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HERO AND HEROINE

Strawbs

 

Prog Folk

4.12 | 215 ratings

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LinusW
Special Collaborator
Italian Prog Specialist
4 stars Hero and Heroine was the first song I heard by Strawbs, while exploring some prog folk samples a while back. After a succession of albums by the band, and a long search for the spirit and grandeur of that song, it is ironically (or perhaps naturally) on the song's own album I finally find it.

With Hero and Heroine it feels like Strawbs finally has matured enough to offer a through-and-through enjoyable release. With a new line-up at hand, Dave Cousins and friends take a big step into symphonic territory, leaving behind the folkier and poppier influences of the past. It still doesn't mean that what we've got here is some kind of avant-prog. Far from it. It's a brand of accessible and deeply emotional music, rich and warm for most of the part. The music relies a lot on atmosphere, often created by a heavy use of Mellotron and other keys but also on very strong melodies. In many of the songs you find a catchy refrain, easy to sing along to. In fact, Strawbs biggest strength lies in this inherent skill of creating both interesting and catchy music while never going to extremes with one of the two, thus blending two of my favourite genres - 70s 'classic' rock and progressive rock.

Disappointing as it might be for the folk lover, Hero and Heroine doesn't offer much music in that direction. The few remnants of it are most easily detected in outbursts of acoustic guitar, like those found on the title track. This is mostly a symphonic effort, thick with bombast. The previously mentioned Mellotron is used powerfully here, together with forceful guitar and bass. Wall-of-sound is a great expression and it sure fits here. The use of short solo runs from a warm e-guitar and acoustic textures provide the defining Strawbs character to the music, Lovely indeed. Dave Cousins behind the microphone is peaking here, amazing performance altogether, emotional, soothing and technically a lot better than on the previous releases.

Just as with Ghosts, two songs stand out from the rest. Autumn and the title track are among the best Strawbs have ever done. The first songs begins with a dark, synthesised bass theme set to an eerie, ambient landscape with screeching, echoing e-guitar coming in and out in the soundscape. All of a sudden an orgasmic Mellotron appears out of nowhere, sweeping the listener away to a mellow interlude of acoustic and electric guitar interplay. This theme continues over the melancholic vocals until that beloved Mellotron returns to take the song in to its 'refrain', which only builds up in power until the choir-laid end. Epic proportions. Hero and Heroine (the song) isn't very varied. Basically, it's built on two alternating segments, but what segments they are! Never have I been so totally blown away as by the bombast of the Mellotron used for this song. Drums, guitar, bass and keys work together in forming something so big that it quite possibly beats the bombast of ELP. Naturally in a good way. The nervous, unique verse (structure of vocals!) features folkish, fast guitar that underlines the frenzy of the song and its lyrics. Another treat.

There are some flaws on the record, no doubt (especially Just Love), but nothing really annoying, especially if you've got a taste for the more mainstream rock of the 70's. The only general problem I have, and that concerns all of Strawbs' output, is that I sometimes lack some instrumental excitement. Yes, it can get too pleasant.

But without hesitation: 4 stars

//LinusW

LinusW | 4/5 |

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