Ron Cooper in Zabadak No 10, July 1993
Procol Harum The Prodigal Stranger, BMG Zoo: this album saw the majestic return of Procol Harum with their classic line-up (except for BJWilson) of Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower.
After Procol's tenth album Something Magic, released in 1977 at the height of Punk, they called it a day, that is until this release. In the intervening foureten years the many solo discs by Matthew Fisher, Gary Brooker, and Robin Trower have kept fans busy . Photos of the quartet appear on the album cover (though it was a pity it wasn't a group photo). Reid and Brooker wrote all the songs with some help from (depending on which track) M Noble, M Fisher (four), C Thompson, and R Trower.
The Truth Won't Fade Away makes a great start to the album even though it resembles Bruce Hornsby & The Range with the arrangement and piano sound. Henry Spinetti (who was in the Herd for a while) does the drumming.
Things get even better with the gospel Holding On which contains some heartfelt vocals by Brooker and soulful female backing by Maggie Ryder and Miriam Stockley [sic]. Nice production touches of electric piano, organ, and guitar. Gary Brooker sounds like his hero Ray Charles.
Man With A Mission has a typical AOR opening with strong guitar. Brooker sings about the prodigal stranger. A little ordinary. (You Can't) Turn Back The Page has Fisher's beautiful organ playing throughout and shimmering violins are presented just before a fine set of lyrics: 'The judgement's been set, The jury retired, The court's now in recess, The plea's been denied'. One of the best tracks.
One More Time is AOR and has plenty of backing vocals: excellent track with a great guitar solo from Robin Trower (reminds of Jimmy Barnes). A Dream In Ev'ry Home has again Bruce Hornsby-type electric piano frills but never made boring because of the omnipresent organ. A great vocal from Brooker on this sad song. Keeps to the consistent ambience since the album's opening.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle sounds like Peter Gabriel and nice to hear the Hammond emerging. The King Of Hearts has an atmospheric opening of electric piano, organ, and guitar. Excellent backing and Reid's interesting lyrics 'Yes I played the King of Hearts, Put my cards .out on the table, I thought the odds were in my favour, But she laid the Ace of Spades'.
All our Dreams Are Sold has a gutsy atmospheric Pink Floyd-style opening with Trower's guitar work shining (he helped write this). Brooker shows that his voice is just as soulful (or as croaky) as Joe Cocker's. The heaviest number on the album with some fierce drumming.
Perpetual Motion: gentle opening on this beautiful number with some soothing organ and beautiful piano: 'Ships out on a moonlit ocean, sailing t'ward distant shore' as you sway to the organ and drums; lovely number.
Learn To Fly: up-tempo AOR made more interesting by Brooker's voice. Instrumentation rolls along as one and there goes that ethereal organ (Fisher co-wrote). The Pursuit Of Happiness: great lyrical interpretation by Brooker describing our never-ending quest for happiness over tasteful organ, guitar and drumming.
The album was recorded in five studios: The Loft (Bronxville NY), The Stone Room (London), Black Barn (Surrey UK), Old Barn (South Croydon UK), Battery Studios (NY). No expense spared for this remarkable album. The only criticism is that in places it should have been a little more adventurous.
Was actually both mine and Aicha's favourite album of 1992. Matthew Fisher seemed reasonably happy with the album and this is from a man who is very self critical, and of his solo albums as well, though he thought his 1981 solo album Strange Days was his best solo effort. Sadly Barrie Wilson their drummer could't be with them as he had died under very tragic circumstances after a long illness. Some nice words are written on the album sleeve: 'This album is dedicated to Barrie James (BJ) Wilson who will always be with us'.
9½ marks out of 10.
Thanks to Sam Cameron, who sent this to BtP. He adds, 'If you don't know who Ron Cooper is: he lives in the South of France, writes you notes on squared paper, has Dave Dee et al as his favourite band and is allegedly a mate of Matthew Fisher'.
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