Oscar Wilde once said that “Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” What he is saying is that while the images are beautiful and touching, the music itself can carry both the good and bad times that can nail the portrait very well. That and Procol Harum’s fourth album released in the summer of 1970 on the Regal Zonophone label and reissued by the good people from Esoteric Recordings in a 2-CD set this year entitled, Home.
It’s often considered one of the band finest albums, but it also shows their darker side. And they nail it spot on. With the dealings with death and one about corporate greed from the lyrical mind of Keith Reid, it shows them how they can take the lyrics into the harder times on why we have to go and when will be the time to say farewell. Both Matthew Fisher and David Knights left the band after A Salty Dog’s release as Chris Copping took over as he played both Bass Guitar and Organ.
Opener, Whisky Train is one of Robin Trower’s composition in which he and Keith Reid worked on, starts it off with a proto-hard heavy blues rock to knock it off the park. Robin is showing a lot of energy through his guitar playing as he’s channeling the sounds of Rory Gallagher and the late great Alvin Lee. It’s a mid-fast driven rockin’ roar to the highway as the percussion-like cowbells from B.J. Wilson gives that effect of train getting on the bluesy roar.
The haunting piano ballad of the inspiration behind the controversial 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy of The Dead Man’s Dream, shows Procol Harum giving a little bit of an homage to Harry Nilsson’s lyrical touches as the character going through a dying atmosphere and the organ and Brooker’s spoken dialogue in the midsection of the graveyard and crying out in fear. It’s a chilling piece, but the lyrics are well-written and heavier.
The diminished chords, double tracking-drums, thumping piano intro, and punch-like guitar lines of Piggy Pig Pig deal with the corporate greed in the government with lyrical lines of “Watch the book/the page is turning/how the tale unfolds/inside every cancered spectre.” Speculations on the loss of Jenny Drew, gives it a gothic background in the style of an Acid Folk-Rock Jim Croce structured piece with a spooky organ, accordion lament for the funeral of a young girl dying at the age of 26.
But Procol Harum show themselves having a grand old time. On Still There’ll Be More, its up-tempo beat on dealing with people who would cheat on either husbands or wives and give them a message on who not to mess with the line “I’ll blacken your Christmas/and piss on your door/you’ll cry for mercy.” It’s such a great song and Brooker nails it on those vocal arrangements.
Whaling Stories which would later be one of the band’s live favorites, and an early pioneer of the history of Progressive Rock, is perhaps one of their magnum opus alongside the 17-minute suite, In Held ‘Twas in I. The thunderous sea-crying shanty roaring of Trower’s guitar sends electricity as he descends his chords and solo followed by Brooker giving the last message as the crew send towards their doom. Before the militant funeral orchestral finale of the crew meeting their prophets and find peace at their wake.
The bonus tracks on the second disc, feature two BBC tracks they did for the David Symonds show, backing tracks, different takes, single Radio edit, George Martin mix in which he double-tracked the piano line, brought the guitars up into a different level to give it a sinister momentum on About to Die, and two remixes. There is a poster of the album in which features lyrics of the album along with a 20-page booklet with Henry Scott-Irvine’s liner notes featuring interviews with the band about the making of the album.
Mark & Vicky Powell have never disappointed me when it comes to Esoteric Recordings. And the Procol Harum reissues are a welcoming treat and I hope they will do more next year with the other albums (Grand Hotel, Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and Broken Barricades to name a few.) The reissues are a welcoming return to see where the band broke the door down and where they would make five more albums and various line-up changes before calling it a day in 1977 at the height of the punk and disco movement.
And many years later, they are still going strong and still going on tour.