(ESOTERIC ANTENNA/MANTICORE/CHERRY RED; 2013)
I’m not sure how I feel about this album. I mean, this is the guy that sang one of the all-time great metal anthems (though, I’m sure Robert Fripp will shortly have a price out on my head for saying that), “21st Century Schizoid Man!” This is the “L” in not one, but two, ELPs! This is the man who replaced John Wetton in Asia for a six-show tour of… uh… Asia! Greg Lake is a musician of some considerable skill, on both acoustic and electric guitar, as well as his chosen instrument, the bass guitar. He also possesses one of the silkiest voices in rock, with a rich, resonant baritone that is as forceful as it is smooth. So, you say, “Alright! Enough already! We get it… Greg Lake is good! You like Greg Lake! Now, what about SONGS OF A LIFETIME?”
SONGS OF A LIFETIME, prompted by work on his biography, was recorded during Lake’s 2012 solo tour of the same name. When I say “solo tour,” I mean “solo,” as in on his own. No one else on stage with him. At this point, you might be wondering how such bombast as “Karn Evil 9, First Impression, Part Two,” the above-mentioned “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and “Touch and Go” sound with just a voice and an acoustic guitar (after all, that is the way most of these “solo” things are done, right?). Well… surprisingly full! Mister Lake wanted an intimate evening without the hindrance of a band onstage while he reminisced. He also wanted to give the listener a full concert experience. C’mon… we are talking about the Greg Lake from King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and, briefly, Powell). Even the soft, acoustic stuff from those groups was noisy! So, what to do? Why, take certain elements from the songs he would be performing, add new parts to make it sound close to the original, then flesh it out with his vocals performed live along with either the bass, electric or acoustic guitar and – if I’m not mistaken – piano on at least one tune. Don’t get me wrong! The sound and the performance are top-notch. It just leaves me feeling a slight bit cheated. While this type of show with these kinds of playback are nothing new, they don’t lend themselves to any spontaneity or interaction between musicians. They are almost too precise. In fact, for a little bit, I thought that I was listening to new studio recordings of some of Greg’s greatest hits.
Also, while I found his stories entertaining and somewhat enlightening as to the inner workings of a 50 year veteran of the music industry and a man who was a part of two of the most well respected rock bands of the past 45 years, I also found them rather strained, a little forced and more than a tad over-rehearsed. You just wanna say, “Geez, Greg! Lighten up, huh?” Okay… enough of the negatives, huh? While I did find them initially off-putting, they really did not hinder my enjoyment of the whole package. Lake was in fine voice for these recordings, sounding more like the 30 year-old version of himself than the well-traveled 64-year old version (his age when these shows were recorded). Also, while I would have liked to have seen (or, more precisely, heard) a few different tunes, especially from his Emerson, Lake and Palmer days (“Benny the Bouncer” from BRAIN SALAD SURGERY immediately comes to mind), the four Crimson tracks are solid enough and there’s enough good ELPalmer (the already-alluded-to “Karn Evil 9” piece, “Still… You Turn Me On” from the same excellent album, and the ubiquitous “Lucky Man” among them) and ELPowell (“Touch and Go”) to keep me happy. The fact that Greg also tosses in a nice grouping of songs that influenced his music and his career amounts to icing on a very tasty cake! As, apparently, every musician who ever picked up an instrument after 1956 or so is influenced by Elvis Presley, we are presented with a story and a song – “Heartbreak Hotel.” More understandable – to me anyway – is the influential aspects of the Beatles. Lake’s version “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is spot-on and fairly awesome. The final “cover” is a little less immediately obvious for a progressive rock icon: the beautiful and oft-covered Curtis Mayfield tune,“People Get Ready.”
Okay, then… bottom line time, right? Can I recommend that you go out and procure (by any LEGAL means) Greg Lake’s SONGS OF A LIFETIME, considering some of my early qualms? Absolutely! Taken as a whole and considering the obvious thought and work that went into constructing this musical biography, the pluses far outweigh a couple of relatively minor minuses (that wasn’t a double negative there, was it?). This album is well worth adding to your collection.