It's a würm! It's de plane! It's the flagship o' prog-rock keyboards albums, by which all others must be judged! And it's available again gasp legitimately! Universal subsidiary Hip-O Select has unveiled a tee-perfect small-scale replica of the original LP with poster limited to five thousand numbered copies (here's to #245).
In the space of thirty-nine too-short minutes, Criminal Record evokes humanity's lurid side in a most complete and multifaceted way, like some deranged actor who enters the theater from the rear in the darkness where an alternate way out of such a madhouse should by all rights be brightly lit. Copious notes are printed concerning the locales & inspirations behind the tunes, including a few vile specimens ensconced within history's deeper shadows.
Criminal Record was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland in 1977, the same year ELP spent some time indulging in the region's scenic beauty. Rick's arsenal consists of Mini-Moog & Poly-Moog, Steinway grand & Fender electric pianos, Birotron & RMI computer keyboard, the ever-faithful Hammond C3 & Hohner Clavinet, plus acoustic & electric harpsichords and the church organ at Vevey. On hand for the first three compositions are Chris Squire and Alan White as rhythm section, with percussionist Frank Riccotti on those and one more. Obviously, the first three tracks come off as keyboard trio rockers, where Rick goes off on different tangents for the second set. As one can imagine, things charge like a runaway railcar soon after "Statue Of Justice" begins, as a scant few legato notes suddenly make way for forte. Overlapping synth melodies flank the crunch of the piano and sizzle of the Clavinet soaring Hammond and Mini-Moog solos top off the action in that distinctly Wakeman way. A thunderous leadoff track!
"Crime Of Passion" taps off a lento cadence and quickly moves up to andento and allegro the mix becomes laden with multiple melodic & rhythmic parts, but not overbearingly so. Squire's space-funk bassline is delicious! I wouldn't mind if the middle section was twice as many bars. "Chamber Of Horrors" is the most manifestly dramatic piece of the first half, or "side," and it's staggering how many ideas comprise this miniaturized suite, from the cinematic grandeur of the first several minutes to the carnivalesque interlude and the purely symph-rock climaxes. "Birdman Of Alcatraz" is a layered piano comp; what overdubs there are aren't many, and they're only meant to thicken the sound, as most of the action comes from one run-through with two hands only. It's not all thrust; the final moments are delicate and sonically fragrant. "The Breathalyser" shows Rick's sense of humor with punchy "wet" Polymoog bass, a player piano bit and a speedy run on the electric harpsichord. Only Riccotti's percussion dances along Rick's keyboards on this track. The last bluesy minute, with Bill Oddie's husky vocal, is so out of place it fits, and only adds to the variety.
"Judas Iscariot" rings hugely with monolithic passages on the Mander pipe organ and the ambience of a full choir (see, this was in the days before the Emulator, Synclavier, and Fairlight, and nothing can replace an organic choir, anyway). Every piano, organ and Moog note is so properly placed as to cause tear ducts to wash. Apparently Rick wanted to rerecord certain parts of the album, but didn't have the additional funds to do so it's hard to imagine what he wanted to change. Rick is indisputably one of prog's top keyboard virtuosos, and this album is but one exhibit there are others. Whether Rick did (does) "classical rock" better than anyone else is a case for another time and trial, but he's easily one of the finalists, along with Keith Emerson and Rick van der Linden.
In case you'd like to order this hallmark recording, the only place it seems to be currently available is Hip-O Select's own shop!
1. Statue Of Justice (6:20)
2. Crime Of Passion (5:46)
3. Chamber Of Horrors (6:40)
4. Birdman Of Alcatraz (4:12)
5. The Breathalyser (3:51)
6. Judas Iscariot (12:15)
Total time 39:03