The following was written by the excellent Arts and Entertainment editor of my local newspaper (writes Greg to BtP, June 2006), who has a true appreciation for PH. He is the same one who wrote two (!) articles in advance of Procol’s last Seattle concert, while the Seattle papers completely ignored it, save for one after-the-fact review.
He told me he’d tried to decide between reviewing A Salty Dog or Home, and settled on Home because it had a greater personal impact on him at the time.
The first three albums by Britain’s Procol Harum seemed to leave the band poised on the edge of superstardom. They had a huge hit - “A Whiter Shade of Pale”- on their resume, and their third release, 1969’s “A Salty Dog,” was their most accessible, listener-friendly work yet.
But then two charter members- Matthew Fisher, whose Hammond B2 organ was one of the cornerstones of Procol’s dense sound, and bassist David Knights- jumped ship. A third, guitarist Robin Trower, was leaning towards the door, too, wanting to play a more central role in a Jimi Hendrix-style blues sound.
With Fisher gone, melodist-pianist-singer Gary Brooker could’ve taken the band in a more commercially viable R&B direction. And with the recruitment of Chris Copping, an ex-mate from The Paramounts, to replace both Fisher and Knights, it seemed like that was indeed what might happen.
But lyricist Keith Reid, always considered by Brooker to be a full (if non-performing) member of the band, had other ideas. The wordage he produced for Procol’s fourth album, “Home,” was among his darkest, most opaque and decidedly non-commercial work ever. The brace of albums that began with “Home” and ended with 1971’s “Broken Barricades” relegated Procol Harum not to headliner status, but to the ranks of cult bands. Despite a huge single with the orchestra-fueled remake of “Conquistador” and a promotional push from A&M Records for their next studio album, “Grand Hotel,” they never recovered.
Commercial, it wasn’t. But “Home” was challenging, interesting and moving.
Reid always had been obsessed with the themes of insanity, the sea and death. His fascination with death became paramount- and morbid- with some of the songs on “Home.” Perhaps that provided an impetus to Brooker, Copping and drummer B.J. Wilson to prove that Procol could be just as heavy and Gothic as they ever had been with Fisher at the Hammond.
“The Dead Man’s Dream” was a horror-movie soundtrack, with grim lyrics and a little death-knell suffix (which they used again, to an almost identical purpose, on “Grand Hotel’s” “For Licorice John”). “Still There’ll Be More” was a gritty revenge tale, “Nothing That I Didn’t Know” a dearge (sic) about loss, and “About To Die”...well, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Even the closing “Your Own Choice,” with its lighthearted feel and gorgeous harmonica flavorings, was weighted with lyrics like “Went to a river but I could not swim / Knew I’d drown if I went in / Lost my faith in a terrible race / rest-in-peace hereafter.”
For the Procol faithful, though, “Home” had a teeth-gnashing intensity, and Reid’s lyrics, though increasingly macabre, were as literate and brainy as ever.
Its centerpiece, “Whaling Stories,” was also one of the band’s greatest creations, a seven-minute retelling of an epic siege and battle that found the band at its most majestic and powerful, and Reid at the height of his abilities. The closing prayer, “Shalimar the trumpets chorused / angels wholly all shall take / Those alive will meet the prophets / Those at peace shall see their wake” is among his most moving and vivid poetry
“Home,” however, was not for a mass audience. Trower exited after “Broken Barricades,” and the band’s fan base and critical stock both diminished, and A&M’s enthusiasm for the band waned after the uneven “Exotic Birds and Fruit” tanked, sales-wise. (Brooker has reconvened several times since with different musicians, most successfully on last year’s fine “The Well’s on Fire,” which reunited him temporarily with Fisher.)
Perhaps more than any of their other albums, “Home” demonstrated how powerful Procol Harum could be musically, and how unique Reid made their songs lyrically. Unfortunately, it also is a prime example of why that unique subject matter prevented the band from earning a mass audience and doomed it to cult status.
(Thanks, Greg, for sourcing, typing, and getting premission to quote)
Further reviews of this album
Reviews of other Procol Harum albums