Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes':

Drunk Again

Album: an Exotic Birds and Fruit bonus track, and on the triple CD of A and B sides

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: 1973 – 1977

Cover-versions: none

Thanks, Gary!This rumbustious song was the first number written by Brooker and Reid for the Exotic Birds and Fruit album, on which, of course, it did not eventually appear: since it was illustrated by Spencer Zahn in the style of the Grand Hotel booklet-drawings (see left), we may surmise that the text existed as early as the time of that album. It is said that the song was elbowed out of Exotic Birds by a last-minute creation, New Lamps for Old. It does bear a musical relationship to several songs on the album, however: to The Idol, in terms of its protracted soloing; to Monsieur R Monde in its flat-out pace; and to Butterfly Boys in its mature elaboration of some pretty ordinary rock components. Arguably it's the least melodic of all the contenders, but it is nonetheless an energetic and exciting track in which we can clearly hear five musicians (six, if you include the doppelganger acoustic guitar) thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Lyrically the song is sparsely intriguing: curiously some of the words are not reproduced on the CD booklet. It seems to deal with the haverings of an alcoholic, knowing he should jettison his habit, yet unable to summon the will to do so (some have wondered if it is to be read as a drunkard's dream, since the DTs are an established topic in country-ish music). It belongs in the Grand Hotel camp, as a number about excess of appetite, rather than in the world of Exotic Birds (which even contains a song (ostensibly) about Sensible Eating!) Musically, it depends upon two contrasting ideas – the belting rocky chords, riding on Cartwright's nifty bass riff, and the more static, bluesy climbing passage – and the dialogue between these two elements does something to dramatise the narrator's dilemma; its slightly shambolic sound, like Mabel and Good Captain Clack, perhaps suggests an ambience in which drinking, rather than abstinence, is the norm.

Set in the piano-boogie key of C, the song nevertheless starts with some crunching guitar: this same rhythmic motif was heard in live versions of Typewriter Torment later on. The verse is built on the highly characteristic Brooker dominant-dodging sequence of C, Bb, F and C (a relationship underlying numbers such as Long Gone Geek, Without a Doubt and The Piper's Tune): when this shifts up on to F and F sharp diminished (shades of Lime Street Blues) it does briefly touch on the dominant, G, but seems to recoil from it quickly, and on the second occasion that it reaches that harmonic plateau it wrestles about with the chord, skittishly repeating the little melodic tag that precedes 'though I know I'm very sick'. The chorus, if such it be, uses a standard blues progression with a rising bassline, though the organ-saturated treatment here gives it an ecclesiastical and highly Procolian flavour; the quavers are now grouped 3+3+3+3+2+2 over two bars, and this halting sequence seems to lug itself, Sisyphus-like, up the hill on several occasions only to collapse back under its own burden … fitting the song's theme precisely.

Nothing But The Truth / Drunk Again (CHS 2032) was released as a single on 6 April 1974 in the UK. Drunk Again was a collector’s item – like its fellow-drinking song This Old Dog it was never to see album status – until it became available as a bonus track on CD re-releases of Exotic Birds and Fruit. It is quite a typical Procol B side, uninhibited and relatively rough-edged, like Lime Street Blues, Good Captain Clack, Long Gone Geek. The performance on record is hugely enlivened by Gary Brooker's whoops and other cries (including 'let’s hear those eighty-eights!' before his own break), by the whirling organ and whining guitar, the pounding piano up at the milk-bottle extremities, and of course by the manic precision of the drum-breaks each time the hill-climbing chords give up. Arguably the melee of soloing is a bit protracted for a recorded song, but it always sounded very exciting live – from its dιbut in Paris 8 October 1973 it surfaced occasionally, often at the end of a show, until 1977 – and the present track certainly has a live feel to it. The 1974 Musikladen Live DVD commemorates an excellent performance of the song – no acoustic guitar, and Copping energetic with tambourine!

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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