April 2017 • Metal Jazz • online here
One should usually feel guilty about noticing lyrics in rock
music; the words succeed if they don't get in the way. When you lose the
Oxfordian trash of a poet like Keith Reid, though, it makes a difference,
even if the replacement is Pete Brown, so surreally dazzling on Cream's
White Room and Sunshine of Your Love. Procol Harum mainman Gary
Brooker says he and Reid are no longer "in touch."
Hating on suits, speaking for God or dissing the neighbor, Brown tends toward the pedestrian, the pretentious or the jokey these days, but he's not the only factor that renders Novum kinda pale. Procol's last studio album, 2003's resilient The Well's on Fire, featured both Reid and original organist Matthew Fisher – such foundational elements increase the distinctive classical/rock potency, especially considering that Procol lost distinctive guitarist Robin Trower early on to a solo career, and drum marvel BJ Wilson in 1990 to the Grim Reaper. For composing, Brooker now collaborates with organist Josh Phillips, a fine musician and a longtime fan, but often you know just what chord progression will creak around next.
The album's persistent jauntiness has a frail edge; the big ballads get winded just short of grandeur; and Brooker's charmingly strained voice shows wear. Not that Novum (funny title) fails, it just doesn't soar, the exceptions being the funky rocker I Told on You and the easy-thumping boogler Image of the Beast – Manfred/Van drummer Geoff Dunn snaps with an athletic foot from the first track onward. The fluidity and rich tone of reliable guitarist Geoff Whitehorn continues to impress.
A raw, naked Brooker concludes with Somewhen, a weary dedication of eternal love. Little in Procol Harum's history – maybe Too Much Between Us -- has prepared us for that. So we have to figure he's been saving it for last.
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Procol Harum albums