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Procol Harum

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really. This Is the logical follow-up to Grand Hotel and does it ever sound like it. As a matter of fact , this album epitomizes the second carreer of Procol (the first being the Robin Trower years) and fits in nicely between Ninth and Hotel. Better known number is Beyond the Pale , but this album does not hold any real direct pleasers as Hotel did. My fave is Idol. Somehow this album and its follow-up have this business-as-usual feel that makes this rather unremarkable , but if you indulge into those exotic fruits , you shall find your reward.
Report this review (#30785)
Posted Thursday, June 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars I believe this could be Procol Harum's most underrated album. And this coming from a big fan of Robin Trower. Granted, it being the first complete album I heard by them may have something to do with it, but I love this album. "As Strong As Samson" is brilliant, lyrically, musically, and especially, melodically. The song that hooked me, though, is "Beyond the Pale"; here's a melody that takes large intervallic leaps into an awesome place. The rest of the tracks have similar points to them, but those two are the highlights for me. The business-as-usual feel Mr. Chantraine mentions is definitely here, yes, but keep in mind: business as usual for Procol Harum is still a cut above most prog bands. I'd recommend this album for fans of progressive music that are also fans of a good melody. It's definitely an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring.
Report this review (#35344)
Posted Sunday, June 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars There are a lot of people who'll champion the Grand Hotel album, but as far as I'm concerned, it is Exotic Birds And Fruit that is the most complete album in the latter half of Procol Harum's career. In fact, I'd say this album is the best one outside of the classic first trio of albums.

One of the reasons for my unqualified seal of approval is the absolutely gorgeous As Strong As Samson, which is a heart-breaking, nihilistic song of beauty. "Psychiatrists and lawyers/destroying mankind/driving them crazy and robbing them blind" sings Gary Brooker as Chris Copping turns in his best ever organ solo ... another tearing, searing, yet emphatically melancholic piece. B.J. Wilson's drumming is top-notch on this one, rolling us all the way to heaven and back again. Every little nuance of this perfect, perfect song melts me. When Gary sings "there ain't no use" as the tune fades out, you know he's right.

Aside from that brilliant track, Exotic Birds is an engaging, occassionally challenging hotch- potch of quality tunes. The band rocks out on Nothing But The Truth, Monsieur R. Monde (a reworked blues tinged-treatement of a track was first pencilled-in for the Shine On Brightly album) and Butterfly Boys (which starts off quite weak but is redeemed by some scorching work from Mic Grabham). It does a bit of a polka on the Balkan-influenced Beyond The Pale, it broods its way through the slow-burning epic The Idol, it pulls its hair out on the truly avant-garde The Thin End Of The Wedge (featuring all kinds of grim, spoken-word antics from Brooker), it winks and laughs through the playful Fresh Fruit. As for the stately New Lamps For Old (yes, stately in a Homburg/A Whiter Shade Of Pale kind of way) it is vintage PH. My version of album has the muscular B-side Drunk Again thrown in as bonus track and this "party" song doesn't detract from the quality of this fine album.

Even if I do feel that the one majestic song dwarfs the rest of the album, and I wouldn't say that this album catches Procol at its proggiest, this is still a very, very strong effort. ... 74% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#43552)
Posted Saturday, August 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars The Naga rattled her tail and squinted at the speakers. "Uriah Heep?," she said. "You're wrong," said I. "Barclay James Harvest?" "Nope," I answered. "Jim Capaldi?" "Sheesh, now you're just guessing," I said, removing the blindfold from her eyes. "Procol Harum," I revealed. Sometimes the Naga comes by to help me with these blindfolded taste tests, since she's got a much better nose for sniffing out prog rock than I do. Right or wrong, she's got a point about this music scratching at the door, but is it genuine prog? I don't generally like to define things, but since I asked the question, I'll answer it with a general prog maxim: If you have to ask, it ain't. That bit of unpleasantness out of the way ("Yes, we're done for now, you can go put Lamb Lies Down back on"), what to make of Exotic Birds And Fruit. It's generally regarded as one of Procol Harum's better efforts. Since I live in a tiny crystal shell, I haven't heard any Procol Harum before this, so my opinion is -- well, I don't even have an opinion really. I like this album (LIKE, I re-emphasized, shrinking from the moony glow in your eyes) as much as I like Heep, though for different reasons. These songs are smarter than Heep, thanks in part to a dedicated lyricist in Keith Reid (no "Easy Livin'" on here), and more ambitious in scope. At its best, as on "The Idol" and "New Lamps For Old," Chris Copping's organ can take your mind on a magic carpet ride. Yet it's hard escaping the fact that Procol Harum, like BJH, has trouble establishing an identity of their own on this album. Bits of Bob Dylan ("Lay Lady Lay"), Buffalo Springfield ("Mr. Soul"), King Crimson and Elton John are still identifiable even after being run through the blender. Also, great music always seems to come easy to great bands, and Procol Harum simply works too hard for small triumphs to be considered a great band. If I sound disappointed with my first foray into the world of Procol Harum, I guess I am a little. They're not doing anything here than other bands haven't done better. You have to admire the effort on songs like "Nothing But The Truth" (which nearly recalls Gentle Giant), "As Strong As Samson" and "The Thin End of the Wedge," but cherishing this in a universe chocked full of great prog music? Well, that's just Naga happen.
Report this review (#47579)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars After such a good album as Grand Hotel, a follow-up is not an easy task. And the band partially succeeded in this exercise.

