Early 1973, the band take the significant step of leaving Island Records and establishing their own label entitled Manticore Records, announcing in a press release that they now had both the financial and musical freedom to realize their fantasies. Technology was an important part of the band's vision of pushing musical limits. ELP was a band which eagerly adopted and used the latest technology available and Keith in particular, had been at the forefront of the use of synthesizers. During the course of the year, Moog Music developed the first polyphonic module and Keith was the recipient of one of the first examples, putting it to use on the album and later having it and two Moog 960 analogue sequencers added to the huge Modular IIIc model which he used in the studio and on tour.
Returning from the 'Get Me A Ladder' tour, Carl took a course in timpani at the Guildhall School Of Music & Drama and then expanded his kit to include timpani, gongs and one of the earliest examples of a percussion synthesizer.
Just as striking as the music was the album's artwork. With other progressive acts becoming as well known for their album cover art as their music, ELP's covers up to this point looked fairly undistinguished in comparison. Having encountered the art of HR Giger whilst on tour in Switzerland, Keith felt that there was a immediate match between his art and their music, later stating: "...it was dark and very foreboding, and for me it represented ELP's music".
A visit to Giger's home was sufficient to convince the other members of the band and the artist himself was delighted when told that the album's title (as well as the rejected working-title 'whip some skull on you') were euphemism for oral sex.
The name for the album was very probably taken from the song 'Right Place, Wrong Time', performed by Dr. John in 1973:
"I been running trying to get hung up in my mind, got to give myself a little talking to this time,
just need a little brain salad surgery, got to cure this insecurity"
The band chose two existing works for the outer and inner cover, but the phallic object below the mouth of the female face required modification before it was approved for use, finally taking the form of a shaft of light. The sleeve designer also insisted on a non-standard construction and rather than being a normal gatefold sleeve, the front cover opened from the centre. It was necessary to fold one of the flaps back fully, in order to be able to extract the vinyl contents within and though it was also probably rather more difficult and expensive to produce, it marked the band out from the rest of the field.
The band released a flexi 7'' single of new material in conjunction with the New Musical Express, interestingly enough, the paper which led the critical backlash against the band in the years which followed. The disk contained extracts of the album and a track entitled Brain Salad Surgery. Recorded during left over studio time, it was a not very representative of what was to emerge on the album itself.
"All I know is we spent more time and put more effort into this record than any other we have made. We've never really topped that era. I think if you were to identify one album as being the masterwork of ELP it would have to be 'Brain Salad Surgery'. For me it was our 'Sergeant Pepper' moment. We were doing weird things to push the boundaries of experimentation and recording forward. We used every recording technique under the sun from recording percussion in the toilet to using custom designed electronic percussion. It's my favourite album by far."
"Nothing came quickly. It really was laborious, most of it. It was very much like building a house one brick at a time. And sometimes you'd put up a wall and take the whole bloody thing down again. It was a laborious and complicated process. And it was complicated because we were searching, that's the truth of it. For the first time we've cared less about exploiting the technical side of the band and looked very deeply into the harmonic and melodic structures. The only way I can put it is that it's got more soul, more feel. At least that's what we've gone for. I think it generates more energy than previous albums. Apart from the 'Karn Evil' piece the only continuity about the album is that we made it at one period of time, and that's what we wanted to do. It's like a collection of emotions you might feel one day - several different emotions."
"Brain Salad Surgery was created at a time, when everyone in the band was at their most receptive level. It was the last real album the band has made.
We felt we needed a bit of time to consider things and not let everything go to our heads. I think it was worth the wait, because a lot of people think that Brain Salad Surgery is just about the best thing we ever did. I think that Karn Evil 9 proves that. Again, the most important thing was the way we were playing together as a band.
One of the reasons 'Brain Salad Surgery' was so long coming out was, from the start of the band we had this big back-log of material to get through."
With the album in the can, the band went straight back out on the road again in the USA and then in Europe, further cementing their position at the top of the premiere league of acts in the USA. They did this using the most ambitious spectacular ever mobilised for a group, comprising 35 tons of equipment, a quadraphonic sound system, a huge convoy of trucks and Greg's Persian rug - now immortalised in rock history.
The band were at the top of the tree. It was to be several more years before the next studio album. UK press opinion and government fiscal policies made the UK less attractive and the USA offered the band the opportunity of playing to bigger, more lucrative crowds. The intense touring probably took it's toll, but equally, the creativity displayed on the disc left them with very few avenues left to explore as a unit. In fact, rather like the subject of Karn Evil 9, the press considered that the band had lost touch with their roots and certainly their UK audience as they became caught up in the 'arena-rock' circus, with which they became synonymous.
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