Procol Harum

the Pale

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Something Magic

Dave Fudger in Sounds, February 1977

PROCOL HARUM: Something Magic (Chrysalis CHR1130)***

IF THIS had been a dťbut album I would have said wait and see, in a couple of albums time theyíll probably be really hot. I would have applauded the standards of musicianship and composition and said that the second side Ė a fable concept Ė titled The Warm & The Free (sic), leaves me a little puzzled as itís so obviously loaded with symbolism that itís open to many interpretations.

I would have genuinely looked forward to what the band would be doing on subsequent albums Ė if The Worm & The Tree had been a dťbut album. When itís the tenth album from a band of Procol Harumís stature, a band that as Bob Harris would say ďis a personal favorite of mineĒ and has been for years itís a bit of a tragedy.

Iíve been dreading writing this review. Iíve had a cassette of the album for a couple of weeks and Iíve been playing it as much as possible Ė as background music, as intent-upon-getting-into music, as just plain listening music but Iím very disappointed. Thereís one real beaut of a song on side one The Mark of The Claw, which features some classic Harum touches. Dominated by a grand and slightly sinister Mick Grabham guitar phrase it proceeds to show everybody off at their best.

New man Pete Solley makes the most of the slightly macabre setting of the hard-edge guitar line, Gary Brookerís piano grand and the mini-apocalypses from the best British rock drummer on the planet to throw in a hunting, meandering synthesizer line. The lyrics are Keith Reid at his claustrophobic, hypnotic, obsessive best over a Brooker melody line and chord change that stretches straightforward statements into mystery.

The closing sequence has the Grabham guitar riff punctuated by key sounds from a murder Ė footsteps, a door opening and closing, a distant scream, and finally the door slamming Ė after a few plays I found myself impatient for that bit. Itís almost worth buying the album for that track alone.

Sadly, the rest of side one is tame by comparison. All of it exhibits signs of Procolís high standards of musicianship, arrangement and individual virtuosity but the tunes ainít a patch on The Claw for drama and allure.

The Worm & The Tree on the other hand Ė two years in the making, so itís said Ė just donít do it for me at all.

As I said before itís a fable about a worm that enters a tree and slowly devours it from within and pollutes the immediate environment. There is a suitably dramatic and romantically just ending.

The possible non-literal interpretations are obviously many but as a musical fairytale it works well with Brooker narrating the lyrics over a developing musical score. It just seems inordinately lightweight to me and along with the rest of the album, depresses me as it represents a further dilution of the talents that produced the magnificent Broken Barricades and Grand Hotel albums. Not that the intervening records have been without their moments but seemingly increasingly fewer.

Still, I ainít giving up on Procol yet and I expect that the fruits of The Worm & The Tree will be greater in live performance, and I genuinely look forward to their subsequent albums.

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