Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Trilogy (1972)
In contrast to most of the other bands, who received minimal classic rock airplay at the time (the odd Tull or Yes single aside), I had some familiarity with ELP hits like "Lucky Man" and "Karn Evil #9" and figured I'd like the band. But those catchier tracks didn't quite prepare me for the sheer bombast of the lengthier album tracks, which seemed to bear out every stereotype about prog's pretension and excesses. I picked up a few of the old LPs at the used record stores I would haunt (back in Evanston, Illinois), but by the time I delved into their second album, Tarkus, with its side-long epic battle of mechanical dinosaurs (or whatever it was about), I pretty much threw up my hands and ran for the hills. (It didn't help that this was in the latter half of high school, in the early 80s, by which time I was far more invested in post-punk/new wave albums than the prog and classic rock that had been occupying my attention since junior high.)
That said, there were bits of their third album, Trilogy, which I actually enjoyed, and I'll still give it the rare spin today. "From The Beginning" -- another classic radio mainstay I knew before picking up the LP -- is a jazzy little acoustic guitar piece that served as a showcase for Greg Lake's always entrancing vocals (aside from some surprisingly restrained keyboard work from Emerson at the end), and it's quite enthralling. The instrumental "Hoedown," with the usual over-the-top Emerson keyboards, is a kick, and they wisely keep it brief. And "The Sheriff" is a bit of a country-western tinged toss-off (kind of a sequel to Tarkus' pithy "Jeremy Bender," one of the few highlights on that disaster); again, one's enjoyment of the song depends on one's views of Emerson, but it once again benefits from brevity.
The title track is the longest song on the album, but whereas that almost invariably signals trouble with this band, I find it pretty entertaining. As the title suggests, it's a 3-part suite, opening with a quiet and perfectly lovely piano ballad, another Lake vocal showcase; that gives way to the usual Emerson wonkery, but it's saved by some intriguing rhythms from drummer Carl Palmer, which gets even more rollicking by the final third. It's sort of an air drummer's dream, and the percussive wizardry makes Emerson's excesses much more palatable. The rest of the album is... well, whatever. I'm ok with the opening "Endless Enigma" suite, I suppose, though it pales alongside the title trilogy; and the back end of the LP I tend to skip. But for an ELP album, that's not a bad ratio.