Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Grand Hotel • Esoteric CD/DVD reissue, 2018

Steve Burniston in Record Collector

Opulent seventh album from Southend’s finest (four stars)

In 1973 Procol Harum were on a rich creative streak. Grand Hotel’s stately title track sets a louche timbre as the album begins: it’s a worldlt stroll into darkness, with decadence hanging heavy in the air. There was plenty more light and shade to come as Gary Brooker and Keith Reid's nine songs roam across themes of escape, excess and evervation, soundtracked by this supremely talented band.

The twisted, edgy funk of Toujours l'Amour is a fine example of their musical alchemy, while Brooker delivers his sublime vocal about a failed love affair as if through paper-thin bedsit walls. Procol Harum often sounded almost eerily modernist, as on Bringing Home the Bacon, where the jagged riffs, jolting pauses and offbeat imagery fuse into something typically unclassifiable but utterly gripping

Even when they subtly reference their musical past on For Liquorice John, there is still space among the ethereal keyboards for a harmonica solo and a final crashing coda. There's a controlled power everywhere, so when TV Ceasar gets a bit overwrought, it's a minor dip. Keith Reid's reads lyrics are characteristically thoughtful throughout; one of the many delights is how he can effortlessly floor you with drollery such as A Souvenir of London, a wry tale of sexually transmitted disease that could have come straight out of an episode of Adam Faith's Budgie TV series

Erudite sleevenotes, restored artwork, alternative versions and a wonderful DVD featuring the band on a 1973 Belgian TV recording all enhance this beautiful re-package. Elegant and inspired, Grand Hotel is a crucial chapter in the Procol Harum story.



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