Friday, April 13, 2007

Typewriter torment, dreadful disease
Caught it the first day I touched the keys
You wear down your fingers and churn out your pap
It eats up your life like a dose of the clap
Typewriter torment it tortures me still
If only my doctor could see that I'm ill

Immediately above is a quite relevant verse from Procol Harum's "Typewriter Torment", from their Procol's Ninth album, which strikes me as very apropos towards my blogging lately. Above that is the inner gatefold image from their 1973 effort Grand Hotel, which has nothing to do with the lyrics, other than the man who wrote them- Keith Reid, who is holding the tray at left. Well, that, and my desire to maintain the ethos of this here blog, which is to write about "stuff I dig", and right now I'm digging this music.

I've been spending a fair amount of time (at home and at work, kinda slow today y'see) on, reading the comments on various Harum tracks that I have a certain fondness for, like the majority of the Hotel album and its successors Exotic Birds and Fruit and Ninth. I've always had a curious fascination with Procol; I'm not always in the mood for their oddball Mozart-meets-Big Bill Broonzy mix, but when I get that way, I can listen for days on end.

Funny thing is, my devotion, or whatever it is, is entirely based on that trio of LPs (1977's era-ending Something Magic makes it a quartet, I guess), which marked the decline of their commercial success in the middle of that decade- I have never owned, or even heard much of, earlier efforts like Home, A Salty Dog, or Broken Barricades, all of which came out on A&M Records prior to 1973. And, yes, of course I've heard "A Whiter Shade of Pale", dont really want to hear it again anytime soon, thank you. I keep meaning to pick some of those up someday, but other than one or two illegally downloded tracks, I have so far managed to avoid doing so.

Anyway, those four albums have an intriguing mix of styles and sounds- Hotel in particular has some ornate and distinctive arrangements, along with some nice boozy/bloozy singing by frontman Gary Brooker. Christianne Legrande of the French a capella group the Swingle Singers (love that name, reminds me of something or someone that would have been associated with Roxy Music) even guests on one cut, oohing and aahing a baroque melody in counterpoint to a lot of bashing about by the band and the string accompaniment. It's called "Fires (Which Burn Brightly)" and it sports some witty, if bleak, lyrics. I'm also enamored right now of "For Liquorice John", a song which I thought for a long time was about the Devil or somesuch but after reading the website's notes I see that it was written for an acquaintance of the band who committed suicide after suffering from mental illness. It has a beguiling melody as well, and a deceptively simple arrangement. Of course, every time I listen to this one for very long, I am always reminded of Christgau's review of Hotel, in which he says (much to my amusement):

For years these guys have vacillated between a menu of grits that certainly ain't groceries and larks' tongues in aspic (King Crimson reference there, y'know- Johnny B.). Despite their current white-tie conceit, they still haven't decided. Personally, I wish they'd pick their poison and choke on it.

Heh, heh. Anywho, the main thing about Hotel and me, besides my wish to have it in a more portable format (Fruit and Ninth, too, and they even issued a box with all three once, which of course I didn't purchase because of the $30 price tag), is that my vinyl copy is a later Chrysalis records reissue, and not only has a blue label, but is only a non-gatefold, plain white paper innersleeve version to boot- and one of the appeals of this record to me is the elaborate gatefold cover and accompanying lyric book with cool photos of the band, framed with elegant flourishes and delicate illustrations, which can be seen here (scroll down a bit) and here. The collector and graphic designer in me lusts after this, something which, I fear, is absolutely foreign and incomprehensible to the iTunes generation.

OK, that's all, I guess. I could go on to ramble about Birds and Fruit, and its excellent shoulda-been-a-hit "Nothing But The Truth", and the Lieber/Stoller produced Ninth, with its excellent Beatles and Lieber/Stoller covers and interesting UK hit "Pandora's Box", but I'm tired and it's getting late so I'll bid you a find good night and leave you with another Reid lyric, to wit:

Let down the curtain, and exit the play
The crowds have gone home and the cast sailed away
Our flowers and feathers as scarring as weapons
Our poems and letters have turned to deception.

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