For the majority of people, mention of Procol Harum is going to conjure up only five words – A Whiter Shade of Pale. A few will be able to bring to mind other early singles such as Homburg and A Salty Dog but, after that, Procol Harum will have been filed away in the drawer marked Musical Memories. Now, though, could – should – be the time to pull open that drawer and get reacquainted with the band because, with The Well's On Fire they've produced an album brimming with good songs boasting intelligent lyrics and the kind of tunes that have a habit of sticking in the hum centre of the brain.
Procol Harum 2003 has many of the hallmarks of the Procol of old; Gary Brooker's instantly recognisable voice is the most obvious touchpoint, nosing ahead of Matthew Fisher's organ, and all the words come from the pen of lyricist Keith Reid. The new boys – "new" inasmuch as they've been with the band for something less than a lifetime – are Geoff Whitehorn on guitar, drummer Mark Brzezicki and Matt Pegg on bass.
There are 13 tracks on the album, the first of which is An Old English Dream which opens with some rich chords from Brooker's piano and gives the rest of the band a chance to ease into things with a gentle workout until the chorus when we get the first taste of Whitehorn's searing playing. A commentary on the state of the world with a focus on the home country, Reid observes: "Some eat from silver, some eat from gold, some sift through garbage and sleep in the cold".
Shadow Boxed, which follows, is the record's first rocker and it kicks along at a fair old rate, with Brzezicki (try typing that in a hurry!) driving things along with a forceful precision and a sure guiding beat for Pegg's steady bass. A Robe of Silk is a jaunty thing featuring nice solos from Whitehorn and Fisher which might have made a nice single in days gone by when things like melody and the ability to play real instruments were commonplace in the charts. In The VIP Room Brooker sings that life – and even death – is going to be a comfortable affair for him: "I wanna be shining up there with the stars, gonna get me a sun tan an' some big fat cigars". The middle eight gives Whitehorn a chance to show us that he's no slouch when it comes to slide guitar, ripping it up in fine style.
Most of the songs are Brooker/Reid compositions but Reid's obviously not averse to sitting down with Fisher on occasion as that pairing is responsible for The Question and Fellow Travellers, the latter of which keeps alive the link with the classics originally forged on Whiter Shade, it being based on a piece by Handel. And anybody looking for a little of the pomp of the band's biggest hit, can find it on the final track, Fisher's instrumental Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature) which is heavy on the organ and replete with a taste of grandiosity, but not too much.
The Well's On Fire is Procol's twelfth album and the work of a band on top form, both material- and playing-wise, and worthy of investigation by anybody prepared to tiptoe over to that drawer marked Musical Memories and peep inside.
Procol Harum albums