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Procol Harum - Home CD (album) cover

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Procol Harum

 

Crossover Prog

3.51 | 118 ratings

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Prog Sothoth
4 stars For decades I had always considered Procol Harum as "that band that did A whiter Shade Of Pale". Never actually researching the band, I made the wrong assumption that they were this sort of 'one megahit wonder' group thanks to sheer ignorance and a lack of enthusiasm to explore the band's history even though I always dug the tune. In fact, it was only months ago that I realized that they had a pretty rich catalog of albums with strong progressive leanings. Hell, I use to think they were merely an R&B soul band! Yes, they had soul, but as it turned out, they were much more than that. This album, in particular, was a shocker in almost all the right ways.

Before I delve into the musical contents of this release, I have to say that the album cover, quite frankly, sucks. It's an absolutely stupid and misleading representation of Home's output, and most likely did no favors in piquing interest and selling units. The Monkees would have balked at a cover sleeve this cornball. Most importantly, This effort is unquestionably not just dark, but practically pitch black, and deserved a cover illustration that reflects this overall tone.

My only other issue with Home is that the opening number "Whiskey Train" is a rather poor choice as an introduction to this album. The song has a Southern boogie rock flair that was creeping into the scene at the time, yet it almost sounds like a parody of a genre that was still in its growing stages. There's a sweet hard rockin' barroom lick that wears out its welcome after a couple minutes of ceaseless repetition, and enough cowbell to send Christopher Walken into spasms of joy and flailing limbs. By itself it's not a throwaway track despite its faults, but it didn't prepare me for what would follow throughout the rest of Home's duration, which turned out to be an astonishing revelation.

Considering some of the pessimistic, dark and foreboding releases churning out in 1970 from bands like Black Sabbath, Black Widow and Van Der Graaf Generator among others, this may be the grimmest 1970 album of them all. Second track "The Dead Man's Dream" is like "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" performed by a suicidal goth band. Similar pace and style, but with all the hope of a rotting corpse. With lyrics depicting decay and maggot infestations, this is not the Procol Harum tune to play at your wedding. It also works magnificently in achieving its aims, conjuring up images of stark bleakness in a strangely almost majestic fashion. The rest of the album follows suit in different ways. There's the upbeat paced "Still There'll Be More" that channels sheer rage and hatred in the lyrics while groovin' up a storm, and somber ballads such as "Nothing That I Didn't Know", in which the pastoral music is tempered by lyrics about a young woman who died. I'm not sure what was going on with these guys during the writing process of these lyrics, but it couldn't have been the happiest time in their lives. Maybe had recently had kids or something (I'm dealing with this right now).

There's some standout progressive tracks that deserve serious mention. "About to Die", although not progressive in a technical sense, is brilliant in how it takes a dirgy riff and fuels it with frantic and offbeat drumming to add power and a sense of desperation. The soulful delivery of the vocals is the icing on the cake. In my opinion, Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die really could have used a track like this. "Piggy Pig Pig" is quite progressive in its song structure, veering towards crescendos rather than any typical catchy song oriented format. Then there's the albums true grand statement, "Whaling Stories". It's an absolute monster, and practically a must listen for any fan of prog rock. Boasting complete shifts in style and tempo, a ferocious ascending note pattern punctuated by a splenetic guitar and a wild and glorious apocalyptic finale, this track truly shocked me when I first heard it. To think I once thought Procol Harum was just a minor group with a hit song, all I can say now is that at least I'm finally enjoying this song , and didn't miss out on some serious quality music.

The album finishes with "Your Own Choice", a musically enjoyable and almost optimistic sounding piece until I realized the lyrics are as fitting an end to an album of such despondency, being that of the choice to commit suicide. It reminds me of The Door's "People Are Strange", in that the charming music offsets the nature of the lyrics to create a song you sing along to happily without pondering the actual words you are belting out.

Those looking for the truly cynical and more ominous side of the rock spectrum really need to check this album out. The mood is matched by sheer talent by all involved, and the production is clear and top notch for its time. Don't let the album cover or the goofy opening track steer you away, there's a lot of killer stuff to be found herein if if you're in a moody sort of mood.

Prog Sothoth | 4/5 |

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