Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Trotsky' reviews 'Exotic Birds and Fruit'

There are a lot of people who'll champion the Grand Hotel album, but as far as I'm concerned, it is Exotic Birds and Fruit that is the most complete album in the latter half of Procol Harum's career. In fact, I'd say this album is the best one outside of the classic first trio of albums.

One of the reasons for my unqualified seal of approval is the absolutely gorgeous As Strong As Samson, which is a heart-breaking, nihilistic song of beauty. "Psychiatrists and lawyers/destroying mankind/driving them crazy and robbing [sic] them blind" sings Gary Brooker as Chris Copping turns in his best ever organ solo ... another tearing, searing, yet emphatically melancholic piece. BJ Wilson's drumming is top-notch on this one, rolling us all the way to heaven and back again. Every little nuance of this perfect, perfect song melts me. When Gary sings "there ain't no use" as the tune fades out, you know he's right.

Aside from that brilliant track, Exotic Birds is an engaging, occasionally challenging hotch-potch of quality tunes. The band rocks out on Nothing but the Truth, Monsieur R Monde (a reworked blues tinged-treatement of a track was first pencilled-in for the Shine on Brightly album) and Butterfly Boys (which starts off quite weak but is redeemed by some scorching work from Mick Grabham). It does a bit of a polka on the Balkan-influenced Beyond the Pale, it broods its way through the slow-burning epic The Idol, it pulls its hair out on the truly avant-garde The Thin End of the Wedge (featuring all kinds of grim, spoken-word antics from Brooker), it winks and laughs through the playful Fresh Fruit. As for the stately New Lamps For Old (yes, stately in a Homburg / A Whiter Shade of Pale kind of way) it is vintage PH. My version of album has the muscular B-side Drunk Again thrown in as bonus track and this "party" song doesn't detract from the quality of this fine album.

Even if I do feel that the one majestic song dwarfs the rest of the album, and I wouldn't say that this album catches Procol at its proggiest, this is still a very, very strong effort. ... 74% on the MPV scale

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