Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum 1967

Reviewed at Progarchives by Conor Fynes

(Two stars out of five) 1967 is arguably one of the most important years ever to the development of rock music. With albums like the indomitable Sgt. Peppers along with Pink Floyd and Hendrix's débuts coming out, rock was becoming less so much about giving youth a volatile musical alternative, and coming on its own as a valid means of expression. Along with the incredible albums I have already mentioned, UK art rock act Procol Harum's début came out, and while it may hold a place in history for contributing to the development of rock as an art form, it is significantly less enjoyable an album that [sic] the others. In fact, Procol Harum – for all of its influence – is a fairly irritating album to my ears, providing a collection of maudlin songs, of which a few are fairly memorable, but the majority amount to sappy art pop tunes that tends to have me think I do not like this band.

The two most important tracks are the first two that come up on the newer release of the album. When Procol Harum first came out, the  [sic] left the best track A Whiter Shade Of Pale off the record (for the sake of selling singles, one might surmise [unless one knew the chronology]) but the new edition is clever enough to start the record off on its best note; an organ driven ballad that takes more than a few notes from Bach. A Whiter Shade of Pale is one of the band's best known songs, so it comes as something of an irony that the central idea that surrounds  [?] the song is derived from JS Bach's compositions. All the same, the band is lauded for incorporating classical music into the rock format, and there are some very poetic lyrics here, although the vocals of Gary Brooker can get a little strained when he tries to hit the high notes of the chorus. Then there is Conquistador, a more upbeat track that I have previously heard to death on FM radio, and didn't care for too much. It is a memorable track however, although I cannot say that I find myself particularly enthused when it rolls around.

The rest of the tracks invoke Procol Harum's baroque pop, vaudeville theme, and while there is certainly intelligence to the music (and especially the profound lyrics) here, Procol Harum seems to try far too hard at plucking the heartstrings here; the songs are overly maudlin, saccharine, 'sappy'. The instrumentation is functional, although the keyboards are certainly the highlight of the sound here, always taking the stage towards the album's greatest moments. Brooker's voice is quite nice when he sings in the lower ranges, but he really throws off his delivery once he gets up towards the high notes.

For an album that is considered by some to be a masterpiece of early prog rock, it is somewhat disappointing that the most memorable and beautiful things that Procol Harum have  [sic] to offer are taken straight from the work of Bach, rather than from the band's own innovation. Granted, the band does do things here that weren't heard before this record came out, but in terms of the actual execution and enjoyment of this début, to call it 'lacking' would be a good start.

More about this album | Procol Harum reviews

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