Penny Valentine in Sounds, 17 March 1973 : Procol Harum Grand Hotel Chrysalis CHR 1037 (thanks, Frans, for the date)
This is an important album for Procol – following as it does their Edmonton set – and so justifiably has an air of importance about it, from the packaging on.
I think one of the reasons that Edmonton was so huge a seller for a group who have had such an erratic album past, is that it had both a sense of occasion and splendour about it. And it is these qualities that are repeated on Grand Hotel .
What makes Grand Hotel such a strong collection is interesting – and easy to find when you put it against their past studio recorded work. Over the past six years I feel that Procol have always had one or two songs that have held the rest of each set up – tracks like A Whiter Shade, Homburg, Salty Dog. These were the numbers that contained such atmospheric and lyrical powers that they practically became a crutch for the other numbers to lean up against.
The difference here is that while the title track is so huge and so compelling, all the other Brooker / Reid numbers are handled with the same sense of importance. Structured so that even simplest stories are related with great musical strength.
There are nine tracks on Grand Hotel covering a great maze of emotions from nostalgia to lost love, suicide, decay and desolation, and throughout there is no let-up in pitch. Procol have come up with music here that steadily assaults your nerve endings – without a moment to recover from the last attack they move off into the next. It's an exhaustive [sic] business and yet it gives the album its finest moments and keeps it on a level of pure physical contact.
Even the outwardly 'jolly' lyrical tracks like TV Caesar [sic] and Souvenir of London end up in Brooker's hands with underlined menace, and the whole album slows with the desperate grandeur of his strong constructions.
With Alan Cartwright and Mick Grabham on guitars, BJ Wilson on percussion, Chris Copping on organ and Brooker himself on piano, Grand Hotel demands attention with almost decadent force.
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