Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Shine on Brightly ... Plus!

Reviewed by Galpy

This review of Shine on Brightly ... plus! is reproduced, by kind permission of the author, from his own page; remember his sparkling review of Procol Harum ('The Black album')? Readers are referred also to Galpy's essay about Classic Rock.

Shine on Brightly... plus
Rating: 6

"Our local picture house was showing a Batman movie
You see this guy fly up in the sky
Thought to myself, 'Why shouldn't I?'"

Track listing

1) Quite Rightly So; 2) Shine On Brightly; 3) Skip Softly (My Moonbeams); 4) Wish Me Well; 5) Rambling On; 6) Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone); 7) In Held 'Twas In I.
Notable bonus tracks
1) Alpha; 2) In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence.

Best song: Quite Rightly So

Half a year after first listening to the début, I was still on cloud nine, so I promptly got the rest of Procol Harum's catalogue from my fellow web reviewer John McFerrin, fully expecting to like the other stuff more than everyone else who's listened to it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen: this album, at least, let me down, and I could no longer afford to idolise this band on the basis of just one brilliant release. That's OK, though, because the truth is always better than blind worship, right? Right. And the truth here is, up to 90% of this stuff is nice and pleasant, but pretty average, sort of like Salad Days from the début. Large chunks of it are in fact recycled elements from the previous album: the chorus of the title track is a slightly more monotonous and sterile copy of Christmas Camel, Skip Softly is an obvious attempt to recreate the melodic zaniness of Mabel (but with a cool hectic fadeout!), and the ending of it all, although beautiful, is yet another classical music-style solo that we've already heard in more convincing fashion in Repent Walpurgis. As you probably already know, musical carbon copies rarely approach the quality of their predecessors, and the above songs are no exception.

Of course, a rating of 6 is a good grade, which means that there must be something a little interesting about every song. The following is true: Shine On Brightly at least has a good, original verse melody, Skip Softly is pretty goddamn zany, Wish Me Well strangely sounds like a blues sing-along (if such a thing exists), Rambling On is about a guy who stirs up all this commotion by trying to fly like Batman and failing (the fade-in that imitates him getting closer and closer to the ground is especially cool), and Magdalene has such a soporific ending that it's hard to imagine that it was made such accidentally. In fact, it seems to me that perhaps Brooker and company may have been fucking around intentionally on much of this album. Before I forget, what the hell is a Zonophone? Microsoft Word doesn't recognize it as a word, so I'm confused. In any case, that's all nice and humorous and dandy, but heck, even the best of these songs, Quite Rightly So, is no better than some of the worst stuff on the début album, with its only major attraction being the subtle vocal hook at the end of every verse. Where in the world did the resonant darkness of the last album vanish to?

Oh, I see. All of the band's attempts at seriousness this time are stuffed into the 17-minute album closer, whose title, In Held 'Twas In I, could only have been invented by someone named Shitspeare. Regardless of its mediocre quality, a song like this was quite a daring move on the band's part, since this was still 1968, when 17-minute songs were not yet all the rage and didn't even exist. Whether Procol Harum helped make them all the rage is open for debate, but as usual with this band, I do hear a couple of major influences on albums like Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (the choir), as well as on some of the confessional, pleading singing parts in Jesus Christ Superstar. Now that I've unnecessarily used up three lines talking about "influence", I want to use a couple of adjectives that, some time ago, I thought were not applicable to Procol Harum: In Held ... often sounds cheesy and has pretentious lyrics, with only Brooker's down-to-earth voice preventing some lines from being the most ridiculous and overblown prog-type crap that I've ever heard. And the lyrics are mostly loud and in the forefront, too, not covered up by the music like in the case of, say, Yes. The only good line in this whole song is, "Even though the words which I use are pretentious and make you cringe with embarrassment ... " Damn straight, and right on the dot about the rest of the song.

As for the musical cheesiness, it's a semi-amusing 60s circusy kind of cheesiness that is probably partially intentional. Most of the tricks seem to be borrowed from the Beatles' stuff from the same time period, minus the good songwriting. For example, there's a very amateurish "philosophical" sitar part at the beginning that makes George Harrison sound like a virtuoso, a dissonant orchestral [sic] fade-out part around an organ solo, and abrupt transitions that do not at all mesh with their surrounding parts. Now, I don't want to completely trash the suite, as there are a number of beautiful moments: gentle, purely classical piano parts, the guitar's much more professional repetition of the main sitar theme, and Trower's lyrical solo at the end. But like I already said, we've already heard this kind of stuff done better, whether in real classical music (duh) or just on the previous album. And I don't quite see what they tried to accomplish with this monstrosity anyway – right during the times that it seems like the whole suite should become somber to at least partially support the unbearable weight of its lyrics, we get to hear random crowd-cheering and other such crap. Nice try, but inadequate, that's all I'll say.

Oh, and the bonus tracks found here merely represent still more blues exercising that Procol Harum was secretly so fond of. Fun, but generic.


More about this album

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