Doesn't Anybody Listen to Procol Harum Any More? : Something Magic (Chrysalis CHR 1.130)
Somewhere in the ancient annals of music, there must be a stone tablet on which is inscribed the message "Originality Don't Count For Nothing." This must be a cosmic law. I become more convinced of it each tine a new Procol Harum album comes out. Something Magic is Procol Harum's 10th release, and each successive album appears to receive less attention than the last. Yet Procol Harum remains, after a career spanning a decade, the most singularly unclassifiable, original if you will, of all modern music that has surfaced.
It all began in 1966, When Gary Brooker left an R&B group called the Paramounts to strike out on his own. He matched his new me- [lacuna in the text here] to lyricist Keith Reid's existential entonements [sic]. The immediate result was Whiter Shade of Pale, an international hit featuring Brooker's piano stylings [sic], reflective lyrics from Reid and a haunting organ accompaniment that made the song unique both then and now. It has since proven to be Procol Harum's finest moment in the commercial spotlight.
Brooker was joined later by ex-Paramount drummer BJ Wilson and guitarist Robin Trower. The band's popularity in its native England waned, never to fully recover to this day; in America the group found a hearty cult following, but nothing ever close to supergroup status.
Wilson remains the most creative drummer in the business ... to my way of thinking. Trower; after some brilliant years, left for a solo career playing better-than-average trio heavy metal blues. Now Trower is a superstar.
Something Magic offers the finest music that Procol Harum has created in years, and evidence of the intense frustration this band must feel. Its last album, Procol Harum's Ninth [sic], was produced by ex-Elvis hit maker Leiber and Stoller. It was a commercial disaster and an esthetic disappointment.
In what may be its last chance, Procol Harum took over its own production on Something Magic. The lush, rich sound of Harum's finest works returns immediately, on the opening title cut. It is a stunning relief from the work of a seemingly endless array of mediocre pianists who appear to have learned their craft from a single blues record.
Brooker plays piano with all the tonal possibilities of a concert master at his disposal.. He combines his instrumental gift with a soulful voice and a quiet sensitivity that can evoke the most lofty of emotions.
The second tune Skating On Thin lee, a ballad about old, misbegotten love, offers a melody of incomparable beauty.
Things then get whimsical with Wizard Man. Each member of the band gets an individual moment on this one, with the slinky samba beat [!] leading the way. Guitarist Mick Grabham ties all of it together with some great playing, refreshingly devoid of the usual, rock heroics.
Grabham adds his writing skill to the next selection, The Mark of the Claw, with Reid furnishing an eerie tale about an unsolved murder while Grabham's melody line is deceptively beautiful. Wilson's method of drumming in flourishes, rather than serving as a metronome, comes to the fore here. Brought to mind is a quote about BB King's genius that sums up Wilson's talent as well. 'It isn't so much what he plays but what he doesn't play that makes him so great'. The side closes out with the dreamy Strangers in Space.
I have problems with side two. In essence, The Worm and the Tree is an epic poem with a moral. In spite of my personal disappointment, I feel there must be countless listeners who would find this mostly spoken piece of value, which leads us to the real problem. The Worm is largely derived from a musical theme of an early album [sic]. It is as if this inclusion on side two was warranted because no one remembered the earlier work.
How do people who would love the music of this singular group become aware of Procol Harum? Less is said about Procol Harum than any other group of their musical tenure. No one, not even devoted fans, can categorise the music this group makes, and its record companies have never been able to figure out how to sell its records to the public.
If you are a person of any musical curiosity, take a chance on this album. Listen to Something Magic and see if you like it. Keith Reid was surely speaking of his band when he wrote Strangers in Space.
'Trace of a feeling
Trace of regret
Hard to remember
Hard to forget'
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