The ear­ly 1980’s were a dif­fi­cult time for pro­gres­sive rock.  Its musi­cal pur­vey­ors were try­ing to find their foot­ing in a com­mer­cial are­na dom­i­nat­ed by Top 40 music and dodg­ing brick­bats from the crit­ics who detest­ed the 1970’s-style bom­bast it rep­re­sent­ed.  Though there was a core of fans still clam­or­ing for the pro­gres­sive style of old, it wasn’t enough to sus­tain a career — and the record labels didn’t want to know.  Thus, many musi­cians who had found suc­cess record­ing prog rock in the 1970’s faced a sort of mid-life cri­sis as searched for a way to stay rel­e­vant.

Greg Lake’s debut as a solo artist cap­tures this state of con­fu­sion per­fect­ly.  Anyone look­ing for prog here will be dis­ap­point­ed as Greg Lake is a total­ly com­mer­cial set of AOR tunes tai­lored with an eye towards rock radio.  In fair­ness to the main attrac­tion, this approach makes sense: Lake had always been the most com­mer­cial mem­ber of Emerson Lake & Palmer, with a fond­ness for bal­ladry that favored songcraft over instru­men­tal fire­works.  He lets his com­mer­cial instincts take the fore here, result­ing in album that shows off his rich, unique­ly English vocal stylings over fare that plays it safe.

However, the biggest sur­prise on Greg Lake is how rocked-up it is in places.  Lake recruit­ed a back­ing band that fea­tured leg­endary axe-slinger Gary Moore on lead gui­tar and a few for­mer mem­bers of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and this unit real­ly digs in on the album’s hand­ful of out-and-out rock­ers.  For instance, “Nuclear Attack” is a hard-riff­ing barn­stormer fleshed out by a few pomp-rock key­board touch­es and “Retribution Drive” show­cas­es a nice set of are­na-friend­ly dynam­ics fueled by a well-craft­ed alloy of elec­tric gui­tar and organ.

Elsewhere, Lake has his group bring their full-blood­ed rock band heft to plen­ty of bal­lads.  However, they lack the dis­tinc­tive iden­ti­ty that informed his Emerson Lake & Palmer bal­lads:  if the bal­lads on those albums had a con­ti­nen­tal style that blend­ed English folk with a clas­sic torch-song mood­i­ness, the bal­lads on Greg Lake pur­sue a bland­er, mid­dle-of-the-road style in an attempt to ingra­ti­ate them­selves with a Top 40 audi­ence.  “The Lie” and “It Hurts” have the right pow­er-bal­lad dynam­ics but are con­spic­u­ous­ly bland in terms of melody.  They also suf­fer from lyrics that can be down­right mawk­ish at times. When Lake intones “did you know that love can actu­al­ly hurt you enough to make you die?” on “It Hurts,” the on-the-nose, maudlin nature of the sen­ti­ment is enough to make you cringe.

However, Greg Lake remains wor­thy of exca­va­tion for ELP diehards and AOR his­to­ri­ans because of its strong accent on crafts­man­ship.  The band is real­ly top flight for this style of music and Moore lib­er­al­ly laces the songs with dis­tinc­tive riffs and solos.  Better yet, Lake’s dis­tinc­tive vocal style are in full force from start to fin­ish and his regal tone does a lot to boost the album.  There is also the occa­sion­al styl­is­tic curve­ball that will please the prog fans: “Someone” is a clev­er tune that mix­es pop melod­ics and rock bom­bast in a unpre­dictable, prog-mind­ed arrange­ment while “For Those Who Dare” has a stir­ring melody that ben­e­fits from an unusu­al Scottish folk treat­ment it gets (com­plete with bag­pipes!).

In short, Greg Lake is more of an inter­mit­tent­ly com­pelling curio than a great album due to its cal­cu­lat­ed attempts to court a main­stream-cir­ca-1981 audi­ence.  However, there’s a cer­tain class to its musi­cian­ship that will appeal to Lake fans and AOR enthu­si­asts alike.  Others might be left wish­ing that Lake’s lev­el of ambi­tion had been as strong as his work ethic.