Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Exotic Birds and Fruit

The eighth reissue reviewed online by Dmitry M Epstein

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A feast of emotions and a sign of decline: the band burst in wild colours

From the white to the black-hued cover and from the austerity to the excess, the way from Grand Hotel to its follow-up couldn't be more radical and logical at the same time. Committed to tape in the swirl of economic turmoil and constant touring, Exotic Birds and Fruit is one of the most molten and moulden Harum records, rocking hard and bright from the elegant wallop and gallop of Nothing But the Truth, where Gary Brooker's piano flirts with Chris Copping's organ and the soulful vocals swim in the orchestral sweep, and on to New Lamps for Old that consciously harks back to A Whiter Shade, arrangement-wise, yet smells of Aladdin's cave incense and prompts the listener to have another look at the artwork.

It's the album where Keith Reid's surreal vision shows its mythological roots: here, Icarus – emerging off the previous LP's For Liquorice John – and Conquistador of the band's début find their new quest in the irresistible, dobro-sprinkled sirtaki pop which is Beyond the Pale, whereas the Old Testament majesty filling As Strong as Samson, with its threatening splashes from BJ Wilson's drums and the soothing slide courtesy of guesting BJ Cole, is a sharp comment on the ways of the world. This mundane rush reflects in the minimalistic approach – a lot of space and echo – and clipped phrases of The Thin End of the Wedge, too modern and cold to fit the album's context: together with Monsieur R Monde, a new, powerful and funky take on the song originally laid down in 1967, a symptom of the ensemble's tiredness, perhaps.

But then there's choral pull in The Idol that's as relevant for all times as the bottom-end groove propelled by Alan Cartwright's bass and contrasted with Mick Grabham's soaring guitar solo. It's all slightly unbalanced in the sequencing department, with two humorous songs, the Caribbean blues Fresh Fruit and the panto shuffle Butterfly Boys, coming in pair, yet the latter kicks the politicians (and the record label) in the balls, again, for all to have the same ball that rolls across the opening track. Thus, the concept becomes clearer somehow, the legends of yesterday turning into the inebriating reality of today, and the rare B-side Drunk Again, tagged here as a swaggering bonus, shows that for Harum the cup was half-full and full-on at the time.

4 stars out of 5

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