"A WHITER Shade of Pale" was an unforgettable rock 'n' roll moment; the combination of Gary Brooker's Percy Sledge vocal imitation and Matthew Fisher's Hammond B-3 organ rendering of Bach's Suite No. 3 in D proved irresistible. The 1967 single was the first recording Procol Harum ever made, and everything the group has done since has been a minor postscript by comparison. The group broke up in 1977 but reunited last year to record "The Prodigal Stranger," which can only be described as a very minor footnote indeed to the band's history.
Fisher had departed the Brooker-dominated group in 1970, but he rejoins Brooker, guitarist Robin Trower and lyricist Keith Reid; B. J. Wilson, who died in 1990, was replaced by Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki and David Knights was replaced by Trower's bassist, Dave Bronze. The dozen new songs were written by Brooker and Reid with help from Fisher, Trower and engineer Matt Noble. Reid, one of the worst lyricists in rock history, has toned down his act somewhat but he's still capable of pseudo-mystical utterances like, "She cut the deck once more by the light of 13 candles."
Trower stays in the background for the most part, although he does showcase his psyche-metallic guitar work on "All Our Dreams Are Sold." The dominant instrument is Fisher's organ, but he rarely gets a melody as juicy as the Bach suite. There's an attempt to update the band's old art-rock sound with modern rhythm tracks, but, like a strand of hair combed over a bald spot, the effort only emphasizes Brooker's dated approach to songwriting. Brooker still has a sturdy blue-eyed soul voice, however, and it shines whenever it gets a half-decent melody, as on "Perpetual Motion" or "One More Time."
PROCOL HARUM -- "The Prodigal Stranger" (Zoo). Appearing Saturday at the Bayou. To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call 202/334-9000 and press 8128.