March 2001: Greg Panfile writes to BtP:
If 2000 was an ensign year for Procoholics, perhaps the frosting was the re-release of the double Matthew Fisher solo CD incorporating his first two albums, Journey’s End and I’ll Be There. A frosting with pepper, as it’s become controversial; heretofore unavailable on any commercial CD, the two records are Seventies pop classics in their own right and of immense interest to any Procol fan, given Matthew’s contributions to the group’s first three albums. By the time of A Salty Dog Matthew was helping write material, singing some leads, arranging things, doing some piano and guitar, and producing, in addition to his prominent role on the Hammond organ. I leave most of the quantitative backstory to more appropriate sources such as the entertaining liner notes by Roland Clare; suffice it to say that in the case of Journey’s End, our terminus du jour, he brings all of those talents and more to bear on this 1973 collection, his first of a series, released about three years after he left the group during the Home sessions.
There are differences between this new CD version and the original LP, a source of discomfort to the composer and interest to the critic: here, the cover does not say THE original master tapes, just "original master tapes"; those words are well chosen. From another angle, the sum of recordings on the LPs do not fit on one CD; yet this one clearly does.
About Suzanne I can only say it is a delicious confection, and intact. With a bit of earstrain, the whole song can be heard as an organ solo, and a luscious one. One signature point is the structure of the blended obbligato on organ and guitar, so reminiscent of Procol classics such as Kaleidoscope and Quite Rightly So. The feel of the lyric, somewhat standard post-relationship fare, is characteristic; not up to what a Reid or Lennon might have done in a similar situation, but more than adequate and appropriate.
Going for a Song, again intact from the LP days, opens the question of post-Procol subject matter, and the general idea that if this record and its companion so clearly deal with breakups, separations, and one or another form of extermination, then, of what? Written with the viewpoint of Gary Brooker in mind (what must it be like to have so big a song so closely associated with one, to have it as an almost constant companion in one way or another, always there and being requested and discussed), it seems sympathetic rather than vengeful. Here, too, a tempo issue seems to move to the fore for the first time; one could argue that this collection does not differentiate itself speedwise, has too many midtempo pieces that proceed at about the same rate. More than compensating are the previously somewhat hidden piano talents that emerge clearly for the first time on this track in an electric context, and the wonderful versatility reflected by the guitar playing plus the production and arrangement talent that so closely evokes the feel of A Salty Dog.
Play the Game is where we see our first major deviation; this is not the original master tape, but an original one, probably of an early test version to see if there were any holes in the layer cake. Given the credits, the limited personnel listed, and the available information, it appears this LP was made using what I call the White Album or layer-cake process; an original, simple version featuring only drums, bass, rhythm instrument (piano or guitar) and guide vocal (later to be discarded and improved) is made live, then repaired as needed; additional instruments are put on one by one, including final vocals; at several phases, trial mixes are generated to see how it's progressing and help quantify needed improvements. This version seems to move back and omit a Hammond overdub at least, and may contain an earlier version of the vocal lead.
Separation is an act of genius with a calculated, mathematical, Pythagorean angle to it, like the Pale organ part. But underlying it is an inspiration that cannot be denied, and a beauty that is frightening. And to hear it with no scratches, ah! In general all of MF’s instrumentals are wonderful ear-candy: he has excelled at them from the beginning (Repent). I love the lushness of this, all it needs is some dark lead guitar, I see red velvet seats in a large movie theater, Art Deco ceiling, smoking loge ... A lost recording of a simpler version with harpsichord appears in the film Separation but Fisher is the only Procol on it.
Hard to be Sure is still desperate and beautiful but a smidge plodding, brilliantly put together too, definitely attempts to quote the Procol sound, is very Salty Dog, could have been on that record intact. Also sounds like a different mix. Again more echo on the vocal. Don't think this is a digital add-on, seems impossible. This definitely fades earlier than the LP version and here we have truncation for the first clear time, perhaps enough to make both disks fit. Aside from the substituted tracks, mastering is nice on this disk, it is well split, breathes well in stereo.
Marie is a wonderful pop song, with excellent soaring falsettos, that perhaps suffers from too much slow material in front of it. Gorgeous though, and again most stout on the 88s. Not This Time is another mix, more like another version! A Hammond ovedub is lost, along with the final vocal and probably more. Unfortunate, this one.
Interlude is also another mix, lacking some nice guitar and some overdubs on strings and what sound like choir that are on the record way out front and are not here or not emphasized. Another major loss ... The ending is markedly different too.
Journey's End parts one and two ... are off the record, thankfully. The subject matter of this one seems not to be a band but a lover, and the quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress at the end seems more intended to invoke the song than the band. Having achieved wordless closure in pure sound, we find that the pain is gone, but the controversy continues – will this disk become a collector’s item? Can vinyl be found to recover the original mixes digitally? Will Porky save Petunia? Now we know where the pilgrim went.
If there is only craftsmanship in the songwriting here and there are better words around and even if tempo problems abound, this is still a brilliant album; at least in its original form, and in part here. If not Lennon or Dylan, Fisher is still a good songwriter and an arranging and producing genius, while remaining a very real human being telling his truth of the time. It does follow up on A Salty Dog, and is very good musical work. Buy it if you still can!