Procol Harum

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'Trotsky' reviews 'Something Magic'

3 stars

A much-maligned album this one, and I will concede that it's an occasionally tired affair. However the main reason it comes in for so much criticism is the epic The Worm and the Tree, and there I'm going to have to go against the flow. While it was distinctly flawed, it was the most progressive track that the band had recorded in years, and I'm not going to criticise the ambition involved. Besides, while it doesn't work, there are some really nice moments on this album.

The departure of bassist Alan Cartwright after Procol's Ninth saw organist Chris Copping move back to bass (he had initially played both instruments on his first PH album Home) and tellingly this resulted in Pete Solley joining and using synthesizers as his main instrument. In some ways this was a really daring album for PH to have done, but obviously their progression doesn't always work ...

And yet the title track was really Something Magic. It's classic PH with sweeping orchestral arrangements and a great melody with Keith Reid's mournful lyrics and Gary Brooker's soulful voice to the fore. Skating on Thin Ice is another classical/rock fusion song in the vein of A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel, although it's a little too saccharine for my tastes, and even the addition of female vocals and some odd lines from Solley don't stir my interest.

Wizard Man is one of those upbeat, almost jovial rockers, virtually a singalong in fact, with some nice warm organ tones, The Mark of the Claw is one of those hard-rockin' riffers, penned by guitarist Mick Grabham, with a twisty little synth solo from Solley, and a nice turn from Mick. It's not classic Harum, but it is daring. Which goes double for Strangers in Space, a real spacey, synthy somewhat eerie effort, even if Solley does add some classy organ flavours to go alongside the electric piano and synth.

Of course, a lot rides on The Worm and the Tree, which is a three part, 18-minute epic, with spoken words from Brooker. The story line isn't the best and at times this piece is really boring and forced (yes even for prog, it sounds forced). Yet in between the spoken segments there is a lot of competent playing, with strings, synth, organ and piano all having their moments. Perhaps it is the bleak mood that gets most down, and admittedly BJ Wilson's groove on the second part does have a hint of disco to it, but I'll be damned if I don't enjoy parts of this piece. When Solley and Grabham establish themselves in Part two, I keep thinking that it's a pity that these two refugees from Paladin and Plastic Penny respectively didn't get to lead Procol in a new direction. BTW, trivia-hunters might want to see if they can spot an echo of The Piper's Tune (a piece from the preceding album Procol's Ninth) at some point during the song.

So there you have it, Something Magic is a flawed, uncharacteristic end to a beautiful band. The worst album that Harum put out during its original run. And yet, it's not really as bad as most people make it out to be. ... 52% on the MPV scale.

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