Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Something Magic • Salvo

The final 2009 reissue reviewed online at Head Full of Snow

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In 1977, ten years on from A Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Harum delivered what was to be their last album for 14 years. Only lead vocalist, pianist and songwriter Gary Brooker remained from that original AWSoP line-up, along with the lyricist Keith Reid (BJ Wilson joining on drums after the hit was recorded).

Something Magic is a fitting end to what began in 1967, seeing Procol Harum return to form following the vaguely disappointing Procol’s Ninth, with a triumphant decisive blast of the progressive, symphonic rock they had made their own over the course of a decade.

The first six tracks (the original A-side) are virtually without fault, with title track Something Magic starting the proceedings in suitably majestic style. A live version of this song, recorded in 2006 with full accompaniment from the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir, appears on the DVD bundled with the Procol Harum anthology All This and More, and it’s safe to say that the song has lost none of its dramatic power over the years.

Skating On Thin Ice sees bassist Chris Copping’s only songwriting credit in seven albums, with his orchestration of the gentle waltz that weaves its way through what is a flawless example of Procol Harum at their sophisticated best. Both Wizard Man and The Mark of the Claw keep things moving until Strangers in Space, a yearning slice of prog rock in its classic sense, complete with deep space atmospherics from the glide-pedal of incoming organist Pete Solley.

The B-Side of the original album contains just the one song The Worm & The Tree, a spoken-word musical suite split into three parts and made up of seven “verses” and an instrumental epilogue. Unfortunately it isn’t on a par with Procol Harum’s previous stab at a work of this length, In Held 'Twas in I from 1968’s Shine on Brightly. It lacks the diversity and sheer audaciousness of that particular founding father of the progressive movement, and though it may be in keeping with Keith Reid’s usual abstract surrealism, in this context, to paraphrase a line from In Held 'Twas in I, “The words he uses are pretentious,” and frankly, Gary Brooker sounds bored reciting them.

But as I said, the flawless first side more than makes up for this slight lapse, and it’s safe to say that following Procol’s Ninth, Procol Harum were exciting again.

Something Magic was a jubilant return to the dizzying form of Grand Hotel. Unfortunately it was to be shortlived, as, following the album’s promotional tour, the band split. Brooker and Reid would regroup in 1991, along with former key members Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher, for the album Prodigal Stranger, and Procol Harum, complete with Gary Brooker, are still performing to this day.

Something Magic brings to a close Salvo’s reissuing of the original Procol Harum back catalogue (with a little help from Fly Records and Strongman), and what a journey it’s been. A fantastically packaged one at that. May other record labels take note that this is the only way to reissue albums, with due respect for both the original artist and the record-buyer at home

The three bonus tracks included feature  the B-side to the Wizard  Man single, Backgammon, and two previously unreleased live tracks: You’d Better Wait and This Old Dog.

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