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Procol Harum

 

Crossover Prog

3.51 | 118 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
4 stars Procol Harum's fourth album takes the tightness they achieved on the landmark A Salty Dog album, and beefs it up with a dose of heaviness. Organist/vocalist Matthew Fisher has left the band, now replaced by Chris Copping, who also doubles on bass guitar. Robin Trower (lead guitar) picks up some of the songwriting slack, though Gary Brooker (piano, vox) still carries the majority of the songs, as he did on prior albums.

Normally, I don't pay a lot of attention to song lyrics, but in this case I feel Keith Reid's lyrics are so striking (and in some cases, shocking) that they can't help but guide my review. The album cover shows a tacky (those colors!), wacky little board game featuring the band members' smiling heads. The first song (written by Trower/Reid) is an uptempo 12 bar blues called "Whisky Train" (Trower really lets loose for the first time here). Are the boys giving us a fun party record? Not on your life. Reid's lyrics quickly slip into macabre images of death and decay (complete with maggots) on the following dramatic piano ballad "The Dead Man's Dream", and into sociopathic violence on the otherwise bouncy "Still There'll Be More". "Nothing That I Didn't Know", "About to Die" and "Barnyard Story" all contain dark images of death and despair as well.

Musically, as I mentioned, there's more of an emphasis on guitar thanks to Robin Trower's increased role, and even Gary Brooker's quieter piano-based songs seem to have an added layer of gravity and heaviness to them, fitting the dour subject matter well. The dense, apocalyptic "Piggy Pig Pig" and the dramatic maritime epic "Whaling Stories" are clear highlights; the former song further explores the doomy symphonic sound of the prior album's "Wreck of the Hesperus", haunted by the refrain "God's aloft, the winds are raging / God's aloft, the winds are cold", and the latter song is the dark underbelly of the romantic sea captain theme explored on the prior album. "Whaling Stories" is, in fact, one of the band's most direct connections to progressive rock, building from a quiet, yet ominous piano ballad (similar to "A Salty Dog", the prior album's title epic) to an absolutely mind-blowing middle section akin to a chaotic storm. The slow, heavy, chromatic climbing riff in this section is probably my favorite moment on the whole album. The final track, "Your Own Choice", is an uncharacteristically light song; in this context, however, it feels almost like a suicide note, a moment of calm reflection and philosophizing just before offing yourself. Draw your own conclusions, as the song says....

A wonderful album. Not a five star album, but a very high four.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |

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