[Review] Procol Harum: Shine On Brightly (1968)

The band forges brightly into future with this literary, ambitious follow-up, capped by the multipart suite, “In Held Twas In I.”

Kronomyth 2.0: Lighthouse opera.

While The Beatles, Cream and Traffic captured the headlines, Procol Harum captured the imagination with their ambitious second album, Shine On Brightly. In my opinion, this is a minor prog* masterpiece, slightly above but otherwise similar to Deep Purple’s second album, The Book of Taliesyn. The comparison may seem odd at first, but consider that both bands had brilliantly talented rock guitarists (Ritchie Blackmore, Robin Trower) smoldering under pages of sheet music and poetry, just waiting to break free.

I can’t remember the last time an album hooked me as quickly as Procol’s second. “Quite Rightly So” quite deftly turns the tables on the artist-audience relationship by positioning the listener as the more enlightened of the two. It’s an interesting move, bold even, that continues as a motif in which Gary Brooker (as the mouthpiece for lyricist Keith Reid) expresses bewilderment at the world around him, from “Shine On Brightly” to the album’s grand closing statement, the 18-minute “In Held Twas In I.” Throughout, Reid’s clever wordplay (e.g., “The chandelier is in full swing,” “Caprice, your bugle blew away the cobwebs from my ears”) is tastefully paired with the piano and organ while Robbie Trower’s guitar assaults the senses in short, sonic blasts. In short, it’s the very model of a modern, major work of art.

The group’s first record was no small achievement, but they achieve higher heights than “Conquistador” and, yes, even that song, the second time around. In describing the Procol Harum sound, it seems equal parts nobility, eccentricity and artistry: Cream, Traffic, Deep Purple and early Genesis (the future kings) come to mind, Bob Dylan briefly too on “Rambling On.” The production reflects the participation of Tony Visconti, as this album feels as much a genial outsider as the work of Mott The Hoople. Then again, Mott seems to be an acquired taste—you either love it or you don’t—so I suspect that Procol Harum’s music will have the same effect.

“The main difference to me between the first album and the second was that the songs were better. Keith and Gary’s approach to songwriting and arrangement was pretty basic. It was verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, verse, chorus, end. They all seemed to fall into that pattern, but then things got a little more interesting. A bit more experimental on the second album, and that’s the big difference to me.” — Matthew Fisher, in a 2018 interview.

The album’s crowning jewel, mayhaps the crowning beauty of the Harum, is the mulitpart suite, “In Held Twas In I.” The song’s title is an acrostic, a neat little puzzle formed from the opening words of each movement. If popular music had ever aspired to the realm of art, it was surely here. The different sections offer tantalizing vignettes, from poetic recital to music carnival, closing with the beatific bombast of a Beethoven symphony. It’s a grand ending to a grand album. Unfortunately, subsequent reissues saw fit to add extra tracks to the album; a nice gesture in theory, but the final notes of “Grand Finale” should linger on stage to silent applause, not make way for a history lesson.

*I sway gently back and forth between calling Procol Harum a prog band and not calling them a prog band, because I am a willow undecided on the point.

Original LP Version

A1. Quite Rightly So (Gary Brooker/Matthew Fisher/Keith Reid) (3:37)
A2. Shine On Brightly (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (3:30)
A3. Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (3:43)
A4. Wish Me Well (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (3:19)
A5. Rambling On (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (4:28)
B1. Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (2:48)
B2. In Held Twas In I: a) Glimpses of Nirvana, b) Twas Tea-Time At The Circus, c) In The Autumn of My Madness, d) Look To Your Soul, e) Grand Finale (Gary Brooker/Matthew Fisher/Keith Reid) (17:51)

Expanded CD bonus tracks
8. Seem To Have The Blues (Mostly All The Time)
9. Monsieur Armand
10. Alpha
11. In The Wee Small Hours of Sixpence
12. In The Wee Small Hours of Sixpence (alternate version)
13. Quite Rightly So (take 4 breakdown)
14. Quite Rightly So (take 6)
15. Il Tuo Diamante

The Players

Gary Brooker (vocals, piano), Matthew Fisher (organ, vocals), David Knights (bass), Robbie Trower (guitar, vocals), B. J. Wilson (drums). Produced by Denny Cordell; assistant producer: Tony Visconti.

The Pictures

Art direction by Tom Wilkes. Photography by Guy Webster.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and reel-to-reel tape in September 1968 in the UK (Regal Zonophone, SLRZ 1004), the US (A&M, SP/OR-4151) {brown label} and Germany (Polydor, 184 162) with gatefold cover; reached #24 on the US charts. UK version features different cover. Reel-to-reel tape features “Magdalene” on both sides.

  1. Re-packaged with Home on 2-for-1 2LP in 1972 in the UK (Fly, TOOFA 10) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in France (Cube, 2305 101) feat. UK cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (A&M, SP-4151) with gatefold cover {screened A&M logo}.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in Russia (Anton, ATR 30013) with unique cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in September 1985 in the UK (Sierra Replay, FEDB5026).
  6. Re-packaged with A Salty Dog on 2-for-1 2CD in 1988 in France (Castle, TFO 5 1/2).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in Europe (Castle, CLACD 321).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1995 in the US (A&M/Rebound, 520 295-2/4).
  9. Re-packaged as Shine On Brightly… Plus on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1998 in the UK (Westside, WESM 533) with 8 bonus tracks feat. UK cover.
  10. Re-packaged on expanded, 20-bit K2 remastered compact disc in 2001 in Japan (Victor, VICP-61310) with 5 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-packaged with Procol Harum on 2-for-1 2CD on July 8, 2002 in the UK (Beat Goes On, BGOCD556).
  12. Re-packaged on expanded, K2 remastered compact disc on November 21, 2012 in Japan (Victor, VICP-75092) with 11 bonus tracks feat. UK cover.
  13. Re-packaged on 180g vinyl elpee in Europe (Music On Vinyl, MOVLP1803) with UK cover.
  14. Re-issued on elpee in 2017 in the US (Varese Vintage) with gatefold cover.

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