Procol Harum

the Pale

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Contemporary album review

Gary von Tersch in Rolling Stone, 3 September 1970

Procol Harum has undergone some changes since its Whiter Shade, Repent Walpurgis, and Salty Dog days. Gone is Matthew Fisher, whose Brahms-ed and Bach-ed organ playing was the backbone of the Procol Harum sound from the outset. Throughout Harum's first three albums Fisher's role lessened more each time on the last effort he even competed with strings and horns. Chris Copping has replaced him (Copping also replaces former bass guitarist Dave Knights), but the most important switch in Harum's sound is due to the fact that guitarist Robin Trower has stepped up and is truly playing a lead guitar. On their earlier albums Trower played nothing but endless drone and repetitive filler riffs here he unleashes an atmospheric, Hendrix-style wailing, screeching assault that successfully replaces the vanished organist. Efforts such as the extended mini-epic Whaling Stories and Whisky Train are good examples of the transfusion of textures that Trower has brought to Harum's sound. On Whisky he even gets into the blues idiom with no harmful side effects.

Gary Brooker hasn't lost any of his vocal charisma as he alternately sings and talks the lyrics in his emotional, mystical and oft-times buried fashion. Next to Trower it is Brooker's piano playing that is the crux of the Harum sound and it hasn't changed much it's just as pounding, arpeggio-ridden [sic] and disturbingly melodic as ever. Offset against Trower's guitar the piano is magnified that much more and balances out the dimensionality [sic] of that Harum sound.

And let's not forget Keith Reid, whose lyrics are just as fine as ever. True, his themes are still the graveyard, religion-ridden and netherworldly, but his depth and convoluted intensity at times are overwhelming. Highlights here include the violent Still There'll Be More, the muted Eleanor Rigbyish Nothing That I Didn't Know or down to the expansive, image-taut Whaling Stories that culminates wondrously in the last four lines, as the song shalimars onto a whole different level of meaning. Reid is the master of the compact line in pop music and we have multifarious examples of it here from 'Watch the book, the page is turning' to 'Sack the town, and rob the tower / and steal the alphabet' his sense of reality conflicts not a notch with the classical / rock evocations of the instrumentation.

But Reid still insists on rhyme and in some cases it is his downfall Your Own Choice is too simplistic and unnatural. Maybe some free verse experimentation would be rewarding. And haven't we had enough of these pseudo-cerebral / Katzenjammer covers for this season? 

Further reviews of this album

Reviews of other Procol Harum albums

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