Especially during the first part of the album which features fine pieces of music. The Procol ingredients are well present: nice melodies, performing and so recognizable vocals. The whole peaking during the very good "The Idol".

But from the rocking "Monsieur R. Monde", it collapses quite a bit. This aspect has never been my favourite of the band; and there are no changes with "Exotic Birds & Fruit" ("Butterfly Boys" just confirms this feeling). This one ending a poor trilogy of songs of which "Fresh Fruit" is probably the worst of all.

The good news is that the last and very much beatles-esque "New Lamps for Old" is a superb and very melancholic song. My favourite on this album. Great organ, and a very convincing Brooker on the vocals. Somewhat, it reminds me of the great, great "Writer".

During six songs, this album could almost rival with their best efforts. Still, it is quite decent work which should please the lovers of a sweet and melodic rock. Few highlights but a strong album overall.

Three stars.

Report this review (#173855)
Posted Friday, June 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Exotic Birds and Fruit" is the seventh full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act Procol Harum. The album was released through Chrysalis Records in April 1974. After two releases "Live In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972)" and "Grand Hotel (1973)" where the group had added orchestral instrumentation and progressive ideas to their music, they intentionally set out to write and record an album that was more of a group effort without outside interference or guest musicians. A more stripped down rock album so to speak and not a symphonic/progressive rock album.

As it turns out the symphonic/progressive elements are still there on "Exotic Birds and Fruit" albeit in much smaller doses and on this album it´s the organ arrangements that makes the music symphonic in parts and not an orchestra (there is a string arrangement in "Nothing But the Truth" but that´s the only place). The music style on "Exotic Birds and Fruit" is unmistakbaly the sound of Procol Harum and tracks like "Nothing But the Truth", "As Strong as Samson", "The Idol", the eerie sounding "The Thin End of the Wedge" and the beautiful closer "New Lamps for Old" are all strong Procol Harum compositions. On the other hand there are tracks like "Fresh Fruit" and "Butterfly Boys" which are less remarkable. Even though the band would have you believe that this is a stripped down back to basics effort (that´s basically what it says in the liner notes) Procol Harum´s music on "Exotic Birds and Fruit" is anything but stripped down. With Gary Brooker´s omnipresent piano playing and Chris Copping´s organ high in the mix this is another detailed and layered album by the band. Gary Brooker´s distinct sounding and strong voice and his melodic vocal lines are as always the center of the group´s music.

"Exotic Birds and Fruit" is a well produced album, featuring high level musicianship, a warm and pleasant sound production and for the most part intriguing songwriting, and fans of the band should of course own this album. For more casual listeners I would recommend listening to either "Shine on Brightly (1968)" or "Grand Hotel (1973)" before this one, but it is still a good quality release deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

Report this review (#238604)
Posted Friday, September 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
2 stars After the grand indulgence of "Grand Hotel", Procol Harum decided to go gritty with "Exotic Birds and Fruit". The sound is pared down yet ironically more cluttered. My copy is the original vinyl so I'm not sure if recent remasters remedied the problem, but it does seem like a production hatchet job that does nothing to accentuate the group's strengths. Granted the material was substantially weaker than on the prior release and might not have been saved anyway.

