It's been twelve long years since 1991's The Prodigal Stranger, the last studio album from the legendary Procol Harum, who, along with the Moody Blues and the Beatles, perhaps created progressive rock some 35 years ago. Fast-forward to 2003, and the band is back again, this time with both founding members Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher, plus lyricist Keith Reid. Joining these three is guitarist Geoff Whiteburn, drummer Mark Brzezicki, and bassist Matt Pegg (son of former Jethro Tull bassist David Pegg.) While perhaps not a complete return to the glory years of Broken Barricades or Salty Dog, The Well's on Fire is a strong album filled with sophisticated English rock with just the right amount of majestic progressive flourishes.
One thing is for certain, Gary Brooker's voice has not lost a step over the years. In fact, his husky vocals on tunes like "An Old English Dream", the rocking "Shadow Boxed", or the bluesy "The VIP Room" show the singer/pianist laying down his strongest vocal performances in years. Guitarist Whitehorn seems to have fit right in with the band, as his sinewy, blues/jazz riffs cut through the mix on the uptempo rocker "A Robe of Silk", and soothe the soul on the laid back honky-tonk of "The Question", which also features a fine Hammond organ solo from Fisher. Brooker's piano leads the way into the classy hard rock sounds of "Wall Street Blues", which is just vintage Procol Harum. Perhaps the strongest tune though is the melancholy "The Emperor's New Clothes", a haunting prog-rocker where Brooker croons "…we've heard it before, your ego parade, you're always so sure, a hollow charade, you promise the moon, an' squander the earth, the only person you fool, is yourself." This one segues into the driving rocker "So Far Behind", which features some neat wah-wah guitar licks from Whitehorn, squarely in the tradition of original Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower.
Sadly, the one ingredient here that bothers me a bit here is that Matthew Fisher seems invisible half the time. Other than the lead player on the instrumental "Weisselklenzenacht (the signature)", which is really like a re-take on "Whiter Shade of Pale", or some strong lines on "Every Dog Will Have His Day", he doesn't have much to do on the album other than add little Hammond flourishes here and there. I think a greater contribution from Mr. Fisher would have made this return for Procol Harum even more special than it is, which is in reality pretty damn impressive.