Four Classics in One Convenient Box
B. Niedt | Cherry Hill, NJ United States | 05/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Procol Harum practicallly invented "classical rock", and few groups have had the kind of musical alchemy that this band did: Matthew Fisher's classically-trained organ, Gary Brooker's bluesy vocals, Robin Trower's emerging guitar-god chops, and Keith Reid's intriguing lyrics. This set includes their first four album releases, representing perhaps their best work.
Their self-titled debut album established Procol Harum's baroque sound with classically-infused tunes such as "Conquistador" and "She Wandered Through the Garden Fence". It is interesting that the original UK release omitted their smash single, "A Whiter Shade of Pale", but that was standard practice in the UK recording industry in those days, to omit singles from the subsequent album release. (If memory serves me, the US release dropped the track "Good Captain Clack" in favor of "Whiter".) Also of note is the fact that the album is entirely in mono, a strange production decision considering it came out in the same era as stereophonic sprees such as "Sgt. Pepper" and "Pet Sounds". (There are stereo takes of some of the songs on the third disc.) For my money, "Shine on Brightly" was their best album, and one of the 60's rock masterpieces. Trower really begins to emerge as a force here, as evidenced on tracks like "Rambling On" and the suite "In Held Twas In I". (According to the liner notes, the latter work was a big influence on the Who's "Tommy.") The album's theme of self-searching and discovery echoes the Moody Blues' "In Search of the Lost Chord", and production-wise, its ambition rivals "Sgt. Pepper".
"A Salty Dog" is another classic, a more subdued concept album for the most part, but with satisfying tunes throughout, including the lushly-orchestrated title track (a hint of the Edmonton Orchestra collaboration to come), the searing guitar of "The Devil Came from Kansas", and the gentle ballad "Too Much Between Us". The band carries the sea-voyage theme very effectively here. (The producers of this set made the annoying decision to leave off the title track on this disc, for "time constraint" reasons, and instead included the single version of "A Salty Dog" on Disc 3.) "Home" is a bit more uneven than the previous two albums, and marked the departure of organist Fisher. But there are still highlights, including "About to Die", the mini-suite "Whaling Stories" (whose seagoing theme could easily have fit on "A Salty Dog"), and the amazing "Whisky Train", one of Trower's greatest moments and one of the best damn rock songs ever. Disc 3 would be for completists only, if not for the inclusion of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and "A Salty Dog". Also, "Homburg", the followup single to "Whiter", is worthy of inclusion. I agree with another reviewer that it would have been nice to drop some of the "alternate takes" in favor of squeezing in their excellent fifth album, "Broken Barricades"; maybe licensing was an issue. But make no mistake: this is a fine three-disc compendium of Procol's early work, and an essential addition to the collection of any fan of the "progressive rock" era."
The Essential Procol Harum
Brian Whistler | Forestville, CA United States | 04/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"And a good deal...that is, if you get this for around $25, which of course you can through one of the other sellers.
Here you get the first four cds, plus a bunch of outakes and alternatives versions.
Listening to this stuff is a mixed affair-some of the tunes sound just as fresh and timeless as I thought they did when I was 18. And some of it is painfully dated and precious sounding.
For those who care, the packaging is nothing fancy, merely adequate at best. The liner notes are informative, brief and at times, glib. I would have liked to have seen each album cover be presented in color. And yes," A Salty Dog" is presented separately from the album, stuck in with the singles and rarities in disc three. (Arghhh.) Space saving maybe, but quite annoying.
Almost everything on that first release is great (except maybe Mabel-I never could get behind that tongue in cheek music hall sound that brit bands occasionally indulged in.) Too bad the quality is so poor, but it beats the hell out of my mono-electronically-altered to -sound like stereo vinyl copy! I expected miracles in re-mastering: in truth, the sound quality is far from revelatory, even on the subsequent stereo releases. I guess the masters themselves must have had distortion on them. This is especially noticeable on "Shine On Brightly." (And I thought it was my old worn out vinyl!) In contrast, I recently bought a reissue of Love's 'Forever Changes', and was blown away by the quality of that remaster. Funny thing is, the more I listen to this stuff, the less it bothers me. Revisiting these tunes is like reconnecting with an old friend-they are already etched in my brain, every note, screaming guitar lick,Fisher organ part and Brooker wail, yet they still sound fresh and immediate to these ears.
Shine On Brightly was a personal favorite way back when. I still love "Quite Rightly So" and the magnificent title track. In general 'side one' still holds up quite well. "In Held Twas I" is good psychedelic fun, but I doubt I'll be listening to it much in the future. It has some value as nostalgia, but once around was enough.
"A Salty Dog" was also a favorite, and I am sad to say there are not many tunes from that album that resonate with me today. I still find much to love about the title track, which is a stellar example of the grandeur and majesty this band could conjure. "Milk of Human Kindness", "Wreck of the Hesperus', "Too Much Between Us" and Pigrim's Progress" stand the test of time quite well, while songs like "Juicy John Pink" and the "Crucifiction Lane" have fared worse." Boredom" is well, plain boring.
One could already see that Robin Trower wanted to go one direction, while Matthew Fisher another. Perhaps Brooker was in the awkward position of having to bridge those worlds. With his powerful R&B vocals, he was certainly capable of belting out the blues. But for this listener, Procol Harum embodied that ineffable and unlikely marriage of rock and classical music, woven into the fabric of Keith Reid's surreal lyrics. By "Salty Dog", it was clear Procol Harum was in the midst of an identity crisis.
Which is why 'Home' is probably my least favorite in the package, having only a handful of songs that fit the classic PH mold. That being said, 'Dead Man's Dream', 'Whaling Stories', 'Nothing I Didn't know' still sound great today. In retrospect, it appears I may have underestimated this album' s enduring worth.
The alternatives on disc three are interesting, but with the exception of 'Homburg' (a great song that was only released as a single), "In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence" (b side that was quite good,) and of course, Whiter Shade of Pale (appearing in no less than three versions, including a rare stereo version!) it will mostly appeal to completists.
Procol Harum was an important voice in 60's early 70s pop music. Their contributions have often been overlooked and underrated. You can definitely hear that the Band was influenced by these guys. They were originals. And although I do not categorize their music as 'progressive rock' per se, they certainly pointed the way for those bands who later went down that road.
The bottom line is, their music is great fun to listen to, and even by today's standards, the musicianship is excellent. Even if you didn't live through the era, it might be well worth your while to check these guys out. And here's a great place to start."
The Best Procol Harum Collection I've Seen
John Prothero | 01/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD boxed set is a must for all fans of Procol Harum. It contains their first four albums (which were the best) as well as some rare singles and unreleased material. Definitely worth having in your CD collection."