Definitely the most beautifully done, graphically speaking, of any Procol releases ever. Now, I've not seen the first four albums as done by Repertoire, but the last four, just released here in Canada, are real stunners!
1. Exotic Birds and Fruit: this release has brilliant liner notes (as do all four). The disc graphics are low key and elegant; the package is the "digipack" cardboard kind, which make it seem like a little LP cover. there's a booklet in a little pocket inside the cover, and in the booklet are the liners, rare pictures and the lyrics. The graphics overall are sheer perfection and obviously a labour of love, and the inside last two pages of this booklet are simply breathtaking in their graphic beauty; Exotic finally has the full graphics and booklet it always deserved. The bonus tracks are Drunk Again , maybe Mick G's best work with the boys ever, and the single 1976 mix of Samson.
2. Procol's Ninth: here Gary acknowledges what I'd always suspected: Ninth is named after Beethoven's symphony. I always thought the album cover and artwork for Ninth perfect for the modernistic, metallic sound and feel of the production and the songs, but here Repertoire have exploded the inherent potentials of the artwork into a cool, elegant crisp reality. The choice of photos, the lettering, the gorgeous-looking disc are, once again, simply stunning!
And again, the liners, (by Chris Welch) are informative and enthusiastic without being fawning, thereby achieving a nice balance. Believe me, never has there been a more beautiful and perfectly appropriate visual presentation of the rare wonders of that unique, never-before-or-since music of the Ninth, moreover a presentation exactly in keeping with and an extension of the ethos of the original artwork. (I do have a prejudice here: I always thought these to be Keith Reid's most unpretentious. hard-hitting and self-revealing set of lyrics ever.) Interestingly, there's a wonderful mini-panoramic picture of Leiber, Stoller, John Jansen and the boys leaning around the engineering board with everyone looking very relaxed and happy, a picture which possibly contradicts the stories of these sessions we've heard through the years; maybe if Ninth had done better, Procol Harum would've fulfilled the two-album production deal they signed with L &S. Sadly, there are no bonus tracks on this one.
3. Something Magic: finally, (yes, again!) the ugly duckling turns into a swan: the artwork here is also an extension of, a further elaboration on the original work, and for the first time ever Something Magic has received an aquatically warm and beautiful presentation of its shy gifts. I've heard that this is one of Franky Brooker's favourites, and this package presents these Atlantean jewels as never before. After the perhaps nihilistic, or at the least pessimistic, expunging and catharsis of the Ninth, I always felt that Something Magic was a final sweet postcard from the best part of that Keith Reid doppelganger, Mr Procol Harum, and that the message was "Don't ever lose hope, no matter how dark it seems". And coming at the beginning of the new nihilism of the punk, disco and other societal trends of the late seventies on, this couldn't but have seemed hopelessly naive; but of course that's its everlasting charm. The bonus tracks are Backgammon and Wizard Man.
4. Grand Hotel: as with the others, Grand Hotel has received an immaculate presentation, and the lyrics part of the booklet may well present the drawings in a better relationship to the lyrics (scale-wise) than did the original LP booklet. Everything said about the other releases pertains equally to this one, but I've always had an ambivalent relationship to this album, as I was so bitterly disappointed when Dave Ball left the band: I love the band's sound on the Edmonton album, and I believe Dave B to be perhaps the greatest guitarist to come out of the late sixties/early seventies rock who didn't achieve a lasting reputation. This is not to slight Mick G's talents, as I love his work on Exotic, Ninth and Magic. However, I had the pleasure of hearing Ball with PH in June of 1972 play Grand Hotel, Toujours L'Amour and Bringing Home the Bacon, and everyone present was knocked out. The only other time I saw an audience as impressed with previously-unheard material was coincidentally that same year, when Pink Floyd previewed Dark Side of the Moon in Toronto several months before it was released. I've often felt it possible that Gary Brooker was (consciously or unconsciously) designing music, in part, for the players who were going to be playing it (as did Duke Ellington), and the solo spots on Grand Hotel lend themselves to Ball's "wind it tighter and faster style". This is not to slight Mick G's solos, but he was given solos to do that another musician had been playing for months, and which were already recorded when he came on board. Dave Ball believes the tracks on GH to be the same as he soloed on (and he's got some board tapes from his sessions to back up his opinion), though Mick G remembers recording the tracks with the band. In any case, I'll never be completely satisfied with any Grand Hotel release until (a) the bonus tracks are Dave Ball's tracks, and (b) the package includes the original photos of the band with Ball, before they wiped off his tracks and cut off his head (replacing both with Mick G) and (c) Keith's reading of the little poem Sayonara [aka 'Mr Krupp'] is included, as was originally planned. The bonus tracks on this release are the single releases of Grand Hotel and Robert's Box. (By the way, I've a sneaking suspicion that the very last solo on the album is in fact Ball. Listen in the headphones: suddenly, just as the track goes orchestral, there's a change in the sound and one suddenly feels as though one is back in Edmonton: the character of the brief guitar part feels like Ball to me.)
We must be the luckiest fans alive to receive so many great re-releases of the music we love from companies who don't stand to make a great profit from the enterprise: thank you Westside, Castle and Repertoire (though I bet Gary and Keith prefer these Repertoires!).
You can order these CDs from eil.com
More Procol / Brooker re-releases from Repertoire Records
Another review of the same four re-releases