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KL One might argue that Robin Trower hindered more than helped along the Procol cause. He arrived after the first smash hit and left before their second (this may be true in the USA). It's doubtful the hit live album would ever have been realized while he was in the group. The best evidence that his departure took PH up a notch is in this studio follow up to the anaemic Broken Barricades.
Grand Hotel is elegant from its title on down. Perhaps a bit too aristocratic at times, choosing ornate over unaffected more than called for, it contains the strongest songs on a Procol album since their début, and a refreshing stream of Gary Brooker's best career piano work. The lyrics are provocative always, but here they actually make sense. The ditties are superior to the highlights on Barricades. The new guitarist Mick Grabham has unfortunately that same fuzzbucket style that Procol seems to demand, but thankfully he is suppressed more often than his predecessor (not counting David Ball who was only on the live album).
The title track exhibits all the positive and negative facets of the album, but, like most here, tips to the plus side of the ledger, especially thanks to the classical allusions and Russian styled passages. My favourites are Rum Tale, which seems to encapsulate all the best aspects of the group's earlier work, the catchy and insightful TV Caesar, the organ-dominated Bringing Home the Bacon, and the uber-elegant Fires Which Burnt Brightly, with its near Haslam-like noodling by soprano Christianne Legrand. But even the snide commentary of Souvenir of London and Toujours L'Amour work for me in their way, the latter including Grabham's best work along with Bacon.
While the very modest success of Grand Hotel suggested that the smash of Conquistador represented a last gasp rather than a commercial resurgence, this album simply exudes class in the way of a fine wine or opera. Such is a rarity in rock. But like much art of this type, the emotional impact is somewhat wanting, so I must round down to 3 stars (out of five) to make this accommodation.
Order this CD from Amazon USA
Or order the 3 CD box from Amazon UK (Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit and Procol's Ninth)