Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. This time we’re checking out a brand spanking new box set from British prog rock legends Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
During their original decade-spanning incarnation in the ’70s, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer produced some of the most popular and immediately recognisable progressive rock ever made. Albums such as 1971’s ‘Tarkus’ and 1973’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ are still fondly remembered by many. Instead of revisiting any of their original albums in full, this new box set opts to provide a varied roster of the band’s material from across its two periods of activity. This shouldn’t be a surprise; the prosaic title – ‘The Anthology (1970 – 1998)’ – is enough to demonstrate that this sets aims to provide a thorough overview of the group’s output. Following on from their 1979 split, the trio reconvened from 1991 to 1998, dodging the less than prog-friendly ’80s altogether. This extensive four LP selection offers a chronologically sequenced look at ELP’s evolution from hippie rockers to stadium filling prog titans, with plenty of playtime given over to their less famous but still worthwhile ’90s output as well. ‘The Anthology (1970 – 1998)’ is a set that offers a generous introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with them, whilst simultaneously offering a timely reminder of their impact for those already enamoured. Although the songs selected here do appear on the band’s studio albums, the appeal for long-term fans lies in the fact that around half of the versions are live takes. Progressive rock, as its classical inclinations make clear, has historically been an audiophile genre; thankfully the live versions presented in this set are so well recorded that the plentiful detail in the complex performances remains fully intact.
From the moment that the records are removed from their respective sleeves, it becomes clear that a large part of the intent behind this box set is to create an aesthetically extravagant package befitting of ELP’s decadent musicality. Each disc comes in a different shade of marbled vinyl, all beautiful to varying degrees. One is an almost salivation-inducing shade of caramel, while another makes its mark through brilliant strawberry red. The other two, meanwhile, take form as discs of tranquil, milky turquoise and stunning tropical blue. Without doubt these are some of the most attractive pieces of coloured vinyl we’ve ever written about here on Vinyl Corner, so full marks go to BMG – who have released this particular set – for the visual presentation. But, of course, the appearance of these records is only part of the appeal. How, you may wonder, do they sound? Fortunately, very good indeed. All four LPs have been pressed by the perennially popular Czech pressing plant GZ Media and they’ve done great work here. We’ve found GZ’s output to be somewhat inconsistent but, at their best, the factory has produced some great quality vinyl with excellent sound. Thankfully, this set falls into that category; sonically speaking, this is really impressive throughout. The hype sticker on the shrinkwrap declares that this was half-speed mastered from HD digital sources. Considering that there’s still some (largely unwarranted) sniffiness around digital mastering on vinyl, it’s refreshing to see such a degree of transparency in regards to the audio sources used here. Regardless of the digital sourcing, sound quality is excellent. The vocals are full and immediate, the synthesizers squeal and squelch with appropriate aplomb and the rhythm section has all the punch you’d want from a hard-hitting rock act. The pressings themselves are also really nice quality. The noise floor is consistently minimal across all eight sides and playback is generally very clean. Our copy of the set is entirely free of pops and clicks and the discs bear only a few stretches of minor surface noise faintly audible during the quietest sections. This is unsurprising considering just how dynamic the audio is – some of the sections really do get very quiet indeed, so some minor background noise is to be expected. This is a very lengthy compilation – one that lasts well over three and a half hours, which means each LP contains round fifty five minutes of audio. By conventional wisdom, the respective sides are longer than ideal but we’re both impressed and surprised to report that none of the discs suffer for this extended running time. We did not encounter any issues with sibilance or inner groove distortion and the significant plus-side to these lengthy records is obvious. In a time when it’s not uncommon for a forty minute album to be spread over two discs, there’s something quite refreshing about such lengthy sides on a modern release.
Going by the beautiful coloured vinyl alone, it’s clear that there’s definitely been a good amount of attention given over to the presentation. How about the packaging though? Does that stand up to scrutiny? By and large, yes. The set is enclosed in a hard slipcase that contains four separate standard-width, single pocket sleeves and a 12″ x 12″ booklet. The slipcase itself is well manufactured; it feels sturdy even when emptied of its contents and print quality is strong here, with defined text and nice colours. The artwork found on the slipcase does have the feeling of something rendered on obsolete software but the images used across the four individual covers are much better. Tasteful and appealingly colour co-ordinated, the covers feel well made. The cardstock itself is fairly standard in terms of weight but print quality is, again, impressive and the used colours are imposing. The booklet is also a welcome addition. It contains revealing sleeve notes newly penned by journalist Chris Welch, as well as numerous photos of the group – some in colour, some monochrome – from throughout their career. Rounding the presentation of this set off are four printed inner sleeves, all of which again feature images of the band. These are not polylined, so we would recommend storing the records in higher quality sleeves of your own – but the inclusion of such extras is only ever a good thing.
This is a boxset every bit as extravagant as the progressive suites so beloved of the band contained within. The presentation is excellent, the sound is just as impressive and quality of the pressings is in keeping with this attention to detail and sense of quality control. The price point is also fair considering everything on offer here, making this an easy recommendation to both long-term fans of the group and curious newcomers alike.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at email@example.com – it would be great to hear from you!