The music business, it’s a vulgar and tasteless beast, isn’t it? Paul Rigby reviews three newly reissued CD projects from ELP, including Works Volumes 1 & 2 but then takes the band and the industry as a whole to task about that album, Love Beach. Then, finally, he takes a long, long shower
Three more albums by the band that form a comprehensive reissue programme that began last year. I’m still shocked that only one of the band members remain alive since it began. It’s a sobering thought, indeed.
Works Volume 1 was first released as a double album in 1977 it features songs and instrumental pieces created by each member of the group, a compilation of solo efforts, in fact. The fourth side reassembled the band as a working unit for two, final, tracks. Here, the first disc features the tracks from Lake and Emerson. Disc two showcases Palmer (with guest star, Joe Walsh and Harry South) and the group efforts. This set includes Fanfare for the Common Man. The solo works almost aped The Beatles White Album, reflecting the growing splits in the group. The band stayed together for this release though. The reason? Probably cash. Band sales would easily outstrip solo efforts, it was realised.
As for the album itself? Too much virtuosity and not enough groove: although Palmer does his best to pull rabbits out of hats.
Works Volume 2 (1977) continues the style and includes Lake’s wonderful I Believe in Father Christmas while Emerson offers solid performances but appears to be treading water with his compositions. You’ll also find live cuts from the Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Canada.
I’d like to get the two Works packages out of the way because I’d like to dwell on the last reissue of this particular batch, Love Beach (1978) for a while. To me, Love Beach is fascinating. Mainly because it was indicative of the music business of the time (and earlier) and also because ELP’s actions surrounding this album also reflected similar actions from other over-confident, over-paid, hubristic, selfish, self-centred and out-of-touch celebrities.
Harsh words? Look, I’ve interviewed Carl Palmer in the past. Never got to chat with the other two guys but I get the impression that both were decent people. Carl seemed like a good guy too, during our chat. Inherently, then, all three seemed like reasonable human beings. Fame and fortune and circumstances can do odd things, though.
To begin, when the group completed the two Works projects, there was a feeling that a break was needed. The trio were on the verge of splitting – more growing apart than through arguments and rancour – and probably had other creative thoughts in their heads when they recorded this album.
I also know that the group only put Love Beach out because they believed that they ‘owed’ the label or, more specifically, Atlantic record label boss Ahmet Ertegun an album. They liked the man. This supposition arose after the band approached Ertegun and said that they wanted to call time on ELP. Ertegun, ever the business man, exclaimed that, if ELP failed to deliver one more album, the label would not support their solo projects. This is when the problems began.
The first issue arose when Lake, a long time and regular producer for the band’s successful LPs, really couldn’t be bothered on this one. He’d had enough. With a few exceptions, the songs delivered to Ertegun were commercial in tone and out of character but not in a good way. Its almost as if ELP thought that this is what Ertegun actually wanted. As opposed to ELP producing an LP that they wanted (“…it’s not as strong as our previous records,” said Lake, “and for me there was a sort of weakness in the fabric, creatively speaking.”). In this respect, the project was full of good intentions and fairly empty of ideas.
Can you see the patterns here, though? And can you recognise the exception? All of this planning, creating and producing was part of a 2-way conversation between the band and their label. Frantically jumping in the background, waving and trying to get the attention of both parties was…the public. The public seemed to have been ignored in all of these shenanigans. Another problem.
It really looked and sounded as if the public were a trailing third concern in this album’s gestation, both in terms of the musical content and its presentation. Even when you read the interview within the booklet of the reissued CD, the public are not really given too much importance.
The guys took their eyes off the ball on this one because of all of the issues and events going on around them. Is this why the band look a little bit like spoilt brats on the cover? ELP were in the music business. They were in the public eye. Their business was to create ‘art’ for public consumption. It was down to them to retain good relations with their fan base. Creating a commercial album for the label smelled of cynicism, to outsiders. After all, the public were expected to hand over their hard earned money for this album. That was a ‘given’, it appears. It was as if the label, the band’s future solo careers and future pension plans were more important than the public. That’s always the case when a contract album is created. Sometimes it can be a middle finger to the label (Neil Young will be familiar with this concept during his Geffen period) but, for ELP, Love Beach was an even larger snub to the public who never seemed to be considered during the entire production.
As for that cover? I mean…guys…really. The popular contemporary accusations comparing the chaps on the cover to the Bee Gees is actually grossly unfair to the Bee Gees. What this cover almost says is, “Hey, how much have you got, eh? Because, heh, heh, we’ve got…heaps! So much, in fact, that we actually fall asleep when we’re counting it! Huh, Huh…” And so on. Bad taste in 57 different ways.
