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


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

2.93 | 105 ratings

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3 stars Although BJH's first album without Woolly, in spirit Eyes Of The Universe still belongs to his time with the band - the sound, feel, songwriting and arrangements all have a strong family resemblance to the other late 70s albums rather than Turn Of The Tide and its successors. It may or may not be significant that this was the last of four albums recorded at Stockport's Strawberry Studios! New hands [Kevin McAlea's] and sequencers are clearly playing the keyboard parts, a portent of things to come, but otherwise it is business as usual, with guitars in various guises to the fore on most songs.

Of course, the days of towering Mellotron drenched anthems were long gone, but this is a good album in the context of the band's smoother, slicker, lighter output of the later 70s, amongst the best post-Woolly releases, and only a couple of weaker songs prevent it from a higher position in the BJH canon. Les's songs are by far the strongest on this occasion, perhaps he revelled in their new circumstances, producing several easy-flowing melodies with some inventive arrangements, whereas John seems to have lost his way a little resorting to some old musical clichés and hackneyed lyrics.

Starting the album with a nice fat pulsating synth, Les's jaunty love song Love On The Line sets the scene with an ideal blend of guitars and synths. The Song (They Love To Sing), poetically recalling the mystique of live performance, is the first appearance of what would become a Les stereotype - a fluid synth-based mid-paced ballad with gentle rolling rhythm and a pastoral/ethereal mood. This is a very superior and underrated example which contains a clever lyrical trick. With some lovely plummy rhythm guitar phrases, Rock N Roll Lady is a classic BJH-style mid-paced rolling rocker about hangers-on who are attracted to the glamour of stardom.

By some margin the album's stand-out track, Les's Play To The World is a BJH classic, following the theme and musical ambience of The Song (They Love To Sing) but taking it onto a higher plain altogether with gorgeous atmospheric guitar work and a wonderful sax solo in an extended spacey coda. It has a chord structure constructed in such a way as to produce a false lift after every cycle [there must be some technical term for this phenomenon], a brilliant device which deceives the listener into believing the song is soaring into the heavens. A spiritually uplifting song and an ecstatic end to the album.

John's contributions are a mixed bag. Alright Down Get Boogie is meant to be a light-hearted comment on the disco craze but is somewhat unsuccessful in all respects. Skin Flicks, a self-explanatory subject, has an unconvincing heavy-handed start-stop-start arrangement that only really picks up with a nice guitar solo in the coda. Sperratus - another song on the theme of performers, this time from the perspective of a superstar - is John's best song, based on a nice slow verse melody that picks up pace and aggression for the refrains. Capricorn, a beautiful song with meaningless lyrics, has a good progressing melody leading to a catchy chorus but ultimately has little substance.

When both songwriters were on form, the 3-man version of BJH was a very good AOR soft-rock-pop outfit capable of producing some fine albums. On this occasion, Les hadn't yet fallen into the mire of cliché and stereotype that would bedevil his later work: his songs sound fresh and vibrant, albeit a little vapid lyrically. By contrast, John's contributions are relatively weak and unrepresentative. Overall, an enjoyable album, though don't expect to find much in the way of Prog!

Joolz | 3/5 |


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