Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum • Procol's Ninth 3CD set from Esoteric Records

Reviewed by Fortuneight at The Afterword here

What does it sound like?:

As any fule kno, Procol’s Ninth is actually their eighth studio album, first released in August 1975. Although it’s been re-released before, this time around there are eight bonus tracks which include five getting their first release, and there are two live concerts taken from the same year.

The (very good) booklet that accompanies the boxset describes the album as ‘anomalous’ and it’s an assessment I’d agree with. Opening with Pandora’s Box, it’s a strong start and proved a popular single release. It’s also left me with an earworm for the last week of ‘Spanish maaaainnnn’. Amongst the bonus tracks is a ‘raw’ version, minus the marimba and brass which makes an interesting counterpoint. Fool’s Gold follows, almost as strong as the opening track, showcasing Mick Grabham’s guitar.

What follows is more of a mixed bag. Taking The Time feels a touch awkward – maybe it’s the diminished chord opening juxtaposed with some light boogie interspersed with a tea dance orchestra. Either way Brooker’s vocals stand out. The Unquiet Zone is up tempo, with lots of percussion but seems less polished than what’s gone before, with Grabham lending the whole thing a rocky edge. Although lyrically neat The Final Thrust is insubstantial and a touch leaden, and I’d concur with the booklet’s reference to ‘a dirge’ in respect of The Pipers Tune. Typewriter Torment is an energetic number with strong guitar and as good as the opening tracks.

Ninth is the first Procol album to include third party material. I Keep Forgetting was a hit for Chuck Jackson in 1962, and included here at the behest of producers Leiber & Stoller. It’s a soulful, punchy number underwritten with lots of brass and organ. The other cover – Eight Days A Week – provides undistinguished end to the album.

The bonus tracks feature ‘raw’ versions of each of the album’s non cover songs. They give a little insight into how the songs developed but are for completists only.

The two live concerts were recorded in Passaic, New Jersey in October 1975 and Leicester University a month later. Both gigs include some of Ninth but the coverage is sparse given how recently it had been released, which means there’s plenty of ‘old’ such as Conquistador, Grand Hotel, Salty Dog and well as that song (albeit only at the Leicester show, with extra verses too). The sound quality of both concerts is excellent and hearing how songs like The Unquiet Zone and Pandora’s Box were performed live is more rewarding than the outtakes. The Blue Danube is followed by Be Bop A Lula – maximum Procol Harum?

What does it all *mean*?

A fourteen-year hiatus was just an album away

Goes well with…

A light fandango

Might suit people who like…

Strauss, Gene Vincent

Readers dismayed by the cacographic opening of this review are invited to read this article and then the marvellous books to which it alludes.

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