Procol Harum

the Pale

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30th Anniversary Anthology

Joan May on Goldmine Magazine 455, 2 Jan 1998

Joan sent us this commentary on Brad Bradberry's piece in Goldmine

I liked Bradberry's review he's written about PH for Goldmine before. I especially liked his appreciations of Matthew Fisher's music (great comment about Pilgrim's Progress!), and his description of BJ as '...arguably the best finesse drummer in rock'. Finesse Drummer! YES!!

But now that I read the review more carefully, I have a few comments:

And to this day fans still can't figure out what their debut single was remotely about ('the room was humming hotter as the ceiling flew away / when we called out for another drink , the waiter brought a tray') . Reid said once that the lyrics were mostly non-sequiturs to fit Brooker's music.

I agree about the non-sequiturs but he got the sequence of events wrong. Keith's words came first, and then Gary wrote the vocal melody, after which Matthew added the crowning glory, the organ melody.

Shine on Brightly.... was a bluesy-cum-classical rocker with more of Reid's bizarre wording ('My Prussian blue electric clock \ no longer rings it will not stop')

Interesting! I misheard those lyrics the same way he did until very recently when the online community enlightened me. Of course those lines are: 'My Prussian blue electric clock's \ alarm bell rings it will not stop'. The mistaken version is self contradictory, as is 'we've run afloat' but this time Keith didn't intend a contradiction. Enunciate, Gary, enunciate! <g>

Rambling On tells the tale of a troubled modern Icarus who likes old Batman movies.

Brad could have mentioned that batman can't fly a funny irony.

The suite, consisting of five movements, mixes Eastern, classical, and rock music with lyrics that hit on Eastern mysticism, the Dalai Lama, Faustian images, and Christianity cut with madness and the human search for life's meaning. Sung by Brooker with Fisher (partly spoken word), it's one hell of a bite out of God's apple (I hope he approved).

Brad didn't say that Keith was the one who spoke those words. Perhaps he didn't know.

Fisher's In The Autumn of My Madness was his first lead vocal (a glimpse of his two vocals and production on the next album), and the closest thing here to a 'song', with great tension-building organ riffs. A great follow-up.

Again, excellent commentary on one of Fisher's masterpieces, but Fisher had three vocals on ASD, right? Hesperus, Pilgrim's Progress and Boredom.

Reid's lyrical mood was darker than ever. Just some of the titles, The Dead Man's Dream and About To Die, are fuel for the argument that this fourth album was lyrically an allegory [sic] on death.

It occurred to me recently that Keith Reid may have written so much about death for the Home album because he knew that a huge part of Procol Harum's musical identity had just died ie the celestial / Bach / baroque element that Matthew Fisher had contributed so brilliantly. Of course, once Gary had been influenced by Matthew in the classical direction, he went on to compose some wonderful classically-oriented songs but they were more in the styles of the Romantic composers, rather than Bach / baroque. Chris Copping's Hammond, though still an important part of the band's total sound, provided little instrumental excitement, and became largely a background instrument. BJ Wilson, Robin Trower and later Mick Grabham took up the slack instrumentally, and thanks to them, especially BJ, Procol Harum continued to be a fantastic exciting band. But, beginning with Home, it was a different band. And Keith may have been mourning that fact when he wrote his lyrics.

Read Joan's follow-up letter to Goldmine in which some of these sentiments are reiterated

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