I picked this album up ages ago, because I saw Transatlantic's cover of In Held ('Twas) In I on their debut album SMPT:e. The ('Twas) here is in brackets because Portnoy and friends decided not to include the extremely comical section 'Twas Teatime at the Circus in their cover. I'd only really half listened to their version, because I don't enjoy hearing covers of songs when I don't know the original. I sought out the album, and played it from start to finish. I have to admit it did nothing for me (at first that is). At the time I had mostly been feeding on a diet of Yes, King Crimson, and of course Transatlantic, so I was a bit put off by the relatively simplistic offerings of the first side. Even the epic itself failed to pull me in somehow. So the album remained in my CD collection, and on my iTunes Library, untouched for about a year.
And then I began to resume interest in Procol Harum. It may have been to do with the fact that my musical tastes had diversified, and I was now more accepting of other forms of prog, or maybe just because the other albums had found their way to my local CD shop at a very reasonable price. I bought Procol's eponymous debut, purely to hear A Whiter Shade of Pale and was pleasantly surprised to hear other very good songs on the album, including the very proggy Repent Walpurgis. It is about then that I decided to give Shine on Brightly another listen. Suddenly, it hit me how amazing this album is!
The album starts with the bouncy, triumphant single Quite Rightly So. I could listen to this song on repeat and not get tired of it (I'm doing so as I write this). Somehow I like it as much as I like In Held 'Twas In I! The lyrics, whilst remaining cryptic, have such charm, thanks to Keith Reid. An ode by any other name, I know might read more sweet, ... utter brilliance! What really makes the song stand out is the powerful instrumental section. OK so it's 30 seconds long and it's not in 7/8, but I swear if you find this song, skip to 1:52 and press play, your ears will thank you. The shimmering Hammond [sic] organ solo followed by the air-guitar inducing guitar solo really sets this song on fire. Certainly the best part of Side 1, and one of Procol's best songs ever.
We now get to the title track, Shine on Brightly. Lyrically, Reid struck gold again, but the musical composition doesn't really do it for me. The song structure is very simple, with three verses and an instrumental between the second and third verse. The main riff seems to be the same note played repeatedly on guitar, which may be appealing to some, but not for me. The instrumental is a short keyboard solo that is rather tame when compared to the one we just heard in the last track. The lyrics are great though, obviously very trippy in nature. There are, in fact, two album covers for Shine on Brightly, the UK version (a painting by George Underwood), and the US version (used on this website). I am annoyed that ProgArchives use the latter as the UK version is not only far more proggy, but also really suits the lyrics of the title track. The US cover just looks a bit grotesque really. Not a bad song, but by no means the best on the album.
Next up is Skip Softly (My Moonbeams). Houston, we have struck prog! For those only expecting to hear prog at the end of the album, you will be pleasantly surprised to hear very progressive sounding music this early on. However, this song is very quirky indeed, as the first 70 seconds play very much like any other pop rock song, although filled once more with two verses of Reid's infectiously enjoyable lyrics. After this, the song turns on its head and the mood changes completely. There is a sombre heavy mood which is climaxed by a fantastic guitar solo, and finally by a fast paced section similar to a traditional Russian song. Wonderfully creative, and beautifully realised.
We now reach the very bluesy Wish Me Well. This song would sound so much better if it didn't sound exactly like Cerdes from their début. The only thing is Cerdes is longer and more creative, and has a fantastic guitar solo, and so this song sounds more like Cerdes-lite. It's an OK song, but repeating yourself is never good, especially if the second time is worse. It doesn't ruin the album though, so I'll forgive them.
The next song, Rambling On reminds me slightly of She Wandered Through the Garden Fence off the début, in the way that they both tell surreal stories. That's not to say that this is a copy of the former song, like Wish Me Well was. The song is very aptly titled, as Gary Brooker literally rambles on for most of this track. In fact there are 4 verses in this song, but the first 3 are played back to back with no instrumental break in between creating a two-minute super-verse. It does feel quite intense, and at first the song sounds dull. That is until you finish the 3rd verse. Brooker sings Here I go! and suddenly things feel progressive. A chugging heavy pattern is played over and over and reminds me slightly of the riff in Genesis's The Knife towards the end of the instrumental. This radical change in the song is very attention grabbing, and other bands should learn from this example. Afterwards the song returns to normal and plays out. As I said before, at first listen the beginning of the song sounds quite dull. In fact this is FALSE! Pay attention to the lyrics to hear a fantastic surreal story about a man trying to fly, again penned by the sensational Keith Reid. That man is not doing badly at all on this album!
On Side 2, there are, in fact, two songs. Before the impending epic track, we are faced with Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone). I think track names like this put me off the first time around, but in fact Regal Zonophone (whatever that means) was the name of the original label they were signed to. In actual fact the song itself isn't bad, but isn't particularly memorable either, despite being in 3/4. BJ Wilson performs a marching drumbeat throughout the song. Probably my favourite part of the song is Brooker's vocalisation of a trumpet sound right after he sings ...to play the trumpet voluntary. Once again, it seems that short songs that share a side with an epic track (taking up the rest of the side) are destined to be a bit naff. Other songs of this nature include: Genesis's Horizons, Yes's Wonderous Stories, Caravan's The Fear & Loathing In Tollington Park Rag and IQ's Through The Corridors. The moral? Sidelongs should remain sidelongs!
