Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol's Ninth

Contemporary album review


Tony Stewart in New Musical Express, 16 August 1975

Procol Ė forward into the 60s: PROCOL HARUM, Procolís Ninth (Chrysalis)

Procol Harum should have made this album seven years ago.

It sounds very much like a 60s release. Quite why the band decided to do this escapes me, at present. On many of the tracks, there's either a technique of production, perhaps a snatch of organ, or even a guitar line thatís reminiscent of those times Ė but quite why Procol should have decided to try for this kind of sound escapes me. Though, of course, during the 60s, Procol were in full commercial flight, and arguably one of the bands around.

Things, of course, have slipped since then.

The inclusion of Lennon and McCartneyís Eight Days A Week (set at a slower pace) and Leiber and Stollerís rather good rock song, I Keep Forgetting also help create the atmosphere of a decade ago.

But even several of Procolís own compositions, particularly The Unquiet Zone, Typewriter Torment and The Final Thrust (my own favourite) project similar aura.

Because the band seems to have found a more positive direction from this particular source of inspiration, however, they have almost managed to move away from the major musical themes which dominated so much of their recorded work.

Without A Doubt echoes the thematic structure of, say, Whaling Stories, and it is the only track that recalls their earlier work [all sic!].

But the change in composition style has not altered the playing style to an unrecognisable degree, even though Jerry Leiber and Mike Stollerís production has brought out various facets to a greater extent than previously, occasionally detrimentally.

For instance, the vocals of Gary Brooker and his piano playing are predominant throughout the set, and great care has been taken to ensure he continually sounds at his absolute best in both areas.

This means the use of echo on his voice to make it appear heís hitting the higher notes Ė which is a device Procol have used in the past. A Whiter Shade Of Pale being one of the earliest illustrations of this.

More innovatory though is the power of the rhythm tracks, and the reliance on drummer BJ Wilson and bassist Alan Cartwright to carry through several numbers (particularly on the second side). And when aligned to the regular guitar fills and excellent lead work of Mick Grabham this is most certainly revealed as a tonal quality which hasnít been exploited well previously.

The unfortunate repercussion is that Chris Coppingís appearances astride his organ are too seldom [sic], and the instrument lacks its usual bite (witness Typewriter Torment).

Secondly the synthesised strings used at various junctures are weak and virtually made redundant by the production Ė so removing that symphonic quality so often prevalent in the bandís overall sound.

And this is a dangerous game, as quite a lot of Procolís appeal lies in these very two characteristics.

Nonetheless the album is good on a musical level, with such pieces as Foolís Gold ample evidence that their new approach can succeed. The only real, significant blemishes (apart from Keith Reidís words see below) come with the lethargic The Piperís Tune, and the cacophonous instrumentation of Torment.

The lyrics, however, are a different bucket of whale bait.

Itís be easier if I just say the humour on Torment is good (even though no Souvenir Of London as it was obviously intended), and both Pandoraís Box and Taking The Time work in their own way.

The other five sets of lyrics leave me cold, and if it hadnít been for the excellence of Brookerís vocals and the musical settings, Reidís shortcomings would have been considerably more apparent.

But, with that reservation, Procolís Ninth is still a good album of music, indicating more positiveness [sic] than Exotic Birds And Fruit ever did. 


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