This is the one re-issue I've been
waiting for but there is a bit of a problem: not many other Procoholics will
agree with me, but this the best record of 'The Chrysalis Era'. As a fan, or
better adept, from the very first we heard of them I enjoyed their use of
lyrics that fit perfectly with the music.
After Live, Grand Hotel
and Exotic Birds & Fruit here was again an album that used all
the instruments for creating an atmosphere, just as they did during the
Regal Zonophone era. Although if Procol, or rather Gary and Keith, had a say
in it all the effects might differ from the choices made by Leiber and
Stoller, according to Roland's extended liner notes. But they chose not to
do the production themselves, but to turn to the people of whom, in the
early days Gary and BJ covered so many compositions. Leiber and Stoller's
achievement was that you did not hear all instruments all of the time. Thus
the sound improved and it was less tiring to hear this record than its two
predecessors. If you play all the Brooker/Reid compositions and leave out
the two covers, which is nowadays easily done on any CD player, than you
hear a Procol album consisting of eight great songs.
Starting off with Pandora's Box
and ending with Typewriter Torment. And indeed, this record
opened up Pandora's box: the first Procol album including two (!) covers. It
was unheard of Procol to do so. And why on earth did they turn to
compositions by others? Did this indicate writer's block?
One can argue whether the production
should have allowed more organ, should have gone easy on brass. But that is
neither here nor there. There are eight compositions of which the music was
written by Gary and the lyrics are definitely Keith's. There is nothing
Leiber or Stoller about those songs. There are eight great songs that invite
the listener to make up his own mind as to what is meant by the lyrics.
Again opening Pandora's box, for the listener again has to think and that is
quite different from the two predecessors which had much more easily
accessible lyrics than Ninth.
One has to remember that it is easy
for a lyricist to state that what we, the listeners hear, or better our
interpretation of what we hear, has not been his intention – after he has
heard the arguments of the listener. This is the same for many authors of
great works of literature and their readers. But when asked they never share
with you what they really meant. And yes, they are the only people
who exactly know the meaning of their lyrics or their great work of
literature. But we combine what we read with our own experiences and
emotions and then give an explanation of what we think we heard or read. And
that is what literature is about, isn't it? It is exactly the same with song
lyrics. They are poems set to music and adapted to fit into the musical
background. Thus sometimes we repeat a verse and call it 'refrain' or
'chorus'. So whatever Keith says the song is about, you must not believe him
but make up you own mind about what it possibly could mean for you.
That has always been the attractive
side of Procol Harum, the combination of words and music and the journey to
discover what was meant by the song. They have such a good wordsmith that
after 42 years we are still wondering what A Whiter Shade of Pale is
all about. Because the text is so cleverly written that it keeps inviting us
to ascertain the deeper meaning of it all. Generation after generation. And
that is what Procol's Ninth is all about. Listen to the music, listen
to the lyrics, do not bother about those two covers. Just listen, because
that is what makes Procol worth being a fan of.
Is The Poet (Without a
Doubt) really about writer's block and is Typewriter Torment
really about Gary being fed up with playing keyboards? Or is it describing
his addiction to playing keyboards? Must be a terrible ordeal if a doctor is
needed. And is Taking the Time perhaps about Gary's intention to do
something and putting it off to tomorrow, as he once stated in interview as
being one of his problems? (interview with Gary after the release of
Echoes in the Night). And is Fool's Gold about saying sorry to
Matthew Fisher in reply to the complaints about the early days of Procol
that he made on his solo album, Journey's End? This was stated in a
piece in the periodical Oor by Constant Meijers, another great Procol
fan and also the then editor of this periodical.
The contrast to all this lies in the
cover versions on this album, of which the meaning are so clear that you do
not need the go deep into the meaning of the lyrics: they are just good
songs, one with a lot of humour in it and the other straightforward. But to
use this as an indication of a supposed writer's block ... Just because you
have to listen to the lyrics and you can make up all sorts of explanations,
of which the origin can be found in the record as it was released, including
the two covers that is (are they really an indication of writer's block or
did they just go for something completely different?). Is Without a Doubt
really about Keith's and maybe Gary's writer's block? Choose your own
And is the meaning of The Final
Thrust about this being the last record of Procol Harum, or is it a song
about not giving in, and thrusting forward and producing something magic
like in the earlier days?
And then there are questions like
“Why was the only hit Pandora's Box, an old composition from the
early days?” Or was Pandora's Box the opening song to warn us all of
what was to come in all those other songs? Did those songs contain Procol's
plagues released from Pandora's box? You can make all sorts of explanations
without ever hitting the real meaning, and that is what makes this Procol
record such fun. Although not so much fun as the lyrics of A Salty Dog
(the song). But still very enjoyable.
This is a Procol album in optima
forma which brings back memories of the early days, with those mystical
lyrics that makes you wonder what it is all about. It was not the first
album with a little bit less prominent organ, nor would it be the last.
Although I am a great fan of Matthew Fisher's organ playing, Home is
for me the best album of the Regal Zonophone era and Ninth the best
of the post-Broken Barricades era.
The touring for this album was the
last time Procol Harum performed in the Netherlands, in December 1975, as BJ
put it during the concert: they played Father Christmas and treated
us to a set where they accompanied Frankie Brickyard Blues Miller.
They did that with great enthusiasm, compared to the rest of the
performance. There was a huge difference between the way they played the
songs from Ninth and those on the record. It was a wall of sound and
I disliked it very much. Ninth was a welcome change from the sound of
Grand Hotel and its follow-up. I still consider these records the
worst they ever made, with Exotic Birds & Fruit the absolute worst,
although there was during that period one great track, Fires (Which
Burnt Brightly), that remains high on my favourites list.