Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum Live with the
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Contemporary album review

Richard Cromelin in Rolling Stone, 8 June 1972

If you're put off by pretensions of grandiosity in music, if all you want to do is get funky and boogie around, you've probably never been all that fond of Procol Harum, and this album isn't likely to change things. If, on the other hand, you're a confirmed addict and would rather skip the light fandango than just get it on, this fulfilment of all their leanings toward magnificence is as close as you'll get to a dream come true.

While their music has never pretended to be anything other than dramatic and pictorial, Gary Brooker's arrangements employ the chorus and orchestra to make more obvious than ever the place of those qualities in Procol Harum's music. Take the second break in Conquistador, which sounds like nothing but the score from an early Sixties wide-screen epic on the Spanish conquest of the New World, replete with swooping strings and bullfight horns. Or the stately chorus of In Held 'Twas In I, which is enough to make one wish Mr Capra had Procol around to do the soundtrack of Lost Horizon.

Rather than let the idea of a full symphony orchestra at his command go to his head, Brooker has kept things very elementary, capitalizing on the opportunities for extreme dynamic variations (which works especially well on the majestic climaxes of Whaling Stories, A Salty Dog and In Held) and for delightfully melodramatic coloration -- the trilling reeds that herald daybreak in Whaling Stories, the sombre strings that tone the first part of the song with a deeper-than-melancholy caste, and the ominous, swelling opening of In Held being the best examples.

Now someone might easily turn up his nose at this approach and dismiss it as precious, transparent, even comical. But an understanding of and a sympathy with Procol Harum's attitude leads one to accept this album as the group's most forthright admission so far that their music is indeed excessively grandiose, unsubtle, and often marked by a fine sense of comedy (usually self-directed). It also happens to be among the most viscerally powerful and emotionally devastating music available.

Of the five selections, Whaling Stories, A Salty Dog and In Held are the most effective (especially the latter, which makes the old studio version sound like a sketchy blueprint), though Conquistador doesn't lag far behind. I can think of about 20 PH songs I'd rather hear in the slot occupied by All This and More.

Chris Thomas's production hasn't sacrificed a bit of the band's power to the jaws of the orchestra, and the performance he captures so well is uniformly excellent. But Brooker's singing must be singled out. If his work on the Look to Your Soul segment of In Held and on the last verse of A Salty Dog, where his voice slides gloriously from word to word and pours from the speakers like dark blue honey, doesn't convince the world that he's matured into one of rock's premiere vocalists, nothing will. And to hear him grapple with the line that finally resolves itself as 'And though the cloud crapped desperately ...' while the Da Camera Singers boisterously whoop it up behind him is a treat and a half.

In the Glimpses of Nirvana portion of In Held, Brooker recites some words by Keith Reid that come closest to revealing what they're all about: 'If I can communicate / And in the telling and the baring of my soul anything is gained / Even though the words I use are pretentious and make you cringe with embarrassment ..."

After all, life IS like a beanstalk. Isn't it?

  Thanks to Marvin Chassman

Many more pages devoted to the Edmonton concert
More reviews of the Edmonton album
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