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Barclay James  Harvest - Eyes Of The Universe CD (album) cover

EYES OF THE UNIVERSE

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

2.94 | 77 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars I'm really somewhat tired of writing reviews of these sorts of albums here in the 21st century and having the benefit of hindsight on the decade that dares not speak its name. Technically this album isn't part of that decade since it was recorded and released in 1979; still, the sound and the back story here are painfully familiar and were being repeated all over the progressive and art music spectrums around this time.

The story is pretty straightforward: longstanding band lineup (emphasis on the word "band") begins to fracture as the record label tightens its belt and looks for ways to either improve the top-line revenue of the act, or at least decrease bottom-line expenses. A rapidly emerging visual and vapid music scene driven by the likes of hyper-hyped MTV and mega-tours bankrolled through heavy commercial sponsorship creates pressure for aging rockers to reinvent their personas in a mildly pathetic attempt to garner mass appeal and thus to salvage tenuous record label contracts as well as to try and capitalize on profitable commercial media, endorsement and touring markets. And the dumbing down of once majestic, complex and heartfelt music into something that instead inspires overwhelming feelings of intense apathy.

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame the musicians all that much. After all, most of them were in this to make a living back then, and in a consumer-driven economy one has to adapt to the market or die. Some preferred to labor on in idealistic obscurity, while others moved behind the mixing board or out of the music business altogether. But there were plenty of prog-rock gods of the seventies who donned poly fabrics in primary colors, wove their skullets into something resembling a hair wave (or weave), and ditched expensive luxuries such as in-studio orchestras and exotic instrumentation in favor of synthesized equivalents while working hard to suck in their guts and add enough panache to their thinking-man's to be able to compete, if not keep up with, the young commercial Turks. Yes ('90125', 'Big Generator'), ELP ('Love Beach'), Moody Blues ('Long Distance Voyager'), ELO ('Time', 'Secret Messages'), Kansas ('Vinyl Confessions', 'Drastic Measures') and Jethro Tull ('Broadsword and the Beast') all succumbed to the industry peer pressure to make friends with the new, highly sanitized and radio-friendly versions of themselves. Most of these bands wouldn't survive the decade, nor did virtually all of the bands that started displacing them around 1978.

So if you get the idea I don't like this album much, you'd be right. Nothing exciting here, either musically or lyrically. When Barclay James Harvest or any other band resorts to writing self-absorbed ditties about the music industry ("The Song (They Love To Sing)", "Sperratus", "Rock 'n' Roll Lady", "Play To The World") or cheesy relationship songs ("Love on the Line", "Skin Flicks"), you know the magic is basically gone and the remaining trio (Woolly Wolstenholme had departed after 'XII' a year prior) are simply punching a ticket. Pretty harsh I guess but that's how this one sounds after all these years, and probably would have sounded then to anyone who was really playing attention.

The only tracks here even worth a listen are "Skin Flicks" with its glossy but somewhat appealing shifts between folk-influenced harmonizing and pretty Moody Blues-sounding synthesized orchestral sounds I'm pretty sure weren't even played by a band member (Kevin McAlea guested on that track); and "Play to the World" for largely the same reason but also a great saxophone passage that once again wasn't played by a band member (Alan Fawkes stars on this song).

So in the end this is one of the more forgettable Barclay James Harvest albums, although for my money 'Victims of Circumstance' stoops even lower and some of the stuff the Holroyd and Lees did under the BJH banner after they split is even more suspect.

But you don't give more stars for one album just because another one suck more, or at least that's not the way these things are supposed to work. In any event this one can't be considered more than a fans' curio, so in that light I'll award two stars and avoid a recommendation altogether.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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