Procol Harum

Something Magic

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When Procol Harum's ninth studio album, Something Magic, was released in March 1977, it sold poorly and was largely dismissed, with the group breaking up at the end of the promotional tour for it. With this reissue more than 30 years later, annotator Roland Clare argues it is "in need of outright reappraisal." He doesn't actually make that case, but he does explain the circumstances that led to the debacle. After its previous album, Procol's Ninth, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Procol Harum might have been expected to go back to a more conventional approach; instead, the group hired the hot studio of the day, Criteria in Miami, and its hot resident producers, Ron and Howie Albert. When the band arrived in Florida and played the songs intended for the album, the Albert brothers threw half of them out. That left half of an album to fill, which led singer/pianist/composer Gary Brooker to turn to a parable-like poem written years earlier by his lyric partner Keith Reid, "The Worm & the Tree," and -- in a move anticipating This Is Spinal Tap -- writing a musical suite around it to fill up side two. He then recited the poem rather than actually setting it to music, creating a pretentious work just at a time when critics and fans were tiring of peers like Jethro Tull and Yes doing much the same thing. It didn't help that the songs making up side one were relatively minor Procol Harum. None of this has changed in the ensuing decades, but Clare's explanation is interesting to read; the remastered sound is terrific; and the album boasts three bonus tracks including not only the instrumental B-side "Backgammon," which has appeared elsewhere, but also previously unreleased live versions of two of the songs the Alberts rejected, "You'd Better Wait" and "This Old Dog." They do not suggest that Something Magic could have been a great or even good Procol Harum album. But they do add to an understanding of one of the more confusing chapters in the band's history.

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