I have been a fan of Procol Harum, since first hearing the songs A Whiter Shade of Pale and Conquistador, and the album Shine on Brightly, with its incredible prog epic In Held ‘Twas in I. If you haven’t heard that epic classic, you really should…
The band has always had a diverse ability to play the same rockin’ blues that most of Britain’s seminal rock bands played and grew up with, while at the same time they have generated moments of brilliance with prog classics like the ones mentioned above. So, it was with great interest that I anticipated this latest album, Novum, when I heard that it was on the way a couple of years ago, their twelfth studio album and the first in almost 14 years.
Which way would the album direction flow? Rockin’ blues or progressive rock? This may be their last album, since none of the players are getting any younger, so how do they want to be remembered? Well, the answer was probably already assumed a couple of years ago when the announcement was made that they were going to release another album. Procol Harum, like most other bands of their generation, wanted to go out with what they came in playing. So, this is primarily a rockin’ blues album. In fact, it is as if the prog music which brought them most of their accolades has been left behind.
This album is very bluesy, with the kind of drunken storytelling which brought them many fans during the early years. It is also the first album without the lyrics of Keith Reid. Gary Brooker is the only founding member of the band on board for this album and his piano playing is one of the highlights, such as on the opening song I Told You So, a bluesy rock ballad that opens with wonderful piano from Gary and is full of the kind of melancholy lyrics and real-world stories that the band have been known for over the years.
In fact, many of these tracks are similar to the opener in their stories and rhythms. They, especially the second track Last Chance Motel, sound like pub sing along songs. Not bad, if you are into that type of music but Last Chance Motel is almost like a country song in feel and lyrically. Not my cup of tea.
Gary Brooker’s voice is still powerful and that is what hurts the most when you listen to this album. I think he has at least one more great prog giant left, but we may never hear it.
Image of the Beast and Soldier are excellent lyrically and well played, the guitar, bass and drums are perfect while the organ and piano are simply riveting. They sound a lot like the kind of AOR rock that dominated airwaves in the ’70s. Good, but, yes, you’ve heard this all before.
Don’t Get Caught has some great keyboards and that wonderful piano, with Brooker singing like the salty sailor he is, and Neighbour has a hilarious lyrical story that helps lift the album in the middle. Sunday Morning has a regal beauty to its piano opening. On this track you can almost hear Brooker’s vocals trying to resurrect A Whiter Shade of Pale or Grand Hotel, with accompaniment from strings and organ. This is the closest we get to the album that I would have loved to hear.
The Only One is another standout. Just who Brooker is talking about in the lyric will conjure memories of the world’s fascination with A Whiter Shade of Pale, if enough people hear this album, and it is the best song on the album by a long shot. Wonderful, I only wish there were more of this and Sunday Morning. Somewhen is another golden nugget full of the kind of lyrics that help remind us of how wonderful life used to be before the world’s most recent challenges. It is sung in that melancholy voice that Brooker is so perfect at producing. He takes you there and gives it the feel it needs. Three great songs that I hope they might use for inspiration, if they decide to record another album in the future.
But here we get some fun jibing towards Businessman and others instead. These are good songs no doubt. But they are too tied up in real world situations and everyday happenings, which is O.K. but I want to hear music to take me away from it all. With all the sadness and problems in the world, we don’t need more reminding in our entertainment. Most of this music doesn’t take you away at all.
Working man songs for working people. Good for bars and pubs. Not the kind of magical lyrics and music that take you beyond the pale.
01. I Told On You (5:32)
02. Last Chance Motel (4:48)
03. Image Of The Beast (4:56)
04. Soldier (5:28)
05. Don’t Get Caught (5:12)
06. Neighbour (2:45)
07. Sunday Morning (5:28)
08. Businessman (4:44)
09. Can’t Say That (7:13)
10. The Only One (6:10)
11. Somewhen (3:46)
Total Time – 56:02
Gary Brooker – Piano, Accordion, Lead Vocals
Josh Phillips – Organ, Vocals
Geoff Whiteborn – Guitar
Matt Pegg – Bass Guitar
Geoff Dunn – Drums
Pete Brown – Lyrics
Record Label: Eagle Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st April 2017