOVE the band so much (they are my fave of all time) that I might be a tad bit prejudiced reviewing anything ELPish! Edward Macan’s new book, Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, is unquestionably the best book ever written about the best band ever…and whether I say that with prejudice or not, the facts are indisputable that this is great big book about a great big band!

To his credit, Mr. Macan does not hold my reverent view and though he truly adores the music ELP and their progressive minions make, he is not so genuflecting in his praise that he doesn’t offer studied solid critique of this seminal 70s band music and social significance. In fact, Macan argues (and I agree) that any popular music cannot be viewed, critiqued, maybe even enjoyed without viewing the social context is was created in. For instance, he suggests the economic stresses of the mid-seventies changed ELP’s output (every band’s output actually) as much as the increasing clash of their main Teutonic leaders, Emerson and Lake. Enigma is as much a biography of the personalities of this often maligned trio (believe me I have been defending ELP all my life!) as it is a learned study of their compositions and the times they were created in. Of the three books I could recommend on ELP, Emerson, Lake and Palmer: The Show That Never Ends and Keith Emerson’s own, Pictures of an Exhibitionist, I’d say Macan’s book is the definitive statement on what the band managed, why they managed and what it was like during the time when they managed to produce some of the most important recordings of the progressive rock hey-day.

Each ELP album is given a specific chapter for analysis. There is a thorough discography at the end of the main text, plus what has to be the most extensive listing of ELP live shows I have ever seen (complete with corrections to dates listed incorrectly in Greg Lake’s web site!). This section, “Appendix D” in the book, is especially informative in that not only are dates and cities named, but Macan provides what he calls a “statistical summary and analysis of ELP’s tour patterns” at the end of the list of dates.Now where the hell have you ever seen that before!

But Macan’s critique of specific songs is what truly floors me. As I mentioned before he is not effluent in his praise, when he feels a song or album lacks ELP’s usual ‘chops’ or melodic aplomb he is not hesitant to indicate his displeasure. He gives detail to the seconds of each song, where changes occur, patterns emerge or proficiency and melody might border on the banal. I haven’t seen a detailed study of rock music like this ever, certainly not one married with the depth of Macan’s social commentary and pertinent band bios. There is pityingly too little material out there about or even from my favorite band and Edward Macan’s book, at a whooping 775 pages of text, makes this a great, thick addition to a sorely lacking series.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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