Greg Lake and The True Meaning of Prog Rock
The term “slaughterhouse” is often used in connection with sanguine events like the American Civil War, but 2016 qualifies as well when you consider the decimation of musicians that has occurred over this year. There’s been so much death among musicians this year that it’s tempting to call for a world conference to be held and a decision reached to put Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Stevie Wonder, Angus Young, Sonny Rollins and the remaining essentials into a giant calamity-proof underground vault where they can be carefully watched and medically attended to until the new year dawns.
Tarkus. Even today, one whiff of chlorine and I’m right back thereswimming endless laps in an Olympic pool, my legs growing flabby, my arms waterlogged, my head filled with squealing synths.
Lake’s death, followed by the fact that I had three new 140 gram LP reissues from BMG, all newly cut from 96kHz/24-bit files, of the first three ELP records including Tarkus, set off a round of ELP discussions in the Stereophile office between those who felt that perhaps John Peel was right when he called them “a waste of time, talent and electricity,” and the oft embattled fans of pretentious prog rock who also fight the good fight in the name of the mighty Rush.
Somehow (my mouth?) this discussion carried over into the weekend when the subject of Lake came up at a local watering hole amongst the musically literate, and the split between those who thought the sprawling, seven-part, side-length “Tarkus” was genius (much like Rush’s side long “2112”) versus those who were disgustedly sure it was utter rubbish became even more heated and yawning. About all anyone could agree on was that the armadillo crossed with a British Mark V tank cover art was inspired and fairly timeless.
After several listens to the new Tarkus which was remastered by Andy Pearce and was pressed into 140 gram vinyl “at the special request of Greg Lake,” (notes from Lake and Helmut Brinkmann attempt to explain why 140 gram vinyl is better than 180 gram vinyl, and this from the company that once tried to sell Dynaflex as as a good thing!) my reaction is a mix of ancient poolside nostalgia and a little eye rolling over the fact that perhaps a producer, someone to edit this stuff a bit and take out the gongs, might have been a help. But then that’s the essence of prog rock. Embrace the excess or don’t bother. R.I.P Greg Lake. McCartney and Page, please, gentlemen: the vault awaits!