For the past couple of weeks, I've been listening to an album by Procol Harum called Home. The more I play it, the harder it is to believe it. I'm really convinced that this album (the fourth by Procol), is just about as historic a landmark as Sgt Pepper was. It's definitely one of the finest albums produced in the past few years, and far and away the best that Procol has done.
Home won't be released for another couple of weeks, but when it is, I'm sure it will go straight to No 1. The album is being issued to coincide with the group's current tour of North America. Last week, the band played a gig before 38,000 (yes folks, 38,000) kids at Montreal's 'Man and His World'.
While they were there, I called Gary Brooker - the group's singer-pianist-composer, to pass on congratulations. 'I wouldn't say that Home was like our last album, A Salty Dog,' Gary said, 'but it is a natural LP after Dog, if you know what I mean. If you heard it, you'd immediately know it was Procol at it again.'
The new album features one new member and a transition for an original member. Chris Copping is the new bass player (and you won't believe things he gets going with drummer, Barrie Wilson) and resident poet, Keith Reid, is now playing organ.
The group sound hasn't changed noticeably, except that it is better and tighter than it ever was. 'The most influential thing about Procol is the songs,' Gary explained, 'everyone in the band works around that. Even if we had completely different musicians, I think we'd still sound like Procol Harum.'
I think that Home is better than either of the two Band albums, and there is basis for comparison. Both utilize strange little quirks of harmony, complicated melodic structure and tight backing. But emotionally, Procol comes off well in front.
It is a great, great pity that so many English pop fans still look on Procol as the group that had A Whiter Shade of Pale, and nothing else. As magnificent as Pale was, even it looks a little pale, next to some of the new Procol things. If someone asked me who was the best group in the world right now, I'd have to say Procol Harum. And that's no light-hearted endorsement.