Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

Journey's End

Bud Scoppa in Rolling Stone, 25 October 1973

Journey's End, Matthew Fisher, RCA APL1-0195: review by Bud Scoppa

From the album title and Fisher's sensitive-looking cover portrait, you might expect the first solo LP of the former Procol Harum organist to be unbearably hifalutin'. Happily, that isn't the case. The music is filled with Fisher's grandly baroque organ playing, some moodily romantic orchestral arrangements and many introspective song lyrics. But Fisher incorporates these seemingly esoteric elements in an appealing pop style as Beatles-like in its accessibility as it is Procol-like in its textures and dynamics.

Fisher is set apart from both the classical-rock fusion advocates and the contemplative crowd by his inventive arrangements and melodies, and by his quirkily deceptive ever-present sense of humor. He often aims his wit right at his own seriousness and creates tension through the interplay of formality and sarcasm.

On his own, Fisher rejects the arcanely stylized approach of Procol's lyricist, Keith Reid, for language so direct and without poetic intent that it might be described as rhymed exposition. The lyrics act as random parts of a thumbnail autobiography. The songs, all first-person, depict a man who, by choice or circumstance, finds himself an outsider and at the receiving end of life's little ironies; he's undecided whether he'd rather accept this condition or struggle against it. Fisher's always-functioning acerbic wit makes whining self-pity impossible to maintain. His songs come off not as sorrowful complaints but as the barbed observations of a romantic-turned-cynic who still gets a twinge of nostalgia for his days of innocence.

If Fisher's cynicism is explicit in the lyrics, his lingering romanticism is just as obvious in the music. Ultimately, it's Fisher's musical skill that sets him apart and causes this album to soar. His painstakingly layered constructions integrate his surging organ and brisk, bright piano with a crisp rock rhythm section and big, sweeping orchestrations so beautifully that these disparate elements take on a completely unique identity. The arrangements are perfectly balanced structures in which a number of relatively simple individual parts converge into complex patterns. The urgent rock song Not This Time and the dramatic Separation represent the extremes in his broad range of patterns, moods and colors.

Fisher's self-confidence is impressive in itself. Journey's End is one of those rare albums in which the first few seconds of the first track are enough to convince the listener that something exceptional is going on. The immediacy with which the songs connect – particularly that first track, Susanne, and a buoyant instrumental called Interlude – convinces me that any number would become hit singles if people get to hear them. I hope it happens, because with some initial commercial success – and if he has the inclination – Matthew Fisher could develop into a master pop record-maker.

His album is completely convincing.

Commentary by Joan May
I just recently read this review for the first time, and was very surprised at the way Scoppa seemed to bend over backwards to over-praise this album, especially in light of his very critical comments that same year about Grand Hotel's overblown production.

Even Matthew Fisher had admitted to NME the month before (15 September 1973) that 'I think I went a bit overboard on the strings and brass' – and I would have expected Scoppa to agree. I also think that a real sign of 'self-confidence' on Matthew's part would have been if he had produced his solo album the way he brilliantly produced the truly self-confident Robin Trower's – allowing the music to be presented unadorned by all that homogenizing orchestration. And why didn't Scoppa mention Hard to be Sure, one of the two best songs on the album (the other being Separation)?

Another surprise is Scoppa's blindness to the extreme anguish in some of the lyrics, especially the title track. I didn't notice those lyrics the first time around either – having only listened to the album once or twice when it first came out, and I generally don't pay attention to the conceptual meaning of song lyrics as that interferes with my enjoyment of the music. But when prompted by some online fans a couple of years ago to go back and listen to those words, the intense sorrow in many of them – and what they were about – was obvious. One would expect Scoppa, who does concentrate heavily on the meaning of lyrics, to have noticed this. I sure wish he had, because then he might have been prompted to look more deeply, with an investigative journalist's eye, at the possible reasons for Matthew's great unhappiness, and he might have seen the two relevant press interviews that same year – - the NME and Circus Ravesin which Matthew finally divulged the real reason he left Procol Harum in such great despair – the AWSoP crediting injustice of course. And finding those articles, Scoppa, a great admirer of Fisher, could have realized the moral imperative for such a grievous injustice to be corrected, and used the power of the press to help make that happen – as it still needs to happen, some 25 years later.

It's also apparent from interviews with Gary that he remains unaware of the real reason for Matthew's tragic departure from PH in 1969, and that he's probably never heard the lyrics to Journey's End. I can't help but believe that if Gary did come to understand these things fully, he'd know the right thing to do.

Thanks to Joan May for this comprehensive article. Fans listening again to the Journey's End song in the light of the above may enjoy spotting the pointed melody to which Matthew sets the words 'And do you think', 'And do your eyes' and 'Or can they see': recognise it?

More PH writing by Bud Scoppa at BtP

Matthew Fisher albums

More about Journey's End



PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home