Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

The Pursuit of Happiness

Album: The Prodigal Stranger (1991)

Authors: Brooker / Reid / Noble

 Read the words

Performed: Maybe never ?

Cover-versions: none

Predominantly a religious-themed song, this slow, relatively undramatic closing-track in the unusual key of F# major ought to sound very 'Procoloid', with its melancholy Hammond counterpoint to a soulful melody, academic chord inversions, dramatic drum-punctuation and stirring guitar solo. Oddities of harmonic rhythm are nothing new to Procol listeners (from Conquistador onwards) but the uneasy phrase lengths, six-and-a-half bars, then six bars, then a ten-bar chorus remain unsettling though such adventurousness is characteristic of the album. Perhaps they emanate from Matt Noble's collaboration, or perhaps they are signs of Gary Brooker doing something genuinely new, but they somehow give an impression of pieces-bolted-together, rather than being the ironic setting to the pursuit mentioned in the song's title. The fractured piano-introduction is uncharacteristic, as is the tambourine at the end and the fussy opening percussion though that style is familiar to listeners to Brooker's solo Echoes in the Night.

It was puzzlingly never performed live as far as we can ascertain: it would work well with natural bass-guitar, and without the interpolation of synth strings at 2:00, a somewhat arbitrary decoration. It offers a thoughtful setting of a very thought-provoking lyric [selected by Keith Reid for his book, My Own Choice] whose complexity has been overlooked by critics who sense triteness rather than despair in the final 'round and round and round', which the record emphasises so subtly with the organ playing 'a round' in the sense that it would be understood by campanologists.

A corresponding fascination with bells and chiming motifs pervades Matthew Fisher's contributions to 'Twas Teatime at the Circus, Pilgrim's Progress, and most conspicuously in the extended playout of his solo piece, Journey's End part II. The final chords here are closely-related to those of Pilgrim's Progress though the present song falls to pieces desultorily, reflecting nothing of the triumphalism of its 1969 precedent.

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