And talking of sidelongs, we reach our not-quite-sidelong epic In Held 'Twas In I. The strange name of this song comes from the first word spoken in each vocal section. There are five distinct sections to this song and I shall describe them individually. The first part Glimpses of Nirvana showcases more sublime lyrics by Reid. At the very beginning there is a long spoken section. The line even though the words which I use are pretentious and make you cringe with embarrassment is great because it shows that the group are aware that what they are doing is very pretentious indeed. Pretentiousness and progressive rock seem to go hand in hand, and in some people's mind the two are synonymous! The tension is built up in the first 90 seconds until the spoken 'Life is like a beanstalk, isn't it?' is cue for an explosively progressive 6/8 riff, that stops almost as suddenly as it began! In fact I feel that the 6/8 section is much shorter than it should be, and I'm sure Transatlantic agree with me, because they decided to do the whole section twice in their version. It's extremely exciting, but much like the Stealth ride at Thorpe Park, it's over far too soon! Afterwards the main theme is played on the piano and sitar, and is more relaxing, whereas I'd quite like more of the exciting stuff at this point. Still no matter, as more spoken words lead us into the next section...
...the extremely comical 'Twas Teatime at the Circus. The piano that was being played before is suddenly dropped and we are launched straight into a completely different world altogether. This very silly section certainly does remind one of the Circus, with completely different instrumentation including what sounds like a harpsichord. Almost as quickly as it began this section ends. Probably the easiest comparison to be made here is to Genesis's Willow Farm section of Supper's Ready which was possibly inspired by this. However, while Willow Farm is an integral part of Supper's Ready, 'Twas Teatime at the Circus feels really out of place here, with lyrics that aren't mystical at all. It's not awful, but it doesn't feel right at all.
Then we reach what I like to think of as the heart of the song. Both In the Autumn of my Madness and Look to Your Soul seem to continue the mystical theme that arose in the intro. The very lyric In the autumn of my madness is fantastic in itself. Both sections consist of two verses of iconic lyrics, especially Some say that I'm a wise man, some think that I'm a fool. The instrumental linking these two sections is the most progressive the song gets though (which is quite progressive indeed, especially for 1968). It's over three minutes long and has a few different sections, including the fantastic fourteen-note riff played by Robin Trower!
The song ends with the powerful, moving, astonishing, breathtaking Grand Finale. Here, I believe the original is in fact better than Transatlantic's version, as Procol's includes a fantastic choir, which is sadly uncredited on the album. The heavenly sound of the choir is broken by Robin Trower performing one of the finest guitar solos in early prog history, over Matthew Fisher's powerful Hammond organ chords. This is fairly reminiscent of the guitar solo(s) in Repent Walpurgis which also closed Procol's début. After this heart-wrenching solo, the choir come back again in full force, singing gracefully and powerfully over the 3/4 melody. The whole thing ends with some fantastic chords, and the album closes.
This album is not only brilliant, but extremely important too in progressive rock history. While there had been dabblings in prog before, In Held 'Twas In I was one of the first epic songs over 15 minutes in length and also one of the first to sound 'progressive' in the way we usually think of as progressive. There is plenty to enjoy on this album, and not just the epic song. Quite Rightly So is a masterpiece of pop rock in my opinion, and I just can't get enough of it! I'm quite surprised that on this site, the début Procol Harum currently has a slightly higher rating than Shine on Brightly as I think this album is surely their masterpiece.
Before I finish, I shall warn people of the latest reissue of this album by Salvo. Everything looks great about the reissue, the packaging is very nice and the liner notes are extensive and informative, and there are ELEVEN bonus tracks! All of this is great, except that they really botched the remastering of the album itself. While sound quality isn't a problem, the songs have all been speeded up, so much so that In Held 'Twas In I, normally 17:30, now runs to about 16:50. It really makes a difference as the songs sound slightly sharper than they normally would, and once you know this, it's always on your mind. It's worse than that though: even if you wanted to mess around with an mp3 editor to correct the speed, the very first bell heard in 'Twas Teatime at the Circus is simply absent from this remaster. On the LP the drums come in on the sixth bell, whereas here they only come in on the fifth. To some this may be a minor quibble, but I personally find this atrocious. I had to seek out different versions of the songs, to include in my library, and delete the Salvo remasters. The increased hiss of my current versions sound much better than the flaws of the Salvo ones. I checked and found that all the other Procol Harum albums released by Salvo sound perfectly fine, so you should definitely check out the other reissues from this company. Just be weary [sic] of these defects OK?
|More reviews of Shine on Brightly | Reviews of other PH albums | More about Procol and Prog | More about the speed of the Salvo reissue | Another review of the same album at the same website|