Emerson Lake and Palmer
In the Hot Seat
by David Chiu
(band photo by Gorupdebesanez, via WikiMedia Commons)
After the poor response to 1978’s Love Beach, Emerson Lake and Palmer called it today and for most the ’80s, the three members have worked on their own solo and collaborative projects, most notably the hugely successful Asia; and Emerson, Lake and Powell. Fortunately in 1992, Emerson Lake and Palmer regrouped for the Black Moon album—and while it didn’t match the caliber of the trio’s early ’70s masterworks, Black Moon was an inspired comeback. It’s unique in that recaptured the distinct hallmarks of the group’s sound–Keith Emerson’s ornate keyboard playing; Greg Lake’s eloquent singing on the ballads; and Carl Palmer dexterous drumming–but Black Moon also made a bid for a direct radio-friendly mainstream sound. thus, there were no seemingly indulgent instrumentals or extended suites that seemed incongruous by ’90s standards; even Palmer incorporated electric drums for a contemporary sound. The highlight is title track, a hard-hitting rhythmic rocker that makes a pointed commentary about the environment 25 years before the term climate change has been part of our current lexicon. In fact, what’s notable about this record, aside from its; straightforward sound is lyrics make social commentary, whether it’s about money in the uncharacteristically funky “Paper Blood,” or war in the eloquent “A Farewell to Arms.” There’s still the classical and grandiose ambitions of the group that recalled old times, like their interpretation of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Changing States”; Emerson’s piano showcase on the intimate “Close to Home”; the Lake-sung dramatic and romantic songs on “Affairs of the Heart” and “Footprints in the Snow.” Black Moon is the group’s best effort, finding the group redeeming themselves after Love Beach. This new reissue repackages the original album with 1993’s Live at the Royal Albert Hall recording. It’s a shame Black Moon didn’t really catch on but hopefully this reissue will reignite some belated appreciation.
However, ELP wasn’t able to sustain that momentum with In the Hot Seat, an album that really sounded liked a mainstream conventional and slick rock record—not surprisingly it was produced by Keith Olsen, whose credits Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield and Foreigner. Musically, it’s driven by modern-sound programming and electronic flourishes popular at the time (I.e. the funky “Thin Line”); like Black Moon, one won’t find epic side-long pieces or esoteric lyrics—even some of the songs used outside collaborators and backing singers. Still, In The Hot Seat had some good moments, such as rockers like on “Hand of Truth,” “Change,” “One by One,” and “Street War.” There are a few touching tracks on the record, especially the gut-wrenching ballad “Daddy,” inspired by a real-life tragedy involving a missing young child. The reissue contains a studio recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” as a bonus track, a reminder of ELP’s glorious past; along with live performances from the band’s 1997-1998 Now tour. Sadly, with the recent deaths of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, In the Hot Seat is the final ELP studio album, effectively closing the door on a storied career.