ALBUM BY ALBUM
29 May 1945 – 19 February 2022)
CD reviews of:
and ‘SHINE ON BRIGHTLY’
by PROCOL HARUM
John Lennon had his psychedelic Rolls Royce fitted with a record player, so throughout the Summer of Love he could play “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” repeatedly to anyone who’d listen. The lilting surreal Bach-based single skipped the light fandango everywhere. Its massive success turning such cartwheels that it wasn’t until January 1968, following a line-up and label change, that the former-Paramounts managed this underrated debut album adorned in florid monochrome Aubrey Beardsley-style art, now re-mastered with bonus tie-in singles. Yet it contains literary-ambitious Gary Brooker-Keith Reid keyboard-led stand-outs such as “Conquistador” – a 1972 hit in its own right with live orchestration, and the beguiling “She Wandered Through The Garden Fence”. Despite its single “Quite Rightly So” barely registering chart-wise, the second LP (December 1968) is an even more dazzlingly flawless set. The vinyl second side structured into the esoteric seventeen-minute suite “In Held Twas In I”, shifting from vaudeville through balladry into heavy Rock adorned with stately pseudo-classical twiddly bits. Their distinctively English qualities of wit, intelligence and confidently obscure poetic lyrics stand up to repeated listening, while the group were vindicated by ‘Salad Days’ of recording and touring successfully until 1977.
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 no.53
September-October (UK – September 2015)
‘SHINE ON BRIGHTLY’
‘A SALTY DOG’
by PROCOL HARUM
(Esoteric Recordings, October 2015)
I could pen a dissertation about ‘A Salty Dog’, in fact, I probably will. About how, when other Prog-Rock units were cranking up their tedious virtuoso soloing into mind-numbing improvisations, Procol Harum simply lift a quill from romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s narrative epic about a damned voyage to ‘parts unknown to man’ where ships come home to die. I bought the single after hearing it on the radio – maybe Peel? and although it barely rippled the charts, subsequent long-tail sales and critical reappraisals have deservedly elevated it to classic status. For the title track of this, their third album, they abandon the playful obscurantism of skipping light fandangos for a song rifted with literate wit and puns, laced with spectral pizzicato strings as stately and doom-laden as the Ancient Mariner’s accursed vessel itself. From ‘all hands on deck, we’ve run afloat’ – ships don’t run afloat, they run aground, accompanied by a ‘piped aboard’ instrumentation, through ‘how far can sailors fly?’, to close with the legal document testimony ‘you’ll witness my own hand’. In a show of bravura, Brooker-Reid even flourish the oldest cliché-rhyme in the songwriter’s arsenal, ‘many moons and many Junes’ with casual assurance. Mournful gulls wail, waves lap, the Captain weeps as they ‘fire the gun’ and the mast burns, and it’s all spine-shiveringly unique. The nautical theme, suggested by the pastiche ‘Players Navy Cut’ cover-art, continues with “Wreck Of The Hesperus”, then there’s the stand-out “The Devil Came From Kansas”.
As part of a trilogy of lavishly packaged digital reissues – alongside a 3CD ‘Shine On Brightly’ (1968), and fourth LP ‘Home’ (1970), each definitive edition is expanded with a bonus CD of outtakes and radio sessions, lyric-poster and memorabilia. Procol Harum may be an acquired taste, but every now and then they’re a taste very much worth acquiring.
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 no.54
(Nov-Dec) (UK – November 2015)