Yes, the William Blake poem turned reverential hymn is given the ELP treatment. It is sufficiently epic and rather inspirational. This was the first single released for the album, which is…weird. Interesting way to open an album as well. Got to hand it to ELP, they were never conventional in any sense.
An adaptation of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st piano concerto, 4th movement. Yeah, this is where we get into the overindulgence territory. Look, I can appreciate what they are doing here, but I personally find it tedious. This harkens back to Emmerson’s time with the group The Nice, another prog-rock group where they did a lot of this sort of thing – turning classical pieces into rock arrangements. Hey, if you’re into this, that’s great, more power to ya. Me, I’ll skip. Palmer’s drums are quite good though.
3. Still…You Turn Me On
A love song with a killer guitar riff. This is moody and sweet and has a great hook. Seems a bit out of place on this album though, doesn’t quite fit the tone or vibe. Also, Emerson and Palmer didn’t play on this – totally a Gregg Lake ditty. Really good song though.
4. Benny the Bouncer
A jaunty honky-tonk, western-inspired bit of fluff. Rolling Stone called this “a needless nonsensical whimsy” and I would have to agree. There was this trend in the late 60s and into the 70s to do throw-back, almost vaudevillian type of songs. Everyone from The Beatles to well, ELP would do these kinds of things with varying results. Like I said, fluff. Skip.
5. Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression—Part 1
This was meant to be part of the epic that is Side 2 but was split off because of the running time of an LP. I didn’t know this when I was a kid, I just thought it was strange that this was on Side 1 and seems to cut off at the end (but it does get you to flip right away). In later releases and as technology and formats got better this would be restored to the Karn Evil 9 whole.
In the grand tradition of prog-rock, we have an entire album side dedicated to one song. And it is ELP at their best. Split into 3 “impressions” Karn Evil 9 highlights the strengths and talent of all three members in a coherent, sometimes rockin’, sometimes beautiful piece of music that is pure prog and endlessly listenable.
Apparently, it tells the story of a dystopian future where humans and computers fight a war for dominance – which I’ll be honest I never got when listening to this. I always thought it was a metaphor for how entertainment starts to dominate our lives. “Welcome back my friend to the show that never ends…” and all that. But hey, what do I know? Really great and needs to be listened to.
1. Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression—Part 2
A glorious piece of awesomeness that makes me happy.
2. Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression
A long, extended instrumental interlude that fluctuates between soft piano and intense complicated, almost jazzy improvisations – A great bridge between the first and second impressions while at the same time standing on its own.
3. Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression
Triumphant, filled with fanfare and pageantry. More sci-fi elements are on display here, with computerized effects put on vocals and lots of the war imagery in the lyrics.
This is a great album. (Most of it anyway). Side one is passable with a couple of standouts but the real glory is in Karn Evil 9. This is a classic of prog rock and rightfully so. I mentioned how I am of two minds about ELP, they are obviously talented musicians that can’t be denied, but I do feel their tendencies to excess sometimes cloud their arrangements. That is not the case here, at least with Karn Evil 9. As I said all their strengths are on display and it is a pleasure and a joy to listen to this trio just showcase their virtuoso talents. Combine that with remarkable and influential art and you get a simply wonderful album.