What does it sound like?:
No one was happier than me when it was announced in 1992 that ELP had reconvened after a fourteen year hiatus and that a new album and tour were imminent.
That album was Black Moon, and it wasn’t a bad album at all – ok, it wasn’t Tarkus or Brain Salad Surgery, but it was a very creditable effort, certainly far better than I expected (or feared!). The band had made a real effort to update their sound, and this new remaster, complete with the obligatory bonus tracks, shows that they could still cut the mustard. The usual long prog workouts were nowhere to be seen, with ten relatively short songs being presented instead. The only piece with a classical bent was Emerson’s take on Romeo and Juliet, but otherwise Lake’s influence was dominant. Songs like the title track, Paper Blood and Affairs Of The Heart showcased both his song writing and his vocal skills, and overall the album was very well made, with the band seeming to have rediscovered their mojo. The bonus tracks are nothing special here, just single edits. The album has been repackaged as a two cd set, the second disc being the Live At The Albert Hall disc, recorded in 1992. I saw them on that tour, at the NEC if memory serves, and they were on top form. As well as tracks from their current album, of course they threw in a selection of classics such as Karn Evil 9, Tarkus and Pirates, finishing with a cracking medley of America, Rondo and Fanfare. It was a great night out, and this is a good representative recording of where they were at on that tour.
Fast forward to their final studio album, 1994’s In The Hot Seat. Oh dear! Whatever magic they had rekindled two years earlier had fizzled out completely. Both Emerson and Palmer were struggling with hand problems, while producer Keith Olsen was brought in by the record company to try to create a more commercial sound – which was the antithesis of what the band used to be about. The songs, again dominated by Lake, are generally pretty insipid and that’s being kind. If I had to choose one half decent track – and I’m struggling to do so – it would be their attempt at Dylan’s Man In A Long Black Coat, apparently edited down from a much longer fifteen minute piece according to Lake’s autobiography. The bonus track is a studio version of Pictures At An Exhibition, but they don’t even seem to be able to breathe fire into that old live staple. The second disc is the Now part of the 1998 live album Then and Now, capturing performances from their 1997/8 shows. This is actually the better of the two discs in this set, with a typical latter era set leaning heavily on their classic material such as Knife Edge, Bitches Crystal, Lucky Man and Take A Pebble. Great material but performed without too much inspiration – unfortunately there’s an all pervading sense of simply going through the motions. What a sad way to say goodbye.
What does it all *mean*?
These two cds are a long way from their classic run of early seventies albums. I’d place Black Moon as being superior to Love Beach and even above Works Vol Two, and with the live album thrown in it’s not a bad buy. As for In The Hot Seat, I’d have to rank that on a par with, or even below, Love Beach, their previous nadir, which I always assumed would never be beaten. Sadly, this once great band went out with a whimper rather than a bang.
Goes well with…
Contemplating on how the mighty are fallen.
Might suit people who like…
Other ELP albums, but there are far better places to start than with these releases.