Brain Salad Surgery
Extra Tracks, Reissued, Remastered
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Brain Salad Surgery
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Brain Salad Surgery
With orchestral swells and symphonic arrangements, Emerson Lake & Palmer put the Prague in '70s progressive rock. There was something of that dark, European artistry in their compositions that always made their music more grandiose than their stateside counterparts. Brain Salad Surgery was a conductor's wet dream. Works like the "Impression" study in four movements were epic to the nth degree. Influenced by Mussorgsky and Stravinsky, ELP wreaked havoc with the conventions of what rock and classical music could and could not be. In typical fashion, the trio included one highly accessible cut, in this case the haunting "Still... You Turn Me On." The CD also contains the enigmatic favorite, "Karn Evil 9." --Steve Gdula
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2. Atlantic USA SD 19124/D154608 BMG Club edition (made by CMU)
3. Atlantic USA SD 19124 CRC edition (made by DADC)
4. Victory USA VC 20020 CRC edition (made by Sony)
5. Victory USA 3834800152 Digipak edition (made by JVC)
6. Rhino USA R2 724592 3D edition (made by WEA manufacturing)
7. Shout Factory USA 2666310642 Mini-LP edition (made by Sony/BMG)
There are several different masterings present here.
1, 2 and 3 are basically the same mastering (by Barry Diament), except 1 has the very opening note starting immediately after pressing Play, whereas the later 2 and 3 have a small amount of silence inserted before the opening of Jerusalem. Otherwise, they appear to sound the same. There is no evidence of the scraping sound at the start of Toccata that was present on UK Manticore vinyl. Karn Evil 9 First Impression is quite dull and is split into 2 parts as per Manticore vinyl. The sound has a nice unstrained dynamic (particularly in the mid to upper bass) and seems to have been mastered to make the very bright high hat sound less glaringly obvious. This makes it easy to turn up without aural pain, but may be classed by some as too dull, especially Karn Evil 9 First Impression.
4, 5 and 6 are the same (in the core album) mastering efforts by Joseph Palmaccio, whereas 6 has "The Making Of Brain Salad Surgery" appended. Although the mastering of 6 has been credited to Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch, there is no difference in the sound of 4, 5 or 6. I suspect that their "remastering" involved adding the extra track mentioned above. This mastering has the scraping sound at the beginning of Toccata (as per vinyl), but Karn Evil 9 First Impression is no longer dull, nor is it split into 2 parts (unlike the vinyl Manticore copies or Atlantic CD). The person supervising the remastering of the ELP catalogue for the 1993 Victory releases, Bill Levenson, while investigating the cause of the varied sound during Karn Evil 9, discovered a tape containing an unseparated Karn Evil 9 First Impression that also had sound consistent with the Second and Third Impressions. It appears that this is the original mix-down stereo master tape, whereas even vinyl used something at least one generation removed from that master to enable the fade out/in between Karn Evil 9 First Impression Parts 1 and 2 that separated the two vinyl sides. The sound is much brighter than the Atlantic and is mastered to try and give a reasonably balanced listening experience - not as dull as the Atlantic, but without the same mid bass dynamic as the Atlantic. I love the Rhino 3D cover (and I suspect H. R. Giger would too, as it is much more anatomically correct than any other - the nose is exactly where it should be, unlike all other attempts). 4, 5, and 6 sound identical to me despite different manufacturing plants. The Rhino interview is great, but it sounds like Carl was interviewed on an extremely poor telephone line from Afghanistan.
7 is where things aren't quite so good. The mini-LP cover chops off half the ELP insignia for a start. The sound appears to be made from a similar tape to the Manticore vinyl and Atlantic CD by Mark Chalecki at Capitol USA, in that it has the dull Karn Evil 9 First Impression, but that track is not split into Parts 1 and 2. It is possible that the two halves were digitally joined. There is no scraping noise at the beginning of Toccata (much like the Atlantic CD). The sound in general appears to have been equalised to be both brighter and boomier than any prior and is not terribly successful in my opinion, as it doesn't sound relaxed at higher volume. The 2 bonus tracks (an alternate mix of Jerusalem and an instrumental mix of Karn Evil 9) are great and the booklet contains a good essay and some great concert photos.
I loved the morbid love song "Still, you turn me on", and the funny "Benny the Bouncer", as well as the rendition of the Classical "Toccata", but strangely the song that stuck with me is the Church of England hymn "Jerusalem", I remember singing it without a hymnal, one Sunday in England, and the look on the locals faces, to see that I knew it by heart.
I on occasion still blast this on my commute home, and am sure the people at the stoplights wonder what the heck it is I'm listening to.
If you are interested in the subject of Avent Guard music from the 70's "Brain Salad Surgery" is a good place to look.
As much as I've enjoyed the other Shout! Factory re-issues, I have to agree with some of the other reviewers and say this time, they fumbled the ball. The games not a total loss, there are some high-lights. I commend the fact that Shout tried to recreate the original style opening cover art. But why on earth did they crop the artwork so bad? (see my thumbnail photo). That is the actual view on the front cover. P. Jackson's photo gives a good example of how it is designed to open, but does not show the mis-alignment of the outer cover with the inner photo. The inner circle is supposed to lay exactly over the photo beneath it. Notice how high up the skull's eye sockets are? They don't match the woman's face underneath. Also, see the letters ELP at the bottom. They are virtually cut in half! This is how badly the cover is cropped. I have an original album, and this is not how it's supposed to be. The inclusion of a replica of the original poster is nice. But, again, the cover art is cropped and it's not printed on all sides as was the original poster. The booklet is great. Interesting liner notes and good photos of the band on stage from that era.
Now let's get to the most important part: the Sound of the Music. As Noel Pratt points out, there are some problems with the mastering. At approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds into Jerusalem the volume level jumps up dramatically. About 10 decibels in just a few seconds. It's as if someone in the control room noticed how low the level was and tried too quickly to run it up to the correct level. If it was done slowly over the course of 30 seconds or so things would have been much better. I think this is just a bad case of the producer trying to make this re-issue more dynamic than previous renditions. My suggestion would be to skip track one and record the alternate mix of Jerusalem provided here as a bonus track (#9). And as far as the complaints about "muffled" sound. I agree...somewhat. In a close comparison of this re-issue with the former Rhino issue from `96, there is major difference. The Shout issue has a more prominent bottom-end. The problem is it's not isolated to the bass or kick drum, it's an over-all increase in the entire low-end spectrum, even effecting the vocals. The impression is the vocals getting slightly "buried" in the murkiness and sounding a little more distant. The Rhino issue has a much cleaner and crisper sound. Note that this comparison took place on a pair of high-quality head-phones that allow every little nuance to be heard. If one is comparing sound on various speaker systems it can be a very different and subjective comparison to the human ear. For instance, If you played this Shout re-issue in a car with a stock stereo system, you may want the extended bottom-end compensating for the lack of, due to poor quality speakers.
Now I'm glad I picked up a copy of Rhinos `96 re-issue of Brain Salad Surgery at a used record store (it's currently out of print). I liked the 3-D cover that changes as you tilt it from the Skull shot to the Female face. I actually bought it because I thought it would be a collector's item. Now I think I prefer the sound on it to any thing else that's been put out so far.
Maybe, just maybe, some record company will finally create the Definitive Remastered Expanded Deluxe version with all the possible bonus tracks available, and get all the newest most creative packaging avialable to bring it all together for the Grang Finale of this most deserving Masterpiece. Until then...