Procol Harum

the Pale 

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The Well's on Fire

Sagely reviewed online by Billie G Eyeball

Gary Brooker Piano and Vocals
Mark Brzezicki Drums and Percussion
Matthew Fisher Hammond Organ
Matt Pegg Bass
Geoff Whitehorn Guitar
Keith Reid Words

Procol Harum is back. The band's last studio album 1991's The Prodigal Stranger was a self-conscious testimonial to the boomer generation. The songs contained all of the angst but none of the jokes of the Procol Harum of old. Prodigal Stranger was thickly produced. There was little of the stark simplicity and over-the-top grandiosity that was so compelling about the band's early recordings.

The Well's on Fire is a much more casual affair. Included are a few fun songs intricately played with consummate randb verve. Every Dog Will Have Its [sic] Day, (with its catchy refrain Every puppy chews its balls, Lord; Every puppy loves to scratch ), Wall Street Blues, Shadowboxed, The VIP Room are the up-tempo moments. An Old English Dream, Blink of an Eye, Fellow Travellers, Emperor's New Clothes, and The World is Rich are of a serious bent. Fellow Travellers has a melody that shines after a few listens and it could be one of Procol Harum's best anthems. Fisher and Brooker snake melody lines borrowed from Lascia Ch'io Pianga by Handel (according to the credits) around some Reid lyrics. The result has the elevated feel of a Bertolt Brecht beer-hall communal classic. Other quintessential moments occur on Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature), which is awash in swirling gothic organ and piano atmospherics, and topped off with Geoff Whitehorn guitar solos. Classic Procol Harum sprit can also be found on So Far Behind, a verbally playful tune that revels in the kind of love-song cluelessness that will be familiar to many Procol Harum fans.

It's easy to admire An Old English Dream and its end-of-civilization concerns. Same with Emperor's New Clothes. Same with Blink of an Eye. Unfortunately the overall pacing leads to somnambulance. Vindicating the genre are the moving The World is Rich and Fellow Travellers. What's missing is the kind of cinematic, orchestrated drama found all over albums like Home, Broken Barricades, Exotic Birds and Fruit, and A Salty Dog. The songs on The Well's on Fire are closely hewn, carefully crafted, tasteful. A little more satire may have helped. Where are the gluttons, the jaded aristocrats, diseased travelers, crusty sailors? Brooker's voice is as strong as ever. The contrapuntal subtlety shown by the band is amazing. It's nice to hear Matthew Fisher up front in the mix. Brzezicki, Pegg and Whitehorn play like founding members. Trouble is there's a subtle yet distinctive difference between quintessential Procol Harum and, say, Gary Brooker solo material. This album is halfway there. We expect at least one more record from Procol Harum. By hook or by crook.

Reprinted from here with the kind permission of the author, Billie G Eyeball : please visit his page

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