Echoes in the Night : Gary Brooker : Mercury
Gary Brooker couldnít have spelled out Procol Harumís condition more plainly than he did during the bandís last shows, when he sang, 'Fires which burnt brightly, now energies spent.' After a punishing run of ten years, the English quintet fronted by Brooker brought down the curtain for good in 1977.
Brooker rekindles some of the old passion on Echoes in the Night, his first LP in three years and his third since Procolís demise. For the first time since 1969, the pianist is working with both producer-keyboardist Matthew Fisher (who fashioned the organ part for A Whiter Shade of Pale from bits of Bach) and BJ Wilson, drummer on all of Procol Harumís albums. Lyrics for five of the ten new songs - some sinister, others outright romantic - are by Procolís Keith Reid.
Those hoping for a Procol Harum reunion, however, may be taken aback by the pop polish of Echoes in the Night. Its straightforward melodies, co-written mostly by Brooker and Fisher, fold up forever the crazy quilt of influences that Procol Harum patched together in its early days - from Richard Strauss to Kurt Weill, from Bob Dylan to Percy Sledge. Fisher and Brooker are now secure with their joint songwriting-producing style, which puts a premium on original melodies and arrangements instead of eclectic derivation. Behind Brookerís voice, the thick web of instrumentation has been woven so meticulously that you might well wonder how many takes and mixes were required to get it all right.
The Long Goodbye begins simply, as Brookerís husky delivery infuses Reidís words with a stately sorrow before the arrangement bursts wide open to reveal Wilsonís powerful drumming, Fisherís Hammond organ, an orchestra and a choir. Hear What Youíre Saying pits a languorous alto voice against Brookerís tenor, while a fusillade of keyboard notes ricochets off a clockwork rhythm pattern. The autobiographical Echoes in the Night builds in intensity to re-create the mood of the Sixties. It aptly features Eric Clapton, who pitches in with the very sound that Reid conjures up verbally.
Despite the pains heís taken, Gary Brooker very likely will never record another song with as much chart impact as A Whiter Shade of Pale. But if he and his session mates can maintain the standard of pop excellence shown on Echoes in the Night, that may matter no more than, say, the break-up of Blind Faith did to Steve Winwood. Judging by the evidence here, it hasnít been a question of "energies spent" - simply one of talent held in reserve during a break from the business.
Thanks to Greg 'Dr J' Jensen for sending this to BtP; he adds, 'I have trouble putting my finger on it, but this was my least favorite of Brooker's solo work (especially disappointing considering it was a reunion of sorts) - though I hoped, given such a good review, it would have had greater commercial success. It just felt too much like an attempt to cash in on the huge success that Phil Collins, et al. were enjoying at the time, and made me realize that part of what makes Procol so special is that they follow their own path ...