PROCOL HARUM fans found supreme patience rewarding in awaiting their often delayed latest albums. Grand Hotel was the extreme example. But when they broke up 15 years ago, there seemed nothing more to wait for.
But they have re-formed – minus, alas, the great BJ Wilson on drums – and the 12 new songs on Prodigal Stranger seem as music finally down to earth after 15 years out of earshot, evolving in outer space.
A European Tour sold out. The Germans are still fanatical fans, the Americans gave the album rave reviews. What is Prodigal Stranger like?
In Gary Brooker’s compositions, there seems more variety in rhythm and sound texture, more range and energy, more attack. Some are less British and classical, more Pan-American, sometimes with a soul or gospel feel.
Keith Reid’s words are less obscure, sometimes quoting old songs to link with the past.
New drummer Mark Brzezicki keeps things simple, solid and direct.
A track-by-track guided tour, then.
The Truth Won’t Fade Away – Heavy, pounding beat; jangly, gutsy guitar figures. The first of several Brooker piano solos. `We were young, we were brave, we were true, we were strong.’
Holding On – Anti-war song for the 90s. Gripping intro, searing organ chords, African chants. 'The men who play the gods of war, they stand behind the guarded door, religious leaders teaching hate, praise the war and call it fate.’
Man With A Mission – Procol taking on the world. Thudding beat; funky, jazzy piano solo.
You Can’t Turn Back The Page – Matthew Fisher’s first sublime counterpoint on Hammond organ. Middle echoes the Beatles’ Day In The Life.
One More Time – Blues shuffle beat that would grace the BB King Band. Robin Trower’s guitar solo pays him tribute.
A Dream In Ev’ry Home – Nostalgic, soul feel. 'Remember when you felt it first? When you played kiss and tell? The moment that the arrow pierced the pearl inside the shell’.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Rock with acoustic guitars, gospel flavoured chorus.
The King Of Hearts – Risky, gambling love. Dusky, brooding organ.
All Our Dreams Are Sold – Procol become the Trower band again – their best time yet. Song chasing second-time success. Mature, quintessential Trower; whales singing.
Perpetual Motion – Organ above strings, silver as the crescent moon. Romance, the eternal magnet. Quite beautiful.
Learn To Fly – All organ stops out for this stormer as Procol lift off. Jerry Lee Lewis piano solo. 'Learn to fly, where only eagles dare to try, we’re on the wing, we dare to win.’
The Pursuit Of Happiness – A gem. Super composition in rich F sharp. Procol’s habit of reflective-mood last track. Dave Bronze’s fretless bass, Brooker’s simple hook line and Fisher’s glorious counter-melody make it; a superb Trower solo clinches it.
Our competition answers:
Procol played live with a symphony orchestra on stage – TRUE.
Brooker’s instrument: PIANO.
Fisher wore a MONK’S HABIT & COWL on A Whiter Shade of Pale on Top of the Pops.
Competition prize Prodigal Stranger copies go to winners, S.Davy and J.Sturgeon, of Worthing; C.Allen of Southwick, and A.Giocomelli of Sompting.