Years ago, when I was still young enough to maintain that ELP was a truly great band, I gave this a listen or three and rated 6/10. I think I wanted to believe the common idea that this is better than Volume 1 because at least here the bands sometimes sounds like ELP. Well, there’re a bunch of problems with that.
The idea that this album is related to Volume One is, in itself, a bit of a foolish idea. Volume One was, after all, a way for all three band members to record on their own while still putting out a “group” album. This album is really a rarities album collecting outtakes not just from Volume One but from Brain Salad Surgery. And as such, it suffers from the usual problem with rarities albums: some of these tracts were outtakes for a reason.
But the album was indeed released as some kind of sequel and as such it fails pretty miserably. It sounds nothing like its predecessor, which should be a good thing.
But what we get is so all-over-the-place as to please no one, or at least only the biggest of ELP devotees who are prepared to forgive them all their faults.
“Tiger in the Spotlight” is a traditional rock and roll number considerably modernized with synthesizers – and a bridge that doesn’t really belong in a rock and roll song. It feels like two separate pieces: the traditional chorus – not really a song – that is marred by the presence of synthesizers. And the interesting bridge section that features some playing by Emerson that could be mistaken for turntabilism if it hadn’t been recorded in 1973. There is a reason it was left off that album.
“When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be You” is more along what you might expect from the band. Despite it’s reputation as a throwaway. Listen, it won’t change your life, but it is, at the very least, the sound of three very able musicians having a good time together, which can’t be said for most of the rest of the material they recorded during this time. And that’s because it was recorded in 1973, apparently.
“Bullfrog” is far and away the best thing here and probably the best thing Palmer ever wrote. It appears to be an outtake from his sessions for the earlier Works album but it is more fun, more unhinged and arguably more daring than anything the band chose to include on that album. If you must acquire this album for completeness sake, at least this piece is present.
The title track from most people’s candidate for the band’s masterpiece, “Brain Salad Surgery” was left off that album for a reason: it is terrible. I don’t know why this band felt like they had to include some kind of unfunny “comedy” number on each album after the debut. I wasn’t sure that I ever enjoyed “Benny the Bouncer” but if this was the alternative then they made the right choice.
“Barrelhouse Shakedown” is a fine recreation of traditional honky-tonk, but that is all it is.
“Watching Over You” is another piece of shit Lake ballad that should never have been released by a “progressive” rock band. The only thing positive I can say about its inclusion is that at least there isn’t a whole side of these on this record. Ugh. (It is better than pretty much everything he included on the first album, but so what?)
“So Far to Fall” feels like a legitimate attempt to do something new. I’m not sure it works, but it at least feels like a band effort and it is musically interesting.
Emerson’s overly-orchestrated cover of “Maple Leaf Rag” is unnecessary and adds nothing to the original. That said, it is still one of the best things here; damning with faint praise.
Then there is the Christmas song, with typical Lake-Sinfield pseudo-profound lyrics. I can’t begin to say how ridiculous it sounds for the band that recorded “Toccata” to have created a Christmas song – admittedly now a “rock” Christmas staple. There is nothing to say about it.
“Close But Not Touching” is another Palmer contribution that shows just how much more fun he was at this point. Regardless of whether or not the rest of the band was involved – I doubt it, given their general lack of involvement in his 1977 output – it stands as one of the best things here.
I have not heard the original of “Honky Tonk Train Blues” but I suspect it is relatively similar to the original. I don’t know that for a fact and I must say it is enjoyable, even if it is revivalist, if only because so much of the rest of the album isn’t.
Finally, their cover of “Show Me the Way to Go Home” is insipid and utterly unnecessary. Isn’t this a British pub song? Then why does it sound like the band is a lounge act with good production values and a decent arranger?
The whole album reeks of an attempt to make more money without putting in any effort. But it contains so little in the way of “progressive” rock that it is hard to understand why they thought their fans would go for it.