Keith Emerson - Off The Shelf album review

Curios from Emo’s personal archive

Keith Emerson - Off The Shelf album artwork

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When a musician passes away it’s an obvious and rational response to celebrate their life and times by seeking solace in the music they made. With Keith Emerson’s tragic passing still uncomfortably raw for many, it’s of some comfort at least to know that he left us an extensive legacy by which to remember his contribution to pop and rock.

This remastered reissue of a collection of pieces chosen by the man himself was originally released in 2006, and as the title suggests it’s comprised of scraps and offcuts that didn’t quite fit anywhere else at the time of their making. It’s therefore understandable when the variable quality of some of the content makes listening to the album from the beginning to the end a slightly awkward experience. Surely none but the most hardcore of Emerson fans would ever want to play the execrable theme tune to comedian Jim Davidson’s 80s sitcom Up The Elephant And Round The Castle more than once. Given Emo’s love of jazz, his arrangement of Thelonious Monks’ sprightly bebop classic, Rhythm-a-ning, recast in a leaden funk setting seems rather baffling. He’s far more successful in his experiments in that field with a couple of superb scorching tracks alongside the London Jazz Orchestra, featuring Soft Machine bassist Roy Babbington and Colosseum’s Jon Hiseman on drums. Also welcome is a grainy radio session of The Nice performing Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy and a stirring orchestral rendition of ELP’s Abaddon’s Bolero, bringing gusto to this already bombastic overture. However, the real gem is the beautiful And Then January. Initially conceived as a solo piano piece with added sampled orchestration, he allows his more emotional, lyrical abilities as a composer to surface, demonstrating his eloquent grasp of harmonic light and shade as the melody dazzles. Completists will snap this one up but its appearance is also a reminder that when the time is right, a more considered appraisal of Emerson’s solo work would be a welcome addition to his discography.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.