Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum : Bach'n'roll

John McFerrin reviews The Prodigal Stranger

Best song: The Truth Won't Fade Away

Oh ick. You know, contrary to myth, the worst time for prominent 70s art-rock/prog-rock bands wasn't the late 70s, when Punk became the new critical darling and destroyed the reputation of prog. No, the worst time to be a prominent 70s art-rock band was the very early 1990s, when formerly great group after formerly great group dumped all sorts of garbage on to an unwitting populace. Albums such as Union, We Can't Dance, Black Moon, Catfish Rising and whatever make up a virtual Who's-Who list of the more infamous mediocre-to-awful albums of great groups, and alas, The Prodigal Stranger is no exception.

The whole thing basically came about when drummer BJ Wilson died in 1989. Nostalgia, or at least the recognition of the power of nostalgia to generate revenue [sic], prompted the original forces of the band to come together for a reunion album. Hence, aside from Brooker and Reid, both Fisher and Trower are back for PS. Unfortunately, they do nothing to help the album - if I listen really hard, I can hear a bit of Hammond, but not much, so Fisher's contribution is marginal at best. As for Trower, well, there's absolutely no real indication that the guitars on this album are handled by one of the former guitar geniuses of the art-rock world - there is nothing on this album that measures up to the brilliance that made me love the guy so much in the first place.

And the songs, ugh ... I knew I was in for major problems when I first heard the initial ten seconds of this album, with a generic electronically enhanced drum beat underlying an overproduced, under-inspired 'ambient' guitar pattern. I knew I was really in trouble when I realized after listening to the album for a while that this chunk was part of the best track on the album by far. The Truth Won't Fade Away is strangely enjoyable, despite my initial reaction to it - Brooker's voice has a slight roughness to it here that it lacked in the 70s, and combined with a nice vocal melody, I can feel a bit of the emotional power of old coming through. Besides, there's snippets of generic, but quite lovely piano breaks, so I'm not too unhappy with the track as a whole.

After that, though, oy vey. Try as I may, I cannot distinguish between these songs in my head, even a few seconds after each track stops. Arrgh, why did so many art-rock bands feel the need to go so blandly Adult Contemporary around this time??!! The clichés abound here, both lyrically and musically - Reid doesn't say anything interesting with his texts whatsoever, and the actual music does not for one second show any of the beautiful idiosyncracy that made me like this band so much.

In short, save your money. Get anything by the band before this. Anything.


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Reproduced by kind permission from John's website

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