Album Review: Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and Palmer


Upon first hearing Brain Salad Surgery I was rather put off by the album, and must confess, I tossed it aside for several months. At the time I was not clever enough to see the full concept of the album, and much like critics during the albums release, dismissed it far too quickly. What may strike listeners first is the dominated use of keyboard synth, which gives the album a very biting sound. The higher electronic tones were the main reason why I disliked the album upon first hearing it, as it deviated from the previous albums. When I finally listened to it in its entirety it was truly unlike anything I had ever heard before, and found myself wanting to listen to it more and more.

Brain Salad Surgery displays the exceptional musical talent of all three members. The band, consisting of Keith Emerson on keyboards, Greg Lake on bass and vocals, and Carl Palmer on drums, delivers an extremely complex album, which is particularly why I believe it has withstood the test of time so well. In addition the goal of this album was to perform the entire thing live on stage, which only further underlines the bands amazing talent. The album’s A-side consists of the bands interpretation of the Hubert Parry hymn ‘Jerusalem’, as well as a few shorter interpretations like ‘Toccata’ and ‘Benny The Bouncer’.

The main bulk of the album is the 30 minutes composition entitled ‘Karn Evil 9′. Broken into three impressions, sweeping over the remaining half of the A-side and the entire B-side of the album. The most well known section is from the first impression, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” which I often hear at sporting events. The concept of the ‘Karn Evil 9′ is a futuristic “carn-ival” where machines showcase human acts and accoutrements. As the story unfolds, a human rebellion takes place and concludes with a climatic showdown between humans and computers, where the fate of man is left purposely unclear.

The most unique and distinctive feature of the album may be the artwork. In the original LP release, the front cover is split in half down the center, with the exception of a circular section. The two halves reveal a painting by H. R. Giger.


Overall it may seem contrived to write a review for such an old album. Although the progressive waves of music are always moving forward, I believe that there is great wealth and inspiration in the music of the past. Brain Salad Surgery is a unique album that provides a fusion of electronic roots and incredibly complex jazz and rock elements, and will still maintain its longevity long into the future.

Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake & Palmer
Keith Emerson: Organs, Piano, Harpsichord, Custom built Moog Synthesizers & Moog Polyphonic Ensemble
Greg Lake: Bass and Vocals
Carl Palmer: Percussion and Percussion Synthesizers

Brain Salad Surgery LP Cover and Interior designed by H.R. Giger.