Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Shine on Brightly • Salvo

The second 2009 reissue reviewed online at Head Full of Snow

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In its original form, Procol Harum’s second album, Shine on Brightly, is – to coin a football pundit’s favourite phrase – a game of two halves.

Virtually scythed down the middle, the first side consists of five tracks of a more conventional (for the time) psychedelic/prog rock standard, which wouldn’t seem out of place on their debut, Procol Harum. The second side, however, is made up of just the two. The exceptional Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) and, weighing in just shy of 17 minutes, the hugely influential, genre-breaking In Held 'Twas In I.

Yes, as we’re commandeering bad phrasing without due care and attention or regards for human life, with the release of Shine on Brightly back in 1968, Procol Harum had thrown the rulebook well and truly out of the window.

In Held 'Twas In I blazed a trail down which a lot of 70s progressive rock would venture, dividing the song into suites (a nod to classical music) and happily breaking the fifteen-minute mark. Beginning with the spoken word intro, Glimpses of Nirvana, before passing through 'Twas Teatime at the Circus, In the Autumn of my Madness (sung by Procol’s Hammond wizard, Matthew Fisher), Look to Your Soul and finishing with the instrumental splendour of Grande [sic, but the error is Salvo's] Finale, In Held 'Twas In I marks a courageous step forwards in musical experimentation. One that, in 1968, probably sounded like an idea that had drifted down from another world. And indeed, its lyrical blend of eastern mysticism, jocularity and grim self-doubt, plus its sheer, cinematic scope, went on to inspire many a psychedelic outfit into more progressive territory, as well as Pete Townshend during his writing of Tommy and Brian May in the direction that Queen would take.

This exhilarating wedge of classically-tinged majesty casts such a delightful shade of kaleidoscopic colour over Shine on Brightly, you might be forgiven for forgetting that there is far more to this album than one bloody great song.

As with Procol Harum, it’s a mix of piano and swirling organ-riffs, as well a greater emphasis on Robin Trower’s superior, blues-heavy guitar licks, guiding us through the rest of the album. For instance, Wish Me Well sounds like Traffic having a bare-knuckle punch-up with Jimmy Page outside the Marquee Club, while the title track is a riveting example of acid rock, complete with razor-sharp splinters of Floyd-esque guitar thrusting the hallucinogenic tale onwards. Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) is a bouncy wee filler that, following a gentle mid-song lull, rises to a throbbing finish of musical opacity, fuelled by the sort of guitarmanship that leaves bloody stumps in the place of fingers. The funeral procession dirge of Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) is particularly special and for me the absolute highlight of the album, beating off the stiff competition from the likes of In Held 'Twas In I and Wish Me Well.

The songwriting partnership of pianist and lead vocal, Gary Brooker, and lyricist Keith Reid (with credit also given to Matthew Fisher on a couple of tracks) is as strong as ever, maturing significantly since the début album, and the wonderfully ambiguous impenetrabilty that characterised the words of  A Whiter Shade of Pale is present throughout.

This reissue of Shine on Brightly is up to the high standards set by Fly Records’ and Salvo’s previous Move and Procol Harum releases. It’s certainly worth getting out on the roof and shouting about, with the usual immaculate sound quality – here presented in crystal-clear stereo – irresistible presentation and booklet, and 11 – count them – bonus tracks, including the final Denny Cordell produced track, a previously unreleased version of McGregor.

Shine on Brightly saw Procol Harum shifting up a gear, not only planting the seeds for the future of progressive rock but also their next album and Head Full of Snow firm fave, A Salty Dog.

As that very same football pundit mentioned earlier might say, “The lads done good!” Say no more.

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