In 1973, four years after producing Procol Harum's epic A Salty Dog, Matthew Fisher finally made good on his promise and released his début solo album. He'd been responsible for establishing and expanding the group's keyboard-based classical sound (Fisher primarily played the Hammond organ) as well as singing a handful of tunes.
It was his mesmerizing Bach-like organ motif that had so much to do with the success of A Whiter Shade of Pale (yet he received no songwriting credit!). Many were expecting this album to be a dense classic-rock offering like his former group. They were wrong.
The album, while keyboard-oriented, is in a more straightforward, pop-rock style, though Fisher still pulls out a haunting instrumental passage or just plain instrumental here and there (the light, electric piano-based Interlude, the Procol-like Hammond-led Separation and Journey's End [Part 2] ). The opener, Suzanne, is a bouncy pop-rocker with Fisher's reed-like tenor effectively out front. He'd become quite an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, playing everything here but strings, horns, drums and bass. His lead guitar break is no competition for Robin Trower, but it is an unexpected treat. The next track, Going For A Song, a lovely ballad, is obviously a rant about being asked to perform Whiter Shade. One of the most effective tracks is the John Lennon-esque Hard To Be Sure. While not purely classical, it mixes Procol-like instrumentation (keyboards, strings) with echoey Imagine-styled Lennon vocals.
Journey's End is somewhat of a song cycle as Fisher starts with Suzanne, moves on to past friends (Procol Harum in Going For A Song), loss (Separation), doubt (Hard To Be Sure) and another love (Marie, one more enchanting ballad), finally ending up with more swipes at his former bandmates on Journey's End [Part 1].
Comparisons could be made with Brian Wilson / The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Though this album is often brilliant, it never quite flies to those creative heights (what does?).
I'll Be There, released the next year, while not the minor masterwork of its predecessor, was a solid nine-track collection it its own right. Some tracks, such as the opener It's Not Too Late (a riff-driven rocker), are raw and don't display the meticulously layered compositions [sic] of Journey's End. On this second album, however, Fisher, while still playing the multi-instrumentalist, incorporates a full band on most tracks. It's So Easy is a toe-tapping Beatles-esque rocker. Cold Harbour Lane is a mid-tempo folk-rocker that weaves a Bob Dylan harmonica into a bare-bones Byrds / Beatles-styled backdrop. Elton John is evoked on the exquisite piano-led Not Her Fault, as Fisher builds with strings, brass and double-tracked vocals and then throws in a Procol-styled Hammond break.
As much as Fisher tried to swerve away from the sound of his former band, to fill out his arrangements he would take a pinch of the classical church organ that made up so much of Procol Harum's early sound. It always works, whatever the style of the song, probably because of Fisher's superior capability as a composer / arranger. There is no mistaking the songwriting as pure Fisher, however. Fisher's solo titles, for the first time on CD, will be a welcome addition to any Procol fan's collection. First-time listeners will be especially impressed with Journey's End.