By Dave Thompson
“Shine On Brightly”
“A Salty Dog”
One could readily be excused for sighing just a little harder than usual at the prospect of another round of Procol Harum reissues; although it doesn’t seem that long ago since Salvo commenced their own series of remasters, loading each album down with bonus tracks, Esoteric’s dip into the same catalog offers its own set of sterling reasons to make the investment once more.
Examples: the first album returns in stereo (Salvo focused on the mono mix); “Shine on Brightly” is restored to its correct speed, as opposed to the oddly bungled one last time around; and so on. Plus, the bonus tracks are generally packed off to a second disc of their own, short-circuiting complaints that some LPs are meant to end where their creators ended them and not ramble on ad nauseum, with backing tracks, false starts and so on and so forth. (The exception to this is the first album, where the extras pile up on the first disc, too — “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” of course, and “Homburg,” their respective B-sides and more besides.)
“Shine on Brightly,” however, is expanded to three CDs, including both the stereo and mono mixes, plus a bucketload of bonuses. “A Salty Dog,” perhaps the finest of the four LPs, adds a second disc rounding up outtakes, BBC sessions and five tracks from a 1969 live show; and “Home” seeks out demos, outtakes and backing tracks, again spread across a second disc. Memorabilia packed booklets, deluxe sleeves and truly spectacular remastering complete each package, so having considered what you’re getting, it’s worth taking a moment to remember why you need it.
Because, across the course of these four albums, and into the future as well, Procol Harum all but singlehandedly defined what progressive music should be, as opposed to what it could, might or theoretically was. Following similar paths to their contemporaries, they nevertheless maintained a sense of balance and decorum, neither insulting the listener’s intelligence with supercilious Holier/Smarter-Than-Thou smugness, nor boring us to death with 40-minute concepts about things we didn’t care about.
There were no topographic oceans in Procol Harum’s atlas, and no baby sheep napping on busy New York streets, either. Just a succession of sharply written, creatively worded and beautifully tuneful songs, and an eye for topics that might not have been your conventional pop fodder (“Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of),” anyone?), but could certainly kick butt when they wanted to — “The Devil Came from Kansas” was a Robin Trower blues showcase years before he grasped solo acclaim.
Indeed, across the four discs, one struggles to find a dull moment, and the well-chosen bonus material makes you yearn for even more. “Glimpses of Nirvana,” they say on “Shine on Brightly.” They’re here.