THE MUSICAL BOX
Completing a circle that began 30 years ago with the Emerson, Berry and Palmer project 3, Robert Berry brings his late bandmate’s ideas and arrangements into the light.
Robert Berry’s new take on work with Keith Emerson for 3.2 takes centre stage, alongside reviews from Between The Buried And Me, Marillion, Roger Eno, Nik Turner & Youth, Clannad and more.
Keith Emerson remains strangely prolific for a man who died in 2016. To paraphrase the song: death brings many changes, while an artist’s death brings deluxe reissues and unearthed demos. There’s no denying the power of Emerson’s music or the reasons why it should echo through history. That said, no one needs another edition of Tarkus because someone at the record label thought to remaster it and add an essay that has about as much worth as a Wikipedia entry. You might think it’s akin to dancing on a dead man’s grave. And you’d be right.
The original 3 album, To The Power Of
Three, featuring Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry, was forged in the twin flames of creativity and opportunity in 1988 when marketing was still considered an art form.
It’s fair to say that ELP were breathing hard at that point, still struggling, even 10 years later, in the shadow of the cumbersome Love Beach, while 1992’s redemptive Black Moon seemed an impossibly long way off.
It’s not hard to understand what they were thinking. Palmer’s other project, Asia, had burned briefly but brightly, especially in the USA where they turned platinum with what seemed like indecent haste. Another Asia alumnus, in the shape of Steve Howe, had also troubled the Billboard charts when he teamed up with Steve Hackett for their GTR band that turned over a surprise smash in the shape of When The Heart Rules The Mind. Pop prog – it really was a thing. Well, for a little while.
In an age when the Geffen label was adopting a scattergun approach to A&R that was more reminiscent of a chef throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks than a considered strategy of release schedules and advertising campaigns, it was no surprise that this take on the supergroup was snapped up almost instantly. It paid dividends, too: the album charted and the single, Talkin’ Bout, went into the Top 10. And then, as quickly as they appeared, and with Emerson unhappy at the direction Geffen were pushing the band in, they folded like a cheap deckchair in a storm. But, surprisingly, not before Emerson and Berry had already started writing new material for the follow‑up record.
In the autumn of 2015, Keith Emerson and Robert Berry (who had reworked some of those unheard songs for his Pilgrimage
To A Point album) began talking again, and rehashing the musical ideas from what must have seemed like another time. Old cassettes were unearthed, and new piano parts recorded and exchanged via email in a flurry of renewed energy and activity. And then, like all the best‑laid plans, fate intervened and Emerson was gone just six months later.
It’s unclear what happened in the intervening two years, Berry’s industrious endeavour notwithstanding, but 3.2 sounds like it could have landed in, say,
1989. And we mean that in the kindest way: 3 should have been on tour with Asia, criss‑crossing the globe, Palmer rushing from one drum kit to the next.
It’s a glorious racket, pomp, prog and AOR colliding in a fizzing display that wants to be both a pop hit and the jumping‑off point for another Emerson solo spot. Case in point, the lush‑sounding Somebody’s Watching, which could have sat quite comfortably on the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack until the keyboard line pops up and Berry recreates a dexterous and dizzying Emerson solo that sounds like it would have encompassed every keyboard he’s ever owned.
Opener One By One, which goes rattling by to belie its erratic seven minutes, puts Emerson’s delicate piano arrangement front and centre, opening on a tantalising, almost languid note before a rich, dense
AOR hook, a baffling synth solo and then some beautifully underplayed, loose jazz riff. Berry really does a great job of capturing his bandmate’s spirit – it makes you reflect, sadly, that he’s no longer here to dizzy our senses.
What You’re Dreamin’ Now is a relatively scant four minutes of rolling piano and stabs of dense synthesiser that, sound‑wise, is reminiscent of the palette Rush were using on their Hold Your Fire album, with Berry’s rousing, raucous vocal making it sound like Graham Bonnet jamming with Rick Wakeman. If they’d managed to place it in a film montage at the time, it would have sold enough copies to have bought them all second homes.
The whole thing’s tinged with sadness that Emerson never got to realise this record when he was alive, but glory in the moment instead, that timeless snapshot of Emerson without limits, zigzagging through life.
Pomp, prog and AOR colliding in a fizzing display that’s both pop hit and
Emerson solo spot.