The arrival of this monumentally weighty prog rock monolith has caused some puzzlement due to the fact that the bulk of its contents have only just been reissued earlier this year, and come close on the heels of a similar campaign by the previous label to hold ELP’s catalogue. So is there enough here to tempt the hardcore fan with money to burn?
The previously unreleased live material provides the draw here, firstly in the shape of the triple 180gm vinyl Live In Italy, which finds the band on ridiculously good form prior to Brain Salad Surgery’s release. The velocity at which they tackle everything occasionally gets the better of their not inconsiderable technique, subtlety being the main casualty.
Nevertheless, Karn Evil 9 has a phenomenal momentum that roars with an animalistic swagger. At the end of Still You Turn Me On’s plaintive chorus, as the final lyric drifts away, Lake suddenly snarls, “You big noisy fucker!” presumably directed at a talkative punter yakking through the soulful ballad. Taken from multitracks, it’s a wonderful, up-close example of audio vérité and a genuinely exciting account of the band’s ostentatious grandiosity.
The first of five previously unreleased live CDs, Live At _Pocono 1972 _is similarly fuelled by a rattling speed, providing an outstanding listen. Even into the AOR-orientated 90s, represented by the other in-concert discs, that furious showmanship remains evident. With their newer material sometimes lacking the creative invention so casually dispensed in their early career, it’s almost like two different bands ploughing through the setlist. Nevertheless, the tape sources, from soundboards or multitrack, are terrific, packing a sometimes grainy but invigorating punch.
Other exclusives include two 45 singles and four goodquality reproductions of tour programmes, which provide a Proustian rush. The hardback book, though thin on new details or perspectives, at least provides a useful listening guide to the previously available studio and live releases.
Presented in their original running order only, these CDs come in replica LP card sleeves, though BSS’s lacks the die-cut cover, leaving one Blu-ray disc housing the Wilson/ Jakszyk remixes. With remastering dating from previously released editions, there’s nothing here you don’t already own.
Is it worth it? Handsome as it is, only diehard completists need buy. Even then, they’ll almost certainly complain, perhaps with justification, that the relative lack of ambition, meagre rarities and overlooked opportunities from within the studio archives, when compared to sets released by ELP’s contemporaries, leaves them feeling a little short-changed.