Fourteen years can go by very quickly, and that indeed seems to have been the case with Procol Harum, as their latest release Novum is their first since 2003's strong The Well's On Fire. Though it's taken a while to pump out another studio album, the band have been pretty busy on the live circuit over the years, the line-up being pretty stable and includes here in 2017:
Gary Brooker – piano, accordion, vocals
Josh Phillips – organ, vocals
Geoff Whitehorn – guitar
Matt Pegg – bass guitar
Geoff Dunn – drums
Of course any Procol Harum album is bound to be led by the still terrific vocal pipes of founding member & pianist Gary Brooker. He's once again at the helm here, and sounding decades younger than his 71 years, adding his splendid vocal melodies to the crisp rocker "I Told On You", a very fine tune which kicks off Novum. Supported by some tasty guitar licks courtesy of Whitehorn and sultry organ from Phillips, we have here a very strong song to open up the album. The calmer, blues/country strains of "Last Chance Hotel" dials back on the energy but supplies some nice melodies, and you can easily see this tune appeal to fans of the current 'crossover' craze. The tempo again picks up on "Image of the Beast", as driving piano, organ, and guitar weave and twist around Brooker's soaring vocal. "Soldier" blends blues and sophisticated pop, complete with another mighty fine Brooker vocal, though the song is missing some prominent organ, instead permeated with piano and crisp guitar lines. "Don't Get Caught" once again dabbles more in the pop realm, but the catchy melodies are there, and the lighthearted "Neighbor" brings in acoustic guitar, accordion, and layers of vocals for a quirky, wispy folk/pop flavor.
Brooker's majestic, elder statesman tones saturate the lush "Sunday Morning", as piano, violin, and guitar drift in the background, giving way to the crunchy hard rocker "Businessman", a great vehicle for Whitehorn's metallic riffing and stinging blues rock solos. Though Phillips' organ is there, it needed to be more upfront in the mix, which seems to be an issue throughout the album. He does however show up front and center on the next track, his smokey tones & solos popping in and out on the somewhat jazzy, somewhat bluesy, but quite rocking "Can't Say That", another uptempo number that also sees former Jethro Tull member Pegg laying down some acrobatic bass lines alongside Dunn's nimble drumming. At over 7-minutes long it's the lengthiest and most adventurous song on the album. "The Only One" features a wonderful, emotional vocal from Brooker, and the vocalist and his piano close out the show on the tender "Somewhen".
Classy stuff all around on Novum, and while I still would have liked Phillips' organ featured more prominently in the mix on some songs, overall there's a nice blending of styles and tempos here on the album, the band sounding in top form and delivering memorable material. Now 50 years into their career, Procol Harum are still delivering the goods, and that's a big plus for music lovers everywhere.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1. I Told on you
2.. Last Chance Motel
3.. Image of the Beast
5.. Don't Get Caught
7.. Sunday Morning
9.. Can't Say That
10. The Only One