The only two bona fide highlights occur back to back, first the re-application of Gypsy influences on the captivating "Beyond the Pale", and then the powerful "As Strong as Samson", which would have fit well on the first and best Procol effort. Copping's organ and BJ Cole's pedal steel guitar accentuate the sumptuous melody. Elsewhere, a series of inferior rehashes of earlier work in the form of "The Idol", "Monsieur R Monde", and "Butterfly Boys" disgrace the grooves. Even "Thin Edge of the Wedge", arguably the most progressive song here, degenerates into a lifeless recitation in the chorus. "Fresh Fruit" reminds us of earlier novelty work like "Good Captain Clack", a style in which Procol Harum excels better than most, but it is not destined for a lot of revolutions.

This album is stone cold for most of its duration, beyond burned out, and was their first US release not to chart; even if the successor stirred up fleeting interest, the Procol Harum saga was over by now. Exotic maybe, but hardly fresh.

Report this review (#248780)
Posted Saturday, November 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars It's odd, but for all of Procol Harum's renown as masters of "symphonic majesty" or whatever, the albums out of their "classic" period that I enjoy the most are the ones with a high number of relatively "normal" rock and pop songs. As Gary explains in the liner notes of my copy, "If we had any particular concept on this album it was: 'Hey, we've done enough orchestral crap. Let's get back to playing more like a band!'" Some fans may lament the simpler, more down-to-earth nature of most of the tracks on here (in other words, it's nothing like Grand Hotel), but let's not forget that while Brooker was best known as a genius in weaving rock and classical ideas together, he was also a master "conventional" songwriter in his own right. As usual, there are some tracks I'm not wild about, but the number and quality of hooks throughout most of the album is just unbelievable, and combined with the high energy level and increased relevance of Grabham's guitar, this can't help but lead to a wonderful listening experience.

This experience kicks off with the opening "Nothing but the Truth," which is built around a MARVELOUS set of piano riffs and has, thanks to healthy amounts of both strings and guitar, quite a nice texture, one that definitely reminds you you're listening to Procol Harum and yet doesn't sound at all like a retread of previous ideas. It also helps that there are a few VERY unpredictable melody twists in the middle, and the end result is a three-minute pop song with more ideas than most bands could hope to come with for thirty. Similarly, the following "Beyond the Pale" has its own fascinating keyboard theme, with another great melody acting as counterpoint and vaguely adding to the tension near the end, until it too crashes down at about the three-minute mark and leaves me feeling much more satiated than the mere running time might suggest it could.

After the "lightweight" opening duo, the album takes a slight turn for the more serious, but that's definitely not a complaint. "As Strong as Samson" ultimately turns out as the big highlight of the album, as it manages to take a perfectly lovely, somewhat anthemic verse melody and then outdo itself by throwing in one of the best melody twists I've EVER heard. No, really, I'm serious here - the melody in the "ain't no use in preachers preaching when they don't know what they're teaching" part is one of the most perfect, shattering, totally cathartic hooks I've heard in my life, and that it gets repeated in different variations during the coda only makes me that much happier. As for its followup, "The Idol," it might not be able to quite live up to Samson, but it's still an absolutely wonderful, gorgeous anthem about false Gods being exposed for the frauds they are (at least, that's what I'm guessing its about), not to mention that the guitar solo in the extended ending is absolutely superb.

None of the other compositions are quite as unbeliveably brilliant as the opening quartet, but most of them have their good sides nonetheless. I could live without "The Thin End of the Wedge," which tries to hard to be "menacing" without remembering to be "entertaining," but everything else is quite satisfactory. My favorites are the two straightup rock songs, both of which amply show that much of Procol's greatness in fusing rock and classical stems from the fact that they really knew how to do "normal" rock. "Monsieur R. Monde" actually comes from the debut album sessions (it was a bonus track on Whiter Shade), and while I wasn't particularly wowed there, this version gives Grabham plenty of opportunities to get his ya-ya's out, while Brooker reminds us that piano can rock just as much as guitar if it really wants to. Better still, though, is the ending "Drunk Again" (not on the original album, but a B-side tacked onto the CD reissue), with a simple-but-GREAT crunchy riff that provides an ample foundation on which, just as on "Monde," both keyboards and guitars are given the opportunity to rock and roll and boogie along like nobody's business.