Journalist Chris Welch tried to make light of all this in the liner notes for this new reissue but it’s a pretty poor effort at damage limitation as the band’s answers to his ‘searching’ questions merely confirmed that they had lost touch with the fans and their creative inspiration. More to the point, the given answers, recorded in November of 2016, shortly before his tragic death, revealed that Greg Lake still, even then, didn’t ‘get it’.
Here’s Lake on the album name “The funny thing is, Love Beach was actually the name of the beach opposite the studio.”
Lake frames this reply in the booklet as if the album name was ‘obvious’ and could not be ignored. Yet, this statement is so ill-advised it’s laughable. For that reason alone you just had to use it? Didn’t you see any repercussions? None at all? And why didn’t journalist Welch ask that very question? And if he did and it was removed then Welch should have backed out. Welch is equally to blame here.
As for the tumultuous chest hair and expensive tans? “We spent more time in the studio than on the beach.” Firstly, that doesn’t really ring true, not if the cover is any evidence. Secondly, so then why not use a studio shot for the album cover and, thirdly, why make that statement at all? Isn’t that what working bands are supposed to do? Also, the booklet offers five large (that is, they span two pages) photographs of the band on the beach and two more of Emerson and Lake on, what appears to be, a luxury yacht. No studios shots are included.
Also this, “…when you live on a Caribbean island, everybody has a suntan and everybody is fit and look (sic) like they’re in a scene from Saturday Night Fever.” Words fail me.
“I find recording in cities far more energising,” continued Lake. So, what’s wrong with Barnsley, then? OK, I’m being facetious, but do you see what I’m getting at? We don’t see the small print do we which says, “as long as that city is situated on a tropical island.”
At no time during this entire project and even more recently when these comments were recorded did the band even consider taking a ‘sensitive’ pill. That is, as to how the public back home might view this cover and the content. No one – the band or their advisors – seemed to realise the problem. Why not put, I dunno, abstract shapes on the cover instead of this crass and tactless piece of self-aggrandising?
Now you might say to yourself, “OK Paul, get over it, its not that bad, it’s only a cover for goodness sake. It’s not the end of the world.” Which is true and, yes, I might be getting rather worked up but this very old album of very old music reflects a lot of what made the music industry such an elitist and tawdry business in the first place. It was this sort of album release and associated image that just had to spawn punk in the first place.
Punk wasn’t the answer, though. The music business remains tawdry which shows how much punk failed miserably to actually change anything at all, in terms of the structure of the business. Nothing has really changed. The Internet changed the music business more than punk ever did. It’s also why I tend to have warm and cuddly thoughts towards little, Internet-based, record labels who are genuinely only in it for the passion and back-bedroom musicians who create for their ‘art’ and nothing more than a living, because they have to make music in the same way that painters have no choice but to paint. It’s not for the cash. It’s…because.
For me, Love Beach is a symbol. It stands for what is bad about the music industry then and now and, gawd help us, the future. It’s just another thumbed nose at the public, in my opinion.
But let’s put the sleeve and my rising blood pressure to one side and look at that album. Featuring seven tracks including the 20 minute concept piece, Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman, co-written by Emerson and Peter Sinfield, there’s a selection of short poppy pieces plus more familiar extended works. As an album, it’s not quite as bad has been previously reported because the later tracks offer a glimpse of past glories but it’s still pretty poor, foreshadows the band’s end and comes nowhere near their best material. It’s a rush job. A filler. I wish that ELP had decided to produce a decidedly non-commercial LP here. A guns blazing, all-out, avant-garde piece. A ‘do we dare?’ type of LP. One that showed a new side. After all, they had nothing to really lose here. Hey, they might have stumbled upon a gold mine of new ideas. But no, the album player it so, so safe and, unfortunately for prog fans, only confirmed the assumptions made by contemporary punks out there.
For this edition? Bonus material includes a selection of rehearsal tracks.
But what of the mastering of these new editions? They have all been remastered by Andy Pearce. I played the new issues (set within digipaks), comparing them to the earlier 2004 issues on Sanctuary (set within jewel cases). I have to say that new remasters are far superior to the 2004 releases. The difference are numerous and immediate with a wider soundstage offering far more air and space while the action is closer to hand and carefully enhanced. Palmer’s drums are more powerful and massy in presentation while Lake’s vocals, which could be rather pinched and bright within the upper midrange of the 2004 cuts, was richer, broader in delivery and without any sense of stridency on the new releases. Emerson’s synths were also more detailed and incisive on the new issues with a great degree of detail on offer. Despite any misgivings that you might have with these releases, fans (especially completists) should grab these CDs because of that superior sound quality, if nothing else.