Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Shine on Brightly • Salvo

The second 2009 reissue reviewed online by Dmitry M Epstein

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Sometimes, befuddled brains are more enlightened than the wise to produce flaming dreams.

By 1968 Procol Harum must have had little qualms as to where to head to: all they had to do was to solidify the edifice that their self-titled début still is, and that's when the future curse of art rock kicked in in the form of conceptual thinking. Bizarrely, the song cycle In Held 'Twas In I which occupies side two of the original record feels less epic than the joyful outburst of Quite Rightly So with its Shakespear allusion in 'ode by any other name' and a 'too sick to see' skewed reference to A Whiter Shade of Pale – a medieval royal entry! – and the trumpet-like electric glow of the title track positioned right after the opener which is also shot through with Matthew Fisher's beast of organ. Cut the previous year (there's a guitar-less take to savor), it's the real tone-setter for the album that's as serious as playful, never more so than in Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) where Robin Trower's guitar hoots like a train whistle and BJ Wilson adds tasteful battery to this aural rail-wreck adorned with harmony vocals until Gary Brooker's piano brings relief and release – only for Khachaturian's Sabre Dance to deliver a coup de grace. After this, the Rambling On dreamy flow is anxiously balming, its crescendos notwithstanding.

The guitar-cum-harpsichord-touched murky march of Magdalena (My Regal Zonophone) bids farewell to the image-heavy assault of the preceding songs and, at the same time, prepares one's ear to the bitter-sweet Eastern nightmare of In Held 'Twas In I. The piquant sitar ushers in Glimpses of Nirvana – spoken-word-laden, dark as night and chilly as limbo which scatters into confetti in 'Twas Tea-Time At The Circus and gets spinned into the philosophic cobwebs that is The Autumn of my Madness. With Grand Finale the piano signals a renaissance of faith, but the whole tapestry illustrated the fact that Procol Harum's big ideas come best realised on lesser canvas, and their concepts worked better in the Grand Hotel settings.

When it came to deceptively simple songs such as In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence, out on '45 and added as a bonus here, the band shone brightly, indeed, and let the Hammond swirl around the piano to a great effect. Yet while Seem to Have the Blues (Most All the Time) was what it stated, the plain and unimaginative blue, Monsieur Armand emerged too raw and had to wait until 1974 to be re-modelled for Exotic Birds and Fruit, whereas a breezy backing track for A Robe of Silk got fleshed out only in 2005. Quite a forward, or timeless, thinking!


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