Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Something Magic • Salvo

Personal response to the final 2009 reissue from Fred Schröter

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Is Something Magic indeed something magic or is this Procol Harum's late lament?

The original album contains four songs on side A and a story set to music on side B: all in all just over 36 minutes of very pleasant music.

Wizard Man, which first appeared on a later English edition, seems very out of place in the middle of side A. Of course it could not follow The Worm and the Tree, because it lacked the same musical quality.

However, it is no match for any of the songs on side A too and I cannot imagine there would have been “a single- release quality” in the song, not if you compare it to the likes of Homburg, A Salty Dog and even Grand Hotel.

On any modern CD it would not have been misplaced as a hidden track after a long pause. Only people that do not eject the CD immediately after the last song would be able to discover this song.

But to put it in the middle of side A ...

Compared to Procol's Ninth this is again something completely different.

Something Magic, Skating on Thin Ice, The Mark of the Claw and Strangers in Space belong to the better Procol songs. They have such friendly melodies and are a pleasure for the ears, both from a lyrical and musical point of view. Again a record ahead of its time. There is some early English new age in Strangers in Space. The Mark of the Claw's ending with sounds of creaking (prison) doors does remind me of The Dead Man's Dream ending, especially in the Copping Brothers' video version.

Then there is that story about the worm which has some great music written for it. The second time Gary voiced Keith's text without singing (the first time happened on Shine on Brightly) but this time considerably longer. Surprising, I must say.

On the Salvo re-issue it sounds certainly better than the English Chrysalis vinyl pressing. The original record I own was pressed by Deutsche Grammophone and it does not sound better than that edition. (By the way, the original continental Procol's Ninth was also pressed by Deutsche Grammophone.)

The Worm and the Tree (hereafter affectionately called “The Worm”) contains great keyboard parts and the organ sounds quite different from the way Chris Copping played it. But then again, Pete Solley is another kind of keyboard wizard.

The Worm is such a great composition. And one can sometimes wonder if this is actually “The Story of Procol Harum”. The new life perhaps being the solo career of Gary or a life without being afraid of plane crashing or singing SoB's Rambling On. Or is it predicting the second life of Procol Harum? Or is it about Keith's successful song writing for people other than his former Procol mates....

Or is it about disbanding Procol which gives Gary, BJ, Chris, Keith and Mick new opportunities to pursue a new career in music (‘For from the roots of the elder a new life will spread’)? Robin Trower showed it can be done.

The Worm is such an elegantly-written and -arranged piece of music. There are those great organ, piano, synthesiser and orchestral parts. They are solidly accompanied by BJ, Chris and Mick. It is refined and if you take the original album as a whole it is very cleverly sequenced, intentionally or unintentionally.

That is the problem with putting Wizard Man in the middle of the first four songs. Although on early albums there were Mabel and ’Twas Teatime which seemed very out of place in the order of the album (they did disappoint me and a lot of Procol fans I knew at that time), but eventually they earned their particular place in their album's sequence. Wizard Man does not and will never do so. Because it is really out of place on this record.

Salvo’s Something Magic CD reissue makes it possible to play two records: the full first edition of the original album and if you like something with other tempi an EP consisting of Wizard Man and Backgammon with two bonus live tracks. You will notice that you have two records sounding as different as different can be different, and all for the price of one.

This is music as music ought to sound! If I read the notes that accompany this CD, I conclude that all the trouble with producers Ron and Howie Albert created the right atmosphere to make a wonderful record. It is a perfect example of how great music must sound. It is not over-produced: the orchestra is sketching a perfect background for the pictures drawn by Procol.

Of course all these thoughts and interpretations are entirely mine and may be far from the truth. But  the fact remains that it is a great record and the fact that the words compel you to think about what is actually being stated with them makes it even greater.

This is one of the great achievements of Procol Harum. To make music that is not only sounding good after thirty or forty years, but still invites the listener to toy with Keith's texts and try to grasp the meaning.

This is a highly enjoyable record and belongs to the best of the post-Home era. The Worm is Gary's own Peter and The Wolf-story, and as a narrator he is not sounding bored, as someone states in an earlier review; perhaps he sounds hesitating (‘will this work for our fans?’), but he is telling a story and does so in a clear and calm voice, and we are not used to that, not from Gary, that is.

Another point is, the storytelling sounds better on the vinyl edition, the intonation comes across better and the voice sounds more powerful than on the remastered Salvo edition.

Imagine The Worm being used in a classroom to teach pupils to listen;  and as an assignment, to let them write in their own words the story they have just heard. You are likely to get many different stories.

Imagine your favourite pop-group taking part in education!

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