Regal Zonophone 1967 / Esoteric 2015
A cornerstone of art rock, still fresh and shining brightly.
One may wonder whether PROCOL HARUM really understood the grandiosity of their debut single – one of the most impressive debut ever – when they followed “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” with the similarly hued “Homburg,” both on this reissue, and whether they felt a challenge to rise to, but the boldness with which the quintet unleashed their self-titled album is amazing even now as the record didn’t date a little bit. Still, there’s no hubris at all, and this might be the reason why there’s sympathy in the opening “Conquistador” and why the paean to the quixotic vanity of glory packs a punch with only a hint of celestial solemnity that’s spared for Matthew Fisher‘s instrumental magnum opus, “Repent Walpurgis,” that closes the record and quotes Bach directly. The winning formula, then, lies not in the combination of Gary Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ sprinkled with Robin Trower’s economic riffing but in the contrast of the earthiness of Brooker’s voice and the irreality of music coupled with Keith Reid‘s strange, if alluring, lyrics.
Without such enigma, the foxtrot of “She Wandered Through The Garden Fence” wouldn’t be as catchy as it is, all the more so for employing of the Hammond’s churchy roar for such an easy going subject as a little sexual exploit. But there’s enough overt vaudeville in the brisky, glass-clanking “Mabel” and “Good Captain Clack,” while the guitar on the slouchy “Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of)” and the mournful “A Christmas Camel,” which hangs on infections piano motif, are where the psychedelia blooms gloomily. Organ-awash “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” only serves to strengthen the impression of a multicolored celebration of decadence wrapped in black velvet, what with Bobby Harrison’s almost samba drumming over the boogie-woogie of B-side, “Lime Street Blues.” From there, there was not much space to progress, yet “Procol Harum” still sounds vivacious and vital.
(The review is of Expanded Edition of the album, while Deluxe Edition on Esoteric has a lot of previously unreleased material.)