The other three tracks aren't particularly noteworthy, but definitely not bad either. "Fresh Fruit" is the sort of piece you'll like if you liked "Mabel" on the debut, "Butterfly Boys" is another piano-driven pop-rocker along the lines of "Nothing but the Truth" (not as hook- filled, but with a nice enough chorus), and "New Lamps for Old" is a bit anthemic along the lines of "Samson" and "Idol" but not quite as stunning (yet with its own charms, such as the way Brooker sings the chorus, or the little rising line he sings at the ending of some verses). Regardless, though, despite the fact that the album ends weaker than it began, I don't want to hold it against the album so much as to reduce it below 4 stars. It may not sound like the unique Procol Harum we've grown to know and love, what with all these pop and r&r pieces, but it does show that Brooker, even as he might have slightly begun to slip as a creative genius, still had enough gas left in him to produce a great album that stands up to most anything in their catalogue. And hey, I'd like to give kudos to the AMG on this one - I may not agree with giving this album the highest ranking of any PH album, as they did, but I can definitely see where they're coming from, and it's not very often that I find myself in any sort of philosophical agreement with the All-Music Guide.

Report this review (#278757)
Posted Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars "Exotic Birds and Fruit" is another strong Procol Harum record which I like. It isn't exactly as good as "Grand Hotel" but sure in the same level with "A Salty Dog". 1974 came this seventh real album by Procol Harum and I think it is a well done work which I recommend people to hear some songs from. On of the best things with the record though is the dreamlike cover picture with exotic birds and fruit. I love the old style painting and I would like to have it on my wall. Unfortunately I don't own the vinyl.

Procol Harum here continues in the same great style like on Grand Hotel with symphonic rock songs, not especially progressive but sure special. I have'nt heard a band which sounds like this. Gary Brooker still sings and plays piano, Alan Cartwright bass, Chris Copping organ, Mick Grabham guitars, Barrie James Wilson drums and Keith Reid writes and BJ Cole plays pedal steel guitar.

The album has nine songs. All songs are enjoyable and well performed by the band. Two are really interesting and three are better than good. The best song is "The Idol" which is also one of the most progressive. I like the mighty feeling and the soundscape created within(8/10). "As Strong as Samson" is also a favourite wher I hear the wonderful organ and the emotions in Brooker's voice(8/10).

I also think that "Nothing but the truth" is a great starter with a joyful melody and nice strings(7/10) and "Butterfly Boys" is a pop song, happy and a nice pure piano(7/10). "Beyond the pale" is also worth naming with a key increase in the end and a pleasant feeling of melancholy(7/10). "The thin end of the wedge" is progressive but a bit monotonic and "Monsieur R Monde" is a well played rock'n'roll song with good guitars. I give those tracks and "Fresh Fruit" 6/10.

Over all is this a happy experience and the band sure lived with full helth 1974. This record is worth a strong three, in fact 7/10.

I know it looks like I give Procol Harum rather low ratings. I am new to the band and I don't think they're amongst the greatest musicians. But I do feel there is something fresh in this music which I am happy to hear.

Report this review (#1090922)
Posted Monday, December 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Procol Harum is one of my favorite bands and their first three albums should be part of every serious prog-rock collection. However, by the 1970s their albums became a rather or hit miss affair. Most of them are good, some of them great such as 'Broken Barricades', 'Grand Hotel' and of course their live collaboration with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. This album falls into the "good" category. The first 5 songs are actually quite outstanding giving one high hopes for this being another great album. Among the highlights are "As Strong as Samson" and "The Idol". The former is one of their greatest songs. Very majestic with a beautiful melody. The piano playing is especially lovely. That lovely piano playing continues on into "The Idol". This is a real sweeping epic of a song. Procol Harum's classical influence is really on display here along with their ability to craft some brilliant pop hooks. Very few bands blended classical and rock as effortlessly as these guys did. Unfortunately after the wonderfully menacing "The Thin End of the Wedge" the quality of the songs drop significantly. "Monsieur R. Monde", "Fresh Fruit" & "Butterfly Boys" are all throwaways with "Fresh Fruit" especially having some cringe inducing lyrics. Thankfully all is not lost for the closing track, "New Lamps For Old", is one of the finest songs on the album. Not quite on par with "As Strong as Samson", but brilliant all the same. Intelligent lyrics with Gary Brooker singing quite soulfully. Gary Brooker is one of my all time favorite singers and this song really demonstrates just what a powerful singer he is. This is an all around fine album with a beautiful reproduction of a Jakob Bogdani painting on the cover. The album cover is so nice that it could even be framed and hung above the fireplace! Wife permitting of course. Released in 1974, this album is probably the last good album from Procol Harum and should be owned by all fans of that legendary band.
Report this review (#1154416)
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Ain't no use in preacher's preaching when they don't know what their teaching. The weakest man, be strong as Sampson, when you're being held to ransom."

