Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Novum yields up its secrets

Dr Lancelot Reaper

The Revd Dr L Reaper writes to 'Beyond the Pale' (1 April 2017) with the following interesting, outspoken and occasionally contradictory observations about the Novum album.
Some readers took this for an April Fool, given the date on the piece ... but read this more recent article interview in which lyricist Pete Brown explicitly confirms the 'Ten Commandments' idea explored below; there's also a revealing radio interview given by Gary Brooker here.

Dear Sirs,

I write to you in some consternation of spirit, and I trust you will permit me to let my story unfold. It is eight weeks or so since one of my parishioners informed me, at Choral Evensong, that she had heard on Radio 2 a ‘most beautiful new song extolling the Sabbath’. All she remembered was the refrain, ‘Sunday morning, Sunday morning’, but this was of course enough for me to track down the group, Procol Harum, and to explore your very compendious website, ‘Beyond the Pale’.

I remember Procol Harum quite well from my days at Oxford, before I entered the Ministry. I was by no means indifferent to their early work, but largely parted company with them around the time they started to sing ‘Your enemy is Lord’ and so forth.

Hoping that this new recording, apparently celebrating the Sabbath, betokened a resurgence in what Wordsworth called ‘natural piety’, I arranged to hear the group’s recital at the Royal Festival Hall, acquiring a surplus ticket, somewhat late in the day, through the kind offices of your website. The ‘Sunday Morning’ song, while certainly exquisite to the ear, sadly did not satisfy my heart’s hopes for a renaissance in the group’s spirituality. The singer, far from honouring the Sabbath, appeared to my apprehension to be rejoicing in a proclamation that he didn’t ‘have time to take rest’ … in other words, that he delighted in violating the terms of the great Commandment, which (in its original Mosaic manifestation) exhorts us to do no labour on the day when our Lord rested, once His creation was complete, but rather to devote our time to a contemplation of the Divine.

Procol Harum performed two other fresh songs on that occasion, both rapturously received by their devotees. One was about jealousy of a neighbour, explicitly denigrating his wealth, and expressing envy for the apparent magnificence of his motor-car. I do not think I would be overstating the matter to say that this song, too, gloried in the violation of a sacred Commandment, that which urges us not to covet the chattels of a neighbour (in the popular imagination, the neighbour’s ‘ox’ is the emblematic possession we are urged not to desire, though clearly the lyricist wished to update that image, substituting another animal, in a sense, through his reference to the neighbour’s ‘Jaguar’. ‘He seems to have a fuller cup’ even borrowed the language of Psalm 23, suggesting that the blasphemy inherent in the song was wittingly perpetrated.)

The third new song was named I Told on You, and in it the singer delighted in sundry fabricated reasons for which he ‘shops’ the person to whom the song is addressed. One line I distinctly heard ran, ‘I told on you because you changed the wiring’. I believe it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this song too has been EXPRESSLY DESIGNED to glory in the breaking of a further Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’.

By now, I expect, you will be ahead of me. I confess that I wonder why your interviewer, who questioned Gary Brooker about the themes of the album, did not push a little further. Their brief exchange, on this subject, ran: “(Webmaster): What would you say the themes of the album are? (Mr Brooker): Oh … don’t know! (Webmaster): When you played it to me in November, I thought there was a lot there about envy, war, power and especially the march of time as well. (Mr Brooker): Ah, well there you are!” If your interviewer had at that time been listening to the new album for two whole months, and is an educated man, it beggars belief that he was still blind to the anti-Biblical theme to which I allude above, and I can only conclude that his veneration for Mr Brooker outweighed his soul’s promptings to challenge the perpetrator with the flagrant iniquity of his compositions.

We are not yet done. Reviewers, apparently furnished with advance copies of the recording, have brought to light additional outrages. We learn that Last Chance Motel explicitly relishes the intrigues of an extra-marital liaison (in opposition to ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’). I learn that there is a song named Honour which, I am sure, will in due course be revealed as a travesty of ‘Honour thy father and mother’. Who can doubt that the piece entitled ‘Soldier’ will prove to relate in some perverse way to ‘Thou shalt not kill’, and that Image of the Beast will touch on the interdicted practice of venerating false idols.

A glance at the other titles on the new recording leaves little room for doubt. The Only One will correspond in some way to ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’; Can’t Say That would seem to tally with ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’; the Business Man will probably be a glorification of the sin forbidden in ‘Thou shalt not steal’. And perhaps worst of all, the record opens with Don’t Get Caught, often cited by the impious as being some sort of ersatz ‘Eleventh Commandment’, one that, in the eyes of the unholy, overrides the ten that are enshrined in The Book of Exodus.

In conclusion, however: I know it is the business of popular music to ‘rock the pedestal and see what falls off’ and I do not believe that the Christian faith will be damaged one iota by Procol Harum’s musical antics and posturing. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly commend this record, and shall be encouraging my congregation to listen to it with diligent care and attention. Men and women of faith must look unflinchingly at the novel light in which Procol Harum has sought to recast the Law of Moses. Light, we all know, shines more brightly in the presence of shadow, and we shall surely all be blest by wholesale immersion in this admirable document of – and for – our troubled times.

With warmest wishes, from the heart of London,
Lancelot Reaper (Dr.)

Thanks, Lancelot

See also here

  About the album Get Novum: Amazon UK / Amazon USA


Reviews of this album


Procol Harum albums

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