Reviewed by Al "One-Eye" Edelist
The Question? Why do Procoholics and Palers feel So Far Behind?
Twenty-six years, two studio albums and a readaptation in 1996 called The Long Goodbye. After another 12-year wait for a new compilation of fresh compositions, this might be considered the Third Testament -- or since I have always viewed the transition after Edmonton as the Second Testament, perhaps this is the Fourth Testament.
Over the past six-plus years, we have thankfully had Redhill, The Barbican, St. Mary and All Saints Church, Guildford, Manchester, and Croydon. Additionally, we have had BTP, conventions, Paler Parties, The Palers' Project, and The Beanstalk that has provided a lifeline to create many friendships to discuss and reminisce about over 40 years of Paramounts and Procol Harum history in person and through the Internet.
Well, The World Is Rich, and it is now ours again!
Some have felt Shadow Boxed; some Fellow Travellers. All of us hoping in The Blink Of An Eye that we will be invited once again to The VIP Room.
Well, Every Dog Must Have His Day, so let’s put on A Robe Of Silk and check out the fit of The Emperor's New Clothes.
We enter this presentation with (An) Old English Dream (Ten Thousand Souls), played to us for the first time ever in Croydon last year. This version is considerably more polished. Gary has brought a slight change in his vocal offering, and MAF intersperses a more fluid Hammond. This song is pure Procol; beautiful piano and stunning bass lines. The drumming is powerful with just enough spiritual BJ touches. Upbeat guitar with exquisite melodic interplay. A real prize!
The first time I heard the clip for Shadow Boxed, I thought of Elton John/Billy Joel. To me it is a single in their vein, but pure Procol. A Learn To Fly, Toujours L’Amour, Still There’ll Be More rocker. Just take the ride.
Did we ever believe we would hear the 'Diaspora' A Robe Of Silk? Here it is, and better than I could have imagined. It is Procol '67-'69 and right out of the A Salty Dog era. It begins with the recognizable She Wandered Through The Garden Fence drum intro. Geoff brings back memories of the tasty Trower The Milk Of Human Kindness guitar, and MAF rolls out the perfect Baroque Hammond that reminds me of those salty-air evenings when PH played the Santa Monica Civic a few blocks from the Pacific. What a treat! I almost didn’t make it to the next song.
We will never forget 9/11, and here is Keith’s memory. Very peaceful, early Procol Hammond sets a tone for remembrance. The Blink Of An Eye does make us recall that fateful morning that set the world into mourning. Geoff brings a slightly off-balance sound that compels us to focus on the hate and misunderstandings that make some act out. Yet sometimes when we feel invincible, we learn how quickly someone can come along and "pull the rug out from under our feet." Kind of a New Lamps For Old, or, perhaps, an old lamp for new, and, perhaps to remember some Old Manhattan Melodies.
We have all been to The VIP Room at some point in our lives. Now we have Procol’s entry. Nicely quirky and bluesy, yet rockin with great slide guitar. A little Memorial Drive and definitely Paramounts.
The World Is Rich (For Stephen Maboe) teaches us to respect what we and others in our world don’t have. Its major/minor and sus 4ths and diminished chords set a tone for how unbalanced we are as a universe. "The world is rich, but it is not mine!" How powerful is that! The Thin End Of The Wedge! We are in flux.
Something right out of a Fisher/Brooker solo effort. Bluesy and jazzy, The Question reminds me of what might also come from "No Stiletto Shoes" or perhaps a Clapton, Winwood, Sting sound. Yet it is this Procol arrangement brings more memories of where it all started, The Paramounts.
"While Handel plays his melody…" Fellow Travellers is Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga (Leave Me To Languish), 3:4 retimed to 4:4. The spiritual tones of Hammond and bass bring to mind AWSoP, Homburg, The Long Goodbye, Within Our House, and For Liquorice John or a Mr Blue Day and She Knows Me. Keith inspires us to join together and help guide each other to a better life.
With Keith’s awareness of the turmoil and low pulse of the economy as a resident of Manhattan, The Wall Street Blues spells out how bad it is. The world is taking a beating. We hear and feel that interplay as Gary rolls out some quirky piano during the bridge in this funky rocker. A Playmate Of The Mouth, Fool’s Gold, and All our Dreams Are Sold, if you will.
From the majestic and sultry first notes of The Emperor's New Clothes to the dramatic and soft yet regal drumming, we hear Mark replicate feelings of A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel. This is Procol drama and elegance. Procol is not Skating On Thin Ice! This tune glides passionately through cerebral terrains. Slightly waltz and deep in structure.
From the opening synth or soundgate drums to the Pandora’s Box (marimba), So Far Behind is so far ahead of what we remember having heard at Guildford. It mystifies me that this song expanded into a real rollicking and playful arrangement. With magnificent rhythmic changes Mark plays the song, and we experience some of our closest reminders of the spirit of BJ for the second song in a row. Added to this rendition is the long-lost second verse, which is now the final one. Once again MAF gives us a playful visage that Chris "The Professor" Copping continued during his Hammond run. Geoff melds in a perfect ensemble Procol guitar.
Am I Drunk Again? No, Every Dog Must Have His Day! With a combo Memorial Drive and Power Failure conclusion, no Fresh Fruit here! Rover is back and angrier, but more in control. This rocker again brings back some Paramounts memories.
Track 13! It has finally arrived! Palers and Procoholics are crying with joy! If you ever wanted to hear a newly recorded Procol Harum epic, this is it. MAF has captured the power and sincerity of Stoke Poges, Grand Finale, the concluding bars of Robert’s Box, and the final and softer concluding portions of Epilogue and The Pursuit Of Happiness. Three passages lead us through The Signature Procol Harum instrumental with a combination of sweetness and power. Beautifully played, it doesn’t get any better than this with the spinning Leslie providing the concluding tones.
The Well’s On Fire is a complete offering and a contemporary recording of a collection that does not sacrifice The Signature band sound. All Procol Harum and Paramounts-tinged styles are represented. It is well-balanced, well-played, and wonderfully produced by Rafe McKenna. There are no Wall Street Blues here!
Gary’s voice and keyboarding are perfect. Matthew is astonishing. Geoff proves he is an ensemble guitarist, and one who we already know can stretch out leads with danger during live performances. Matt brings bass tones and fluidity that create underpinnings of strength. Mark shows that he can recapture proper moments of remembrance of BJ without sacrificing his individuality. Keith gives us relevant topics of thought and humor, and he brings back many familiar words and phrases throughout this collection. As a transplanted New Yorker, it is evident that his words/poems are statements of the conditions of our present era. And yet we continue to experience the vitality of what was present at genesis of Procol Harum.
I have always hoped since hearing the title of this album that it meant (or means) that The Well’s On Fire and full of more than these thirteen new additions to their catalogue. I hope this is not the Journey‘s End.
I am reliving (An) Old English Dream and hopefully many more!
With "One Eye on The Future," see you all in Lewisham, Milton Keynes, The Bottom Line, and The IMAC.
Procol Harum albums