Strong as Sampson should have been the Procol Harum song that knocked A Whiter Shade of Pale out of the British public's mind. At least for a little while. It was a song unusual for Procol Harum as it was filled with catchy hooks, great emotional singing from pianist Gary Brooker, and was extremely topical to Great Britain in 1974. Late 1973 was the year of the dreaded "three day work week" in Great Britain as the coal miner's union "held the country to ransom" according to the then conservatives.

And what did Chrysalis Records do? They released the song almost two years after the fact. A song that would have trumped the Strawbs' similar bash on unions, Part Of The Union, in spades.

But one song does not make an album, so let's start at the beginning. Dispensing with an orchestra and choir for accompaniment as they did on 1973's Grand Hotel, Procol Harum kept the music for this album in house and got out some of their big guns out in doing so. Exotic Birds and Fruit from 1974 was one of Procol Harum's most solid and fully formed later day albums (the eighth) and lacked the stale pretention and lack of emotion found in their previous album Grand Hotel.

One of the first songs recorded for the album, track number 8 on the original LP, was a swipe at the Chrysalis Record label management entitled Butterfly Boys, which did not go over well with the Chrysalis brass who wanted the lyrics and song title changed to Government Boys, as the Chrysalis label utilized a butterfly on their record logo. The band refused to budge and the lyrics remained. Did Procol Harum shoot themselves in the foot by doing this? Probably, but that led to a looser and more relaxed album where anything was fair game. Brooker and company found it easy to rock out on Exotic Birds and Fruit on the bombastic and catchy album opener titled Nothing But the Truth. This song rocks even with a string accompaniment. The only song on the album to have one.

Following directly is an eastern European themed song tilted Beyond the Pale. Part homage to those "strange instruments that look like the inside of a piano", according to Brooker, and part tongue in cheek, the boys have more fun trying to make pitch shifted piano, mandolins, acoustic guitars, and even a banjo sound like a cross between bouzoukis and zithers, and they succeeded wonderfully, while lyricist Keith Reid congered up visions of a Europe seldom seen (or imagined?) by Western man.

Another hook laden song with a dramatic chorus, Beyond the Pale is the perfect opener before the magnificent Strong As Sampson's heavy bass and drums roll in. Drawn in by a mesmerizing organ and piano melody in the verse and Brooker's emotive and hook laden chorus, the song is capped off with a blistering organ solo by Chris Copping. Strong As Sampson couldn't have been performed better. The band were truly angry that so much of their recording time was eaten up by energy strikes, that they mean every word they sing and their anger and frustration is released in every note played on the song. Going beyond the immediate topic of strikes, Reid lays down his most damning lyrics ever, aimed at crooked psychiatrists and lawyers, misinforming clergy and the never ending Middle East conflict between Arabs and Jews.

The theme of greed continues on the song The Idol, and truthfully, we've all heard this before, but again, Brooker, Reid and company sound sincere in their disgust about obsessive gain. Not as powerful as Strong as Sampson, the song pales in comparison, but is fascinating for it's complex chord structures and multi dubbed piano parts.

Following directly is the the most outre song on Exotic Birds and Fruit. The Thin Edge of the Wedge is built up on numerous overdubbed arpeggios and exotic figures from Mick Grabham's electric guitar with eerie piano and percussion highlights. It's one of Procol Harum's darker songs and Brooker is totally convincing relaying some of Reid's most malevolent lyrics. It's difficult to imagine Neil Young making the recent guitar layered album tilted Le Noise without a nod to this eerie psychedelic outing.

Monsieur R. Monde is a raging rocker that shows off drummer BJ Wilson and bassist Allan Cartwright to great effect as well as showing the muscle of Grabham when he really wants to rock out. Unlike his predecessors, which includes the great Robin Trower, Grabham seems to serve the songs instead of competing with them and this particular song is the better for it. Fresh Fruit is a fun bouncy number penned almost entirely by Brooker and is filled with witty double entendres. The album closer New Lamps for Old is the perfect closing track for this album as it's slow organ and piano bring to mind early Porcol Harum and shows that the band remember where came from musically.

The original vinyl release of Exotic Birds and Fruit was flawed and hard to listen to due to poor mastering, but any new remaster from Castle Records to Salvo have proper EQing that lets producer Chris Thomas' dense but dynamic sound mix shine.

I'm not sure if Exotic Birds and Fruit is an essential prog album because I'm not really sure if it is really a prog album to begin with. But it's a hell of a rock album that anyone from a Styx fan to a Yes fan, I'm sure, would appreciate. 4 stars.

Report this review (#1579668)
Posted Friday, June 17, 2016 | Review Permalink

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