Emerson, Lake & Palmer | Brain Salad Surgery (40th Anniversary Limited Edition) – CD/DVD Review


Three years after their formation, Emerson, Lake and Palmer successfully infused elements of classical and jazz into their dynamic and eclectic repertoire. With each album, ELP ambitiously raised the bar, pushed the envelope and defied convention — effectively becoming rock and roll trailblazers in the truest sense of the word. And while the critics of the day called their music pretentious and pompous — millions of music fans recognized the proficiency and genius behind the distinctive progressive rock power trio. With Brain Salad Surgery, their fourth album of original material, the splendor and virtuosity behind ELP fell perfectly into place.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Brain Salad Surgery would be the most collaborative effort of ELP’s career. From the noble opening notes of “Jerusalem,” a traditional British anthem with lyrics by poet William Blake, Brain Salad Surgery assumes a rather majestic affectation. Typical of each ELP release, there is a classical interpretation — an adaptation of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement, entitled “Toccata.” Dominated by electronic drums and percussion synthesizers — developed specifically for the piece — ELP’s arrangements reliably maintain a beleaguered sense of tradition within their own monumental spins. Before all hell breaks loose, we get the obligatory Greg Lake acoustical number, “Still…You Turn Me On.”

The centerpiece of the album is, however, the three-suite epic, “Karn Evil 9.” Bolstered by the prophetic lyrics of Pete Sinfield, including the signature line, “welcome back my friends to the show that never ends,” “Karn Evil 9” is the defining balance of ELP’s strengths — Keith Emerson’s masterful organ, synthesizer and piano playing; Lake’s rich baritone vocals and stalwart bass lines; and Carl Palmer’s steadied, almost contrapuntal percussion work.

To lend to the album’s larger-than-life stance, ELP commissioned an obscure Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger to come up with the cover art, capturing the theme and title perfectly. He would eventually gain fame as the artist behind the Alien movie series and pass away in 2014. Brain Salad Surgery would become the apex of ELP’s bumpy career. The Works albums that surfaced in 1977 and 1978 failed to sustain the trio’s collective feel and drive. Love Beach, for all its strong points, was the nail in the coffin. When ELP reunited in the 90s, the aura of Brain Salad Surgery seemed too far out of reach. Forty years later, it was an album of its time — for all time in the world of progressive rock and beyond.

Reissued numerous times, Brain Salad Surgery has been expanded with previously unreleased material, alternate mixes and new high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround mixes to ring in its fourth decade. The three-disc Deluxe Edition features a newly remastered version of the album, along with the previously unreleased material and alternate mixes on a second CD, and the high-resolution, lossless 24/96 stereo mixes on a DVD. The imported Super Deluxe Edition comes with the original release’s poster and artwork, a 20-page booklet with new liners, photos and memorabilia, five discs — one with a brand new 5.1 surround mix on a DVD-A — plus a vinyl record. The backing track and an entirely different version of “Karn Evil 9, 3rd Impression” pretty much seal the deal for me, but having the song “Brain Salad Surgery” (there are two versions, one being the instrumental backing track), originally issued on Works, Volume 2, part of the set also makes total sense. You’ll spend a long night combing through all the extras, and loving every minute of it.

~ Shawn Perry

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