Procol Harum: Procol's Ninth; Gary Wright: Dream Weaver – reviewed by Ken Barnes in Creem, November 1975
AFTER EIGHT albums with only minor format variations, Procol Harum seemed to be a predictable institution that may have outlived its usefulness.
I started losing interest with Broken Barricades' incipient Hendrixisms (transmuted by the long-departed Robin Trower into three albums of progressively denser sludge). The live orchestral album bored me, and the next two on Chrysalis kindled occasional flickers of interest not sufficient to replay the albums. Chart figures indicated that my waning ardor was a not untypical reaction, and on their ninth album even the group shows rudimentary awareness of the problem. They've allowed the legendary Leiber-Stoller team to produce, and have included their first two non-original tracks – both of which (a Leiber-Stoller song called I Keep Forgetting and the Beatles' Eight Days a Week) are more to be praised for conception than performance.
Despite the less-than-incandescent cover versions and a largely formulaic and monotonous first side, Procol's Ninth is an encouraging album. Intermittent flashes of pop or R&B flavoring indicate increased versatility, and a three-song stretch on side two, sandwiched between the outside compositions, is as strong a musical block as anything in the group's last five years – powerful, stately rockers with appealing melody lines. Typewriter Torment is actually catchy and were its subject more universally relevant might be the miraculous Leiber-Stoller hit single coup (cf. Stealers Wheels Stuck in the Middle) the group needs to escape their profitable but stagnating progressive pigeonhole. Promising.
Gary Wright is teamed with Procol here because of similar late 60s' British background (Spooky Tooth for Wright, who's actually an American) and a shared fondness for keyboards. Wright is really obsessed with them – he informs us that everything on his album except drums, vocals, and one guitar track was performed by keyboards. As it turns out, he's contrived it so that the keyboards sound just like the absent bass, guitar and strings would have had they been employed instead.
Apart from this remarkable effect, Wright's album is impressive – he writes straightforward songs with strong choruses and memorable riffs. Set off with austere pseudo-strings, it's a rather fascinating blend of contemporary R&B and progressive rock. Wright sings well, too, belaying [sic] the falsetto screech which often rendered Spooky Tooth unlistenable. Blind Feeling is the current favorite here, but Dream Weaver is a homogeneous LP with evenly distributed strengths. One man keyboard army exhibitions or not, Gary Wright is worth some attention.