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Exotic Birds and Fruit

Procol Harum

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Album Review

In the old days of LPs, it used to be easy to set an automatic record player such that, when the needle came to the end of one side of a record, the tone arm would pick up, glide back to the outer rim of the disc, drop down, and start all over again. Thus, one could listen to the same 20 minutes of music repeatedly, and some people never bothered to turn the records over and listen to the other sides. If any LP might have been designed for this procedure, it was Procol Harum's seventh studio album, Exotic Birds and Fruit, initially released in April 1974. The four songs making up side one — "Nothing But the Truth," "Beyond the Pale," "As Strong as Samson," and "The Idol" — featured some of the band's best later work. They had retreated somewhat from the orchestral hybrid of their previous album, Grand Hotel, although "Nothing But the Truth" still boasted a string arrangement. They replaced the sweetening with extra muscle in the remaining instruments, making this one of the group's harder rocking sets. And lyricist Keith Reid, having explored elegant decay in Grand Hotel, was unusually straightforward in his social prescriptions here. True, the words still dripped with literary references to everything from Shakespeare to ancient mythology, but, as Reid declared up front, this time he was interested in "Nothing But the Truth." He expressed that truth most eloquently in "As Strong as Samson," an outright political statement, if one spoken in general terms. The song was also downcast, and composer/singer/pianist Gary Brooker gave it a lovely, wistful melody. The disillusionment was completed with the final song on the first side and its tagline, "Just another idol turned to clay." In contrast to the masterpiece that was side one, side two of the LP was uneven, containing second-echelon songs, the best of them perhaps being the most lighthearted, "Fresh Fruit," a tune that gave Brooker a chance to exercise his barrelhouse piano talents. In this CD reissue, annotator Patrick Humphries suggests that the rocker "Butterfly Boys" might have been directed at the executives at the band's label, Chrysalis Records. If so, they must have been unhappy, as Brooker cried, "Give us a break! We got the crumbs...you got the cake." The reissue adds two bonus tracks, the first being the non-LP B-side "Drunk Again" (Reid writes so much about drinking, it makes you worry about his liver), a rocker that allows Brooker to bring out his inner Jerry Lee Lewis. The second is an alternate mix of "As Strong as Samson" that is in a lower key than the master take. Since it seems to be the same take, just a bit slower (and 17 seconds longer), that may account for its being in D flat.

Biography

Formed: 1967 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Procol Harum is arguably the most successful "accidental" group creation — that is, a band originally assembled to take advantage of the success of a record created in the studio — in the history of progressive rock. With "A Whiter Shade of Pale" a monster hit right out of the box, the band evolved from a studio ensemble into a successful live act, their music built around an eclectic mix of blues-based rock riffs and grand classical themes. With singer/pianist Gary Brooker and lyricist...
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Exotic Birds and Fruit, Procol Harum
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