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Barclay James  Harvest - XII CD (album) cover

XII

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.56 | 110 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars 'XII' seems to be the turning-point album for Barclay James Harvest, coming as it did at the end of the seventies and marking a split with producer David Rohl as well as the departure of original keyboardist the late Woolly Wolstenholme. Things would not get better from here on.

The 'XII' seems to represent the number of years the band had been together more than the number of albums released, since the actual number including studio, live and compilations ranged somewhere between nine and fourteen at that point in time.

This is a considerably more commercial and AOR/pop oriented album than anything the band had done prior. Presumably this was at least somewhat due to the influence of new producer Martin Lawrence, who replaced Grohl midway through the studio sessions. Lawrence, who was also partially responsible for chipping some of the character off the edges of 10cc, did the same here as far as I'm concerned. The things that made BJH special were pretty easily identifiable: orchestral arrangements whether real or mellotron- driven; layers of harmonizing vocals, sometimes delivered by choral groups; clever lyrics that tended to spur thought and discussion; and the simple elegance and esprit de corps displayed by the four members of the band toward each other. Most of that starts to vanish on 'XII', and never really does come back.

Tunes like "Classics: A Tale of two Sixties" and "Harbour" sound an awful lot like much of what Supertramp put out after Hodgson left (and I don't mean that as a compliment). "Berlin", "Turning in Circles" and "Sip of Wine", all of which were Holroyd songs, glisten with commercial sheen but fail utterly to make the sort of emotional connection with listeners that the more genuine and personable songs from their earlier works did. As an aside, am I the only one who thinks the piano chords on "Berlin" sound suspiciously like the recurrent musical theme that drives Nick Magnus' 2010 CD 'Children of Another God'? Maybe it's just me.

Not that John Lees fared much better. "A Tale of two Sixties" is a silly, nostalgic name- checking affair that probably appeared too early in the career of the band. This would have been an acceptable song for aging rockers after a lengthy run, but not for a bunch of thirtysomethings still aiming to be viable in a fast-changing music market. And "Fact: The Closed Shop" is a bit preachy, uncharacteristic of Lees in general and probably especially poorly thought-out considering its anti-union message and the inevitable negative reception of said by most of the band's blue collar fans. "Nova Lepidoptera" is the closest Lees and the rest of the band would come to a vintage BJH sound, and while this is a very elegant and flowing tune with beautiful synth, piano and especially lead guitar work, it's not enough to save the entire album.

Even Woolly manages to disappoint. On prior records his contributions to the songwriting have been few but generally longer songs and majestic, even bombastic at times. Here he manages to get two songs onto the record, but neither much fit the mold of what one would expect of a Woolly tune. "Harbour" is one of the shortest songs on the album and features vocals and guitar much more prominently than Wolstenholme's own keyboards. And "In Search of England", the last song he would record with the band, while it is slower with a certain majestic feel and plenty of keyboards including heavy organ work, does not come close to the sort of potential he displayed with epics like "Ra" and "Moonwater".

Unfortunately Stuart Wolstenholme would depart with more of a whimper than a bang, but he can't be completely faulted since the band as a whole was in clear decline at this point. "Nova Lepidoptera" is easily the best thing on this record, and the only song in that classic Barclay James Harvest mold. And "Fiction (The Streets of San Francisco)" shows faint signs of influence of the band's brief experiment with recording in America earlier in the decade with its stronger guitar focus and particularly the mildly bluesy rhythm guitar work and almost spaghetti-western feel to the overall tune. Otherwise I don't find a whole lot to get excited about on this record, and find it a bit depressing for what it represents in the slow decline of the band. I really hate to dip into two star territory for a Barclay James Harvest album since the musicians are all consummate professionals and even a bad BJH album is better than most groups. But this becomes an exercise is relative reasoning, and given the potential of these four men, this album has to be seen as a disappointment. So two stars it is, although I would still recommend this album to anyone interested in the band simply because it helps to explain the dramatic shift between their seventies and their eighties output.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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