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3.2 (Robert Berry): Third Impression

In the far-flung stratospheres of prog, the group simply known as ‘3’ consisting of multi-instrumentalist Robert Berry, Carl Palmer, and Keith Emerson represented a return to earth. Toning back the breakneck exploratory nature of prog’s heyday (in which, of course, two aforementioned members had defining roles), groups were quick to realise that directness was the order of the day should they wish to musically survive the sheen and polish of the 80s. Arriving at the end of the decade with To the Power of Three, immediately followed by their disbanding and a reformed Emerson, Lake, and Palmer for 1992’s Black Moon, 3 historically stood as an interesting curio and not much else.

With fans hankering for a follow-up for nearly three decades, conversations were initiated, and musical sketches and demos were exchanged between Berry and Emerson for a new release in 2015. In the light of Emerson’s untimely death in 2016, Berry eventually sought to gather these existing musical fragments and shape them into a viable collection of songs that would function as a tribute to Emerson whilst reinvigorating and advancing the 3 sound established in 1988. The resultant album entitled The Rules Have Changed arrived in 2018 under the 3.2 moniker. This follow-up entitled Third Impression’ released February 12 confidently furthers that intention.

Opening with the affirmation of ‘Top of the World’, Berry’s dual acoustic guitars create a folksy sparkle to welcome the listener. A yearning vocal gives way to something more triumphant before some regal keys invoke Emerson’s spirit in signature topsy-turvy fashion. Before the listener can get too comfortable, the group slow down proceedings with a Zeppelin-like stomp and a chanting vocal before quickly morphing into a dizzying display of keyboard dexterity and heightened musical drama. A galloping reprise of the main theme with a more assured vocal suggests we may have come full circle in only nine minutes. By comparison, ‘What Side You’re On’ could be viewed as a brief interlude. Just shy of three minutes, direct, unambiguous, yet refusing to stay in one place as it falls into a controlled tailspin after its opening minute. ‘Black of Night’ settles into familiar AOR territory whilst giving rise to Celtic-flavoured keys. These opening three tracks establish an auspicious M.O. for the album whereby the unhinged musical passages never stray too far from their foundation; while the sweeter, more accessible moments are reinvented and reprised before they start to marinade in their own sentimentality which should appease listeners with AOR allergies.

Berry asserts himself on the drums in ‘Killer of Hope’ with a tremendous off-beat stomp that guides and punctuates his word-salad lyric whilst providing a dynamic foundation for more hysterical keyboard runs. A similar jagged progression is touched upon later in ‘The Devil of Liverpool’ albeit with a certain bounce that calls to mind a pub sing-along or sea-shanty.

As glistening acoustic chords are met with subdued synths, the “lonely man” reflects on a more hollow time and the flippancy with which he navigated through life in ‘Missing Piece’. Certainly a more restrained composition but one that features a soaring guitar solo and showcases the thoughtful reflection of Berry’s songwriting. This introspection on the passage of time and the importance of family as allies continues on ‘A Bond of Union’ however this features a brief unwieldy interlude at the back-end of the track which feels slightly tacked-on in order to elevate it from the shackles of a formulaic ballad; but the track could’ve comfortably stood on its own following its steady, dependable progression.

One of the most pleasant surprises is in the low-light lounge feel of ‘Emotional Trigger’. Complete with moody piano, upright bass, and a troublesome lover, this exudes a late-night coolness without wavering into self-consciousness or parody. Granted, the synths could seem a bit jarring to some when introduced into these very smoky vistas created by Berry’s borderline mumble and delicate percussive swing but the selective notes still retain the integrity of the track’s forlorn atmosphere. A cool diversion.

The album juts back into full steam with the 7/8 keyboard charge of ‘A Fond Farewell’. A poignant lyric and sensitive vocal from Berry creates a false sense of security as the track shifts into a flurry of notes and high-energy runs. This serves as an aperitif for the epic criss-cross of closing track ‘Never’. Opening with stark Emerson chords that call to mind the drama of 1972’s Trilogy before brushing upon multiple sections without ever fully committing to one; this rumbling, swirling sprawl serves as the consummation of all musical ideas explored throughout the album. The instruments are at their fiery best as they serve the bait-and-switch nature of the track with precision and alertness. ‘Never’ is a deft, dynamic closer featuring all the exciting kineticism of classic prog but one which never forsakes the prominence of Berry’s vocal; allowing the track to remain focused and accessible whilst skillfully swerving any outrageous po-faced excesses.

If Third Impression proves to be the sunset on the great Keith Emerson’s legacy then it stands as a salute not just to his technical wizardry, but also his maturity and sensitivity as a composer. Although his skills have historically been held up as ‘Exhibit A’ in evidence against prog’s musical war crimes, Robert Berry has constructed a very respectable homage to his undervalued melodicism and arresting delicateness. This, combined with Berry’s multi-instrumental command, wisened vocals, and reflective lyrics add up to a sensitive tribute to the legacy of one of rock’s most gifted innovators.

  1. Top of the World
  2. What Side You’re On
  3. Black of Night
  4. Killer of Hope
  5. Missing Piece
  6. A Bond of Union
  7. The Devil of Liverpool
  8. Emotional Trigger
  9. A Fond Farewell
  10. Never

Added: January 24th 2021
Reviewer: Martin Delaney
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 1110
Language: english

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