Here’s a question for your next prog rock pub quiz: when were ELP’s debut and Tarkus last remastered and reissued? Yes, 2012 is the correct answer. Back then it was Sony who gave us Steven Wilson’s new stereo and surround mixes, plus a few extras to tempt fans in.
Today it’s BMG’s turn to present these two and Pictures At An Exhibition in both vinyl and two-CD editions. Although remastered once again, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Tarkus have little to entice new buyers. Missing Wilson’s 5.1 remix and with the same extras as the 2012 CD/DVD three-disc releases, if you’ve already got the Sony versions, you don’t need these.
A poignant listen, the message transcends the medium.
Pictures… on the other hand does seem worth grabbing, handily bringing together the famed Newcastle City Hall show, London’s Lyceum gig from a few months earlier, and the 1972 medley performance from the Mar Y Sol festival. Nothing new per se, but it’s good to have it all in one place.
When it comes to vinyl, things aren’t as clear cut. With nicely reproduced artwork, there’s something very satisfying about handling the sleeves while spinning the LPs, and there’s a little frisson when seeing the vestigial rendition of the Manticore label revolving on the deck as the needle goes down. They look very handsome. But how do they sound?
In a note printed on the inner sleeve, Greg Lake states his preference for the slighter lighter 140gm vinyl, arguing they have a better sound than the heavier weights more usually favoured in reissues. Beauty, though, is always very much in the ear of the beholder, and to these ears at least, the new edition of their debut sounds too harsh and brittle. Lake’s serene vocal on Take A Pebble has an unwanted extra sibilance that becomes intrusive and distracting. Interestingly, this is not something heard on either the original Island vinyl or BMG’s new CD to anything like the same degree.
Further problems arise from the pressing received for this review – there’s annoying extraneous surface noise and too many errant pops and clicks than you’d expect on new vinyl. The issue in all of these matters is nothing to do with the vinyl weight, but the remastering and poor quality control. Such problems are mercifully less evident on Tarkus and Pictures…, though when compared to their Island counterparts, it’s the old soldiers that have greater depth and clout.
Playing these albums in the shadow of Keith Emerson’s tragic death earlier this year makes for incredibly poignant listening and ultimately, in this instance, the message does transcend the medium. Hopefully the teething problems affecting these initial releases will be ironed out as BMG’s reissue programme unfolds.