Like myself you probably already own the original vinyl release of Procol Harum's first album. You also probably bought it again on CD, when it became available in this format, this time with A Whiter Shade of Pale as a bonus track. And last year Repertoire re-issued the album on CD once more, and added several new bonus tracks. And you probably bought it again. You simply had to have those bonus tracks.
A few months later, and Westside's Anniversary box hit the stores. Procol Harum's first four albums on two CDs and a third CD completely filled with singles and alternate takes. A new stereo version of AWSoP was expected to be the most exciting track on this compilation. I bet most of you hurried to spend your money on this release as well.
So like myself, you now probably have four versions of Procol Harum's first album. Then Westside releases the Procol Harum ... Plus! CD. Another re-issue of the first album, now with ten more bonus tracks. The question is: Should you buy it?
'Beyond the Pale' takes another look at this album, and
tries to answer that question.
I had been eagerly waiting for the Procol Harum ... Plus! CD to arrive. At first it was rumoured to feature a newly-found stereo versions of all those glorious songs. A rumour like this can easily make every Procoholic tremble with joy. Then it was realized that the stereo tracks were fakes, but there would be some really interesting bonus tracks, including sessions with Harrison / Royer. As Roland Clare reported in his BtP review, there proved to be some uncertainties associated with some of these versions. But anyhow, it was the bonus tracks I was most excited to hear.
As I was about to leave for a trip in my car when the CD arrived in my mailbox, I brought it with me. And as soon as I hit the road, I put it into my car's CD player with the intention of pulling the 'Next' button ten times to reach the first bonus track. But as Conquistador triumphed to my car's speakers, I hesitated. I had never heard that recording with such a brilliance. And the bass was crisp and punchy. You could even hear the bass drum clearly. For the first time my car's subwoofer was brought to life on that record.
I continued to listen, and listened with excitement through all the album's original tracks. All curiosity about the bonus tracks was completely forgotten. The sound was just fantastic! And the familiar tape hiss as the bass drum introduced Repent Walpurgis was completely gone.
I guess you have observed by yourselves that the Repertoire release had a better sound than previous releases, and the Westside box was even better in this respect. But the sound of the Procol Harum ... Plus! CD outperforms these with a big margin. It is said that this is because a new master tape was found and used, a tape being one generation 'older' than the one used on the Westside box. I never imagined one generation could have such an effect on sound-quality. No wonder many modern CD reissues of old recordings have a disappointing sound-quality. Some of them are even 'mastered' from the old vinyl records.
In my opinion Procol Harum's first songs have survived through time and still seem remarkably fresh, but with this new CD it sounds like a recording (although in mono) made in the nineties.
The bonus tracks? They are covered elsewhere on this website. If you are a Procoholic and completist like myself, you will need them. But if you simply love the music of one of Procol Harum's best albums, you should buy the Procol Harum ... Plus! for the sheer experience of the improved sound quality.
Should you buy it? In my opinion you should run to your local record store, or visit one of the online music stores to get your copy.
Westside warns us not to expect a similar quantum leap in sound quality with their next 'Plus' versions of Shine On Brightly, A Salty Dog and Home. But they do promise some exciting bonus tracks. BtP will report on these as soon as they come available.
Order this CD from Amazon USA - or from Amazon UK