Requested by Aros
Having finished a long and gruelling tour that had lost them $3 million and left them tired and at odds with each other, Emerson Lake & Palmer were in a bad way come 1978. The worst was yet to come though, as after a meeting with their label’s president who told them they were obliged to do one last album and threatened to stop them from releasing solo albums if they didn’t, the band proceeded to throw together an album that fails in almost every way – the infamous Love Beach. Despite the label-sanctioned name and cover suggesting otherwise the album stays very loosely within the ELP sound, Emerson’s wild and flowing keyboard playing as well as Palmer’s energetic drumming are toned down massively in an attempt to sound commercial.
All I Want Is You begins proceedings by lulling the listener into a false sense of security, seemingly starting as a normal – if slightly lightweight – ELP song that wouldn’t be amiss as a filler track from the two Works albums that came before it…but this was the lone single from the album and one of the two tracks that fully sound like them. As a whole the record sounds more like one of the many interchangeable new wave/synthpop bands that would come out of Britain in the 80s, somehow predicting what was to come despite getting nowhere near as much acclaim or being anywhere near as well written. The real issue with the writing is not the mostly bland music, or Lake’s singing which sounds as though he enjoys it less and less the longer the album goes on, but the lyrics. Having written for and co-founded prog royalty King Crimson you’d expect Peter Sinfield’s writing to be the highlight of the album, but as soon as the generic but weirdly catchy title track Love Beach lets loose with the line “I’m gonna make love to ya on Love Beach!”, all hopes are dashed. Just when you think the writing can’t get any worse after that, ELP exceeds expectations by following up with the single worst set of lyrics of both their collective careers and Sinfield’s career – the horrific Taste of My Love, which would almost be too much to take in one sitting if the guitar and drums in the background weren’t loud enough to focus on instead. Sounding rightfully embarrassed as he delivers lines that sound like they were cut out of the script to This is Spinal Tap (“I want to dynamite your mind with love tonight” and “call up room service, order peaches and cream/I like my dessert first if you know what I mean” are two of the lowlights), Lake manages to make three-and-a-half minutes feel like an eternity as the instrumental trudges on aimlessly with honking synths, an Asian-sounding riff that acts as a musical punchline in a verse about the groupie he sings about turning her face to the east as she goes down on him, and the previously interesting guitar riff hardly ever changing. Somehow the album gets even worse after this with The Gambler, lyrically improving somewhat but then balancing itself out with an overstuffed and cheesy instrumental that falls apart come the bridge as the bluesy harmonicas, random choir vocals and (relatively) complex drumming overlap into one big mess.
For You almost seems like a return to form at first, beginning with a moody intro featuring entwined guitar and keyboard lines, but it gets taken away as quickly as it arrives by an abrupt shift into a half-baked ballad full of obnoxious stabs of piano and messy layering, finishing up with a weird shift in mood from “we made love so hard it shook the stars above” to “next time you fall in love, don’t do it just for you”. The instrumental Canario is the one single bright moment on the album, sounding like the only thing on here that wasn’t made under duress – mostly because it’s written by a 17th-century composer and Sinfield didn’t add any lyrics to it. The song feels as though Emerson, who up to this point has suffered through an entire album side of being relegated to cheesy melodies and background noise, has finally been freed to play whatever he wants, letting loose with firey and complex runs that overshadow Lake’s guitar and Palmer’s drumming…which had to have been done on purpose, considering the tensions between him and the others. The obligatory 20-minute epic of the album, Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman, is largely a piano-led and overblown piece that doesn’t run as one song like their previous epics did, coming to a definitive stop at the end of each section as though it was supposed to be a completely different and separate song. After eleven minutes of sounding as though Lake is rehearsing for a musical (to borrow a phrase from a friend) with the lyrics and repetitive music to match, the Letters from the Front section starts off promisingly and then quickly sinks back down into a confused, soulless take on their previous works before finishing on a march that goes nowhere – other than sounding more and more like a Christmas song as it reaches its end, even bringing in some jingling bells for a few seconds before it does the honourable thing and finally fades out.
Swamped by bad creative decision after bad creative decision, despite not much on the album being exceptionally bad (with the exception of Taste of My Love) and somehow managing to sound ahead of its time by several years, Love Beach is a sad end to a long streak of classic albums by a band who could do so, so much better.
Genres… prog rock, pop-rock, new wave
Best tracks… Love Beach (at a push), Canario