Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum : Bach'n'roll

John McFerrin reviews The Well's on Fire

Best song: Shadow Boxed

Wellllllllllllllllllll's on fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrre, mooving [sic] down the roooooooooooooad please notify my next of kin, this well shall explooooooooooooooode ...

Sorry, that's been going through my head since I bought this album, I had to type it to get it out. Why Procol Harum decided to rise from the dead twelve years after their 'comeback' is beyond me, but I'm rather glad they did at least now they have a chance to end on a decent note, rather than on that Prodigal Stranger garbage. This time around, the original members are represented only by Brooker, Fisher and Reid, with a cast of assorteds filling the other rôles, but this is fine by me there's no excessive sterilization of the sound, and as such the guitars, bass and drums, however 'standard' they may sound, at least sound like guitars, bass and drums should. Add in that Fisher's organ is much more prominent here than on Prodigal, and you have a return to the standard Procol sound, which is good news in itself.

Yup, despite the fact that Reid's lyrics suck something fierce this time around, and that Gary is sounding more and more like the voice from Schoolhouse Rock, this is a perfectly nice listen for anybody who liked the band's 'classic' albums (ie, me). It's nowhere near as strong songwriting-wise as the albums through Exotic Birds, but Brooker hasn't lost his talent completely, as I thought he had before. Some of them manage to actually kinda rule the opening An Old English Dream does a great job of reminding me why I liked this band in the first place, as it moves from a piano ballad to a piano/guitar anthem in grand fashion, with Gary singing just as well as ever. I'm also very partial to Shadow Boxed, which bases itself around a terrific synth [sic]loop (something Procol never was able to pull off in their classic days) over which Gary sings a catchy-as-hell melody while the band accentuates the song with, er, the standard instrumentation.

Other highlights include: A Robe of Silk, where the band jumps out of its skin to make the sound as close to Whiter Shade as possible; The VIP Room, which has a low-key, sorta jazzy bitterness in its classy piano riffs and vocal delivery, augmented by good guitars; The Question, which kinda sounds like Procol Harum doing Dire Straits; Wall Street Blues, where the band actually manages to really rock for the first time in forever, both in the riff and in Brooker's awesome piano work; Every Dog will Have His Day, another instance of the band managing to rock and that even has Gary howling like a dog. Hey, the album even closes with a Fisher-penned instrumental! Sure, it can't hold a candle to Repent Walpurgis, but few things in this world can, and as such it's still extremely enjoyable. Lots of organ, both soft and loud, lots of cathartic guitar lines to accentuate the power of the keys, you know the drill.

There's a bunch of other songs on here too, and while few of them particularly excite me, none are nasty, bar perhaps one or two of the slower ballads. If you're a diehard Procol fan, this album is for you even if you're not, it's still a nice enough listen from time to time.

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Reproduced by kind permission from John's website


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