Procol Harum

the Pale

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Grand Hotel

Steve Simels in Stereo Review, June 1973

Marvin Chassman writes: here it is, the review of Grand Hotel in the June 1973 issue of Stereo Review, in the 'Best of the Month' section (which Simels partially retracted in his review of Exotic Birds and Fruit).

Their début album for Chrysalis may be 1973's first legitimate rock masterpiece

I am happy to report that, despite the delays, despite the personnel problems, and despite one really ghastly lapse in taste,Grand Hotel, Procol Harum's début release for the Chrysalis label, is perhaps their most mature, ambitious, and moving album yet, and probably the first legitimate rock masterpiece of 1973 as well.  I am also happy to report that Keith Reid, though still preoccupied with death, gothic gloom, and other classical imagery, has actually come up with two lyrics that are (a) about love (albeit in vain) and (b) written, for a change, in the vernacular.

There are just all sorts of goodies here. The title tune, for instance, is an instant classic; Keith's poem is a marvelous evocation of vanished fin de siècle decadence ("The waiters dance on fingertips / The nights we dine at Hotel Ritz") and the music catches his ironic tone perfectly, with its sleazy cabaret violins (beautifully scored by the redoubtable Gary Brooker) and majestic guitar-laden finale.  There are two rockers of absolutely bone-crushing force: Bringing Home the Bacon, a surrealistic nightmare with BJ Wilson setting up a staggering rhythm (even more irresistible than on their earlier Still There'll Be More), and Toujours L'Amour, in which new-boy-in-school Mick Grabham lays the ghost of Robin Trower with an overdubbed guitar duet than can only be described as inspired.  Best of all, there's a Procol Harum calypso (Robert's Box) in which Gary croons a chilling tale of morphine addiction while the band plays the catchiest island melody imaginable.

The fly in all this soothing ointment, the aforementioned ghastly lapse, is the sudden intrusion of a real, live  Swingle Singer on Fires (Which Burnt Brightly), a song that in concert had impressed me as one of their best-ever Baroque concoctions; here it turns, sadly, into a bad camp joke.  Since the group's judgment in such matters has always been impeccable, I can only assume that producer Chris Thomas saw this as a clever ploy to grab a piece of the Moody Blues' audience.  However, the "Abbey Road"-ish production he has lavished on the rest of the record is so downright snazzy I am inclined to forgive him.

I think it's about time we all 'fessed up to the facts: the music of Procol Harum is one of the most amazing experiences rock-and-roll has to offer, and after seven brilliant albums, their continued lack of superstar status is nothing short of a cultural tragedy.  If Grand Hotel doesn't do it for them, I'm going to Computer School.  Do yourself a favor: give them a break.                            

Steve Simels

PROCOL HARUM: Grand Hotel. Procol Harum (vocals and instrumentals). Grand Hotel; Toujours L'Amour; A Rum Tale; T.V. Caesar; A Souvenir of London; Bringing Home the Bacon; For Liquorice John; Fires (Which Burnt Brightly); Robert's Box.  

CHRYSALIS CHR 1037 $5.98 (C) M5 1037 $6.95.

Thanks, Marvin

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