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3.2 – Third Impression

Third Impression
by Ian Yeara at 07 April 2021, 1:46 PM

Okay so this album almost demands some backstory. Let's talk about Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP); we all know that in 1979 ELP broke up after the release of two huge step downs in quality: "Works 2" and "Love Beach" (yeah I would have ended the band after making "Love Beach" too). In 1985, they reformed as Emerson, Lake and Powell to make one album, simply titled ELP. Cozy Powell was also in ASIA as a quick aside, so he was incredibly busy, all of which lead to them only making one album, but damn was it a good one. This isn't a review of that album, but that's the one with "The Score", "Learning to Fly" and the ELP interpretation of "Mars, Bringer of War" by Gustav Holst and it's actually one of the best ELP albums, but I digress.

1988 saw Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer together again, but this time with Robert Berry instead of Lake, to form 3, recording "To The Power Of Three". This was brief as well before ELP got back together for "Black Moon" and "In the Hot Seat" in the 90s, but it seems that Berry never lost the inspiration from working with ELP (I mean let's be honest, who wouldn't have loved getting to play with those guys?).

Now we get to modern times, in 2015 Berry contacted Emerson to discuss reuniting 3, this time titled 3.2. Unfortunately during the recording sessions of the album "The Rules Have Changed", Keith Emerson, one of the greatest keyboard players of all time, died… of suicide. This is actually a surprisingly emotional review for me because I grew up worshipping the man, and being a keyboard player myself I kind of understand the position he was in at the end. He wasn't happy with the quality of his performances in recording and by all accounts he just couldn't get his hands to do quite what he wanted. I want to say he had nerve damage or arthritis, but regardless when a man has defined his whole life by his hands and his skill at the piano, I certainly understand not being able to cope with that loss. So let us all have a moment of silence, for the immense lost talent that was Keith Emerson, may he rest easy in whatever afterlife you choose.

So with their 2018 album "The Rules Have Changed", most of the keyboard parts were written by Emerson, but in the end all of the album was performed and recorded by Robert Berry. Considering how huge of a reputation ELP has, and just how technically challenging their style of music is, it's quite impressive what Berry has been able to do, both on the first album and this one. I'll admit, I'm actually not super familiar with "The Rules Have Changed" so I can't really compare, but "Third Impression" certainly sounds like a mesh of late 70s ELP, and the more interesting aspects of "Black Moon". Honestly, it's a great album, with just a couple quibbles throughout. Also, I should mention Robert Berry did an incredible job producing this album, it sounds really clean and crisp.

Most important to me when tackling a modern Prog Rock album is energy, a lot of modern Prog bands take the more subdued, ambient route and if that's what you like then go for it, but I come to Prog Rock for groovy baselines and wild instrumental sections, not to mention intricate and complex drum work. This has all of that and then some! I mean it really is some ELP sounding work, and while Berry isn't quite Emerson, he does an admirable job with that gorgeous Keith Emerson synth sound that I absolutely adore.

Initially "Top Of The World" had me a little reticent, because honestly it doesn't sound anything like ELP, until almost exactly the 2:14 mark where the keyboards come in and the album really springs to life in that moment. The acoustic guitar lines all sound smooth and intricate, the themes and melodies are laid out and Berry takes a minute here and there to just mess around with said themes before getting back to the song and I just love it. This song, and really the whole album (minus one) is just bursting with energy and pizazz and it's enough to make you think you just walked through a time machine.

There's not really much in the way of surprises on here, but be ready for some 90s ELP moments. To me that's just how they combine more Classic Rock with their usual Neoclassical style. It works here though, far more than it did on "Love Beach", "In the Hot Seat" and even "Black Moon" (which for the record is an album I very much enjoy). "What Side Your On" is a good example of this, it's a really fun, raucous Rock song, but with those keyboards that make the song far more than it would be otherwise.

Alright so let's get into what I don't like about this album; obviously the moments that remind me of "Love Beach" are my least favorite parts of the album, but they are few and far between fortunately. "Black of Night" is just okay, it's one of the least memorable songs on the album as well as one of the least interesting, right up until like the last minute of the song.

Unfortunately, though there is one song on this album, that I'm not just indifferent to, I don't just not like this song, I’m averse to it. Who the hell thought "Bond of Union" was a good idea and greenlit it? The melody is based on this really awful Christian Rock song, I couldn't even tell you the name of it now. Sorry Christians, I really don’t like it, but I'm sure all you non denominational Christians will eat it up. Now this could have been remedied a little by at least keeping the song short, but no, it's a 5:20 ballad that ends exactly as boring as it started. I’d skip this song at all costs, for me it’s really a dud.

"Bond of Union" is track six, and fortunately tracks 7-10 are all fantastic, in different ways. I think I would say the biggest pleasant surprise to me was Emotional Triggerm which is basically this slow jazz shuffle kind of tune. It's a ballad, but it's so jazzy and fun I love it. However, the big highlights on the second half are "The Devil of Liverpool" and "Never".

"Liverpool" has probably the greatest breakdown anyone associated with the ELP name has written since like 1985, it's incredible and these days any keyboard solos and riffs that remind me of Keith Emerson become quite special to me. No one could play like Keith did, maybe Rick Wakeman, and maybe Jon Lord, but that's it. Getting back on topic some of the more modern influences I notice on this album come from the SPOCK'S BEARD/Neal Morse vein, which is kind of a duh, but it seems worth pointing out anyway. "A Fond Farewell" is a short little, mostly keyboard feature with some really neat riffs.

Alright, now I get to talk about "Never". This song more than most of this album captures that "Works 1" sound. Whether it's the 20th century style weird piano stuff that Emerson would write (think about his concerto) or the perfect imitation of Greg Lake's crooning voice. "Works 1" is my favorite ELP album so when I say this song reminds me of that album that is really high praise and it makes for a great high note to end on.

This album is basically to me the definition of a 4/5 or a 8/10 it's a good album verging on great, with just enough detractors to bring it down (and if I'm being honest I almost want to bring it down another half point just for "Bond of Union"). There's plenty to recommend here though and of course if you are an ELP fan, you had damned well better listen to this album. This album contains probably the last new Keith Emerson compositions the world will ever hear, so enjoy it and raise a glass to the man, the myth the legend Keith Emerson, and to Greg Lake and Cozy Powell as well, all gone too soon, but they left behind an amazing legacy and I will never stop being grateful for the music they gave us.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Top of the World
2. What Side You're On
3. Black of Night
4. Killer of Hope
5. Missing Piece
6. A Bond of Union
7. The Devil of Liverpool
8. Emotional Trigger
9. A Fond Farewell
10. Never
Robert Berry – All instruments, vocals
Record Label: Frontiers Music


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