Note: I originally wrote this a couple days before Keith Emerson’s passing. It’s worth mentioning that he was the only member of the band willing to defend this LP -a brave and hopeless task. Now that he’s gone, I guess I’ll pick up the torch…
RYM Rating: 2.01
ProgArchives Rating: 2.06
Ahh, the most burning question in progressive rock: who looks the most ridiculous on the Love Beach cover? Is it Greg Lake, smiling as he does his best power stance, with his bright red shirt jacket loosely tied together at the very bottom? Could it be Keith Emerson, caught here sheepishly grinning in mid-crotch thrust, showing off his chest hair and his bulge? Or what about Carl Palmer, whose forced smile shows all the enthusiasm and determination of a 14-year old boy on class picture day? Can’t decide? Well how about this promotional photo, where now it’s Palmer doing the power stance, gamely deciding that he, too, ought to be showing some skin…meanwhile Emerson and Lake are nearly in full jackets off mode, while the sun sets behind them…these boys are not playing around.
(The answer, as always, is Emerson)
Love Beach just may be the most denigrated album in prog rock history. I would imagine that 50% of that comes from the cover, and 30% comes from the fact that it’s ELP, who were so overblown and showy that they were destined to take the full brunt of the prog backlash anyway. Then you factor in that the LP actually came with an order form for jogging shorts, along with the satin jackets so beautifully modeled on the cover (for only $69.96, you too could look like a Bee Gee!), and of course some of the godawful lyrics on here (“I want to dynamite your mind with love tonight”), and what you’re left with is almost no discussion of the actual music on here. Which makes sense, since ELP split immediately up after its release and therefore never got to tour the album, and none of the tracks ever make any of ELP’s (many, many) compilation albums, with the exception of “Canario” which got a spot on Disc 2 of The Atlantic Years.
Thing is, that ELP had no momentum leading up to the album’s release – like Yes, they’d split up on a high note in 1974, only to come back three years later to a world that was a lot less friendly to their style of music. But while Yes managed Going for the One, a chart-topper and perhaps the last truly great Yes album, ELP released Works, Volume 1, a collection of half-aborted solo projects and a group side consisting merely of 1) another Aaron Copland cover and 2) a pirate-themed Broadway piece. While it did manage to crack the UK Top Ten, Works, Volume 2, released six months later, found the bargain bin immediately. Kind of a shame because it’s better than Vol. 1, but keep in mind this band was known for giant, overblown epics like “Tarkus”, and an album full of outtakes and boogie-woogie covers just ain’t gonna get it done. Regardless, they embarked on a world tour with a 70-piece orchestra in tow anyway, losing so much money in the process that they had to sack ’em right in the middle of the tour, inevitably disappointing whatever remaining fans they had left. So that is where the once-great ELP was leading up to this release, an album that the band never really wanted to make anyway, but a contract’s a contract, and Atlantic apparently thought there was still some cash to be made.
Thing is, Love Beach isn’t even a horrible album, in fact it’s not even the worst album ELP ever did. If you ignore A) the band’s history and B) all of the lyrics, it’s just lightweight, semi-decent AOR pop, with a catchy tune here and there. See, ELP is a band that could stand to try a little less sometimes, so it’s almost refreshing to hear an album like Love Beach, where they don’t seem to be trying at all. Sure, Lake yells out a line or two, Palmer plays a couple of his quick-fills, and Emerson occasionally wakes up, but for the most part they resemble an actual band on this one, sometimes even playing together for a change. Like Rick Wakeman on Tormato, Emerson sticks to some pretty questionable synth tones here, mostly wonky and tweety sounds that you don’t hear a whole lot of, and for good reason. Again, they’re light on songwriting – “All I Want is You” is pretty much a direct rip of a section of “Pirates”, and “The Gambler” is another dumb 50’s style boogie in the style of “Tiger in the Spotlight” (or if you’re feeling generous, “Jeremy Bender”). They even give the classical cover a go-round with Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Canario”, in which Emerson just doot-doodly-doos all over the place, but it’s fun enough that I have to consider it one of the best tracks here, not that that means anything. The other contender: “Love Beach”, which is something new (!) for ELP, a straightforward guitar-led rock song, almost forecasting Rush’s “Limelight” in the process.
There is another track well worth mentioning, one perhaps worthy of Love Beach‘s permanent $1 price tag alone (in near-mint condition, too!) – “Taste of My Love”, an exercise in stuffing as much terrible innuendo as possible into a 3-minute song. In one verse Lake asks you to “Get on my stallion and we’ll ride” (Emerson: BAROO! BAROO!), then later: “Climb on my rocket and we’ll fly”. Yes, this is the song that features the immortal “I want to dynamite your mind with love tonight” line, plus one hilarious moment where Emerson plays “Chopsticks” while Lake demands you “Go down gently with your face to the East”, because “The sun may be rising but we haven’t finished the beast”. There’s also one part where he asks you to go “Around the maze of pleasure to the gates of pain”, and if that means what I think it makes, that’s pretty fucking gross. By the way, it’s Pete Sinfield writing these lyrics and NOT Greg Lake, though if you’ve ever heard any of Lake’s post-Love Beach material, rest assured that he’s capable of being equally awful.
Side two is given to “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentlemen”, which is more traditionally romantic, if limp and unmemorable. Despite a 20-minute length, it’s nothing like other ELP epics – tons of lyrics, no real “rock” part, and Palmer stays mostly quiet. In fact it’s not really an epic at all, more like a collection of little romantic tunes strung together. Man goes to war, becomes a hero, meets a girl, promises her the moon, then she dies (??), and uh, that’s it? Not that the music reflects any of this, of course. The “Prologue” reminds a bit of the first part of “Trilogy” and “Honorable Company” is the same sort of squacky instrumental march as “Aquatarkus”, but outside of a little lite-rocking in “Letters From the Front”, these are pretty much the best parts, which is to say, it’s kinda dull.
Still, dull and occasionally likeable usually garners more than the flat 2s that the users of RateYourMusic and ProgArchives have given it. Even Amazon, the one site where you can get a 4.5 rating for just about anything, gives this a virtually unheard-of 3-star ranking, imploring you to buy it along with Black Moon, because hey, if you’re gonna dive into the shit ELP albums, you might as well buy them all at once and save on shipping, right? The fact that the users of RYM apparently think this is worse than ELP’s 90’s albums tells me that many of those who gazed into the abyss of Greg Lake’s chest hair and instinctively mashed the 0.5 button maybe haven’t actually heard the thing. I mean, it’s not even all that boring, and between Emerson’s tweety synths and “Taste of My Love”, there are a number of bona fide laugh out loud moments on the LP. It’s 2016, for crying out loud…grab a buck and dynamite your record collection with Love Beach today.