Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol Harum : Bach'n'roll

John McFerrin reviews Broken Barricades


Best song: Simple Sister

And so the evolution of Robin Trower's importance to Procol Harum reaches its peak (and, unfortunately, finale). Apparently the band came to the conclusion that Trower's guitar was indeed the saving grace of Home, so they took the next logical step and based this album almost completely around that particular strength. A good half of the album can easily fall into the hard-rock category, and the tracks that aren't (with one exception) still feature Trower prominently. I can see where, possibly, those who fell in love with the band with Shine on Brightly could be disappointed, as the album, while still more than a bit 'artsy,' gets away from the basic 'group sound' established on that album, but I'll have none of it this is my easy #2, and I'm completely glad I went to all the effort I did in order to finally lay my hands on a CD copy of this.

The album does have some tracks that don't quite cut the mustard for me, but not any more than on a typical Procol Harum album, so I'm not particularly bothered. Of these, the title track is a low point it's uncharacteristically built around an unimpressive synth loop, with nothing great in the vocal melody or lyrics to redeem it (not to mention no guitar work), and at 3:11 it's easily a good minute-and-a-half overlong. I'm also not that fond of Luskus Delph it wants so much to get by just on 'oh, isn't that pretty,' but aside from the OK vocal melody, there's simply too little substance (strings and all) to make it so. And again, what is it with this sudden need on Brooker's part to use a synth to try and create 'beauty' when he'd already shown his great skill at using 'traditional' keyboard instruments to do so perfectly well?

The other six tracks, however, are all aces they won't fit one's traditional conception of PH, but they're great nonetheless. Simple Sister gets the album off to a terrific start, with a great guitar riff serving as the foundation while Brooker yells his head off (he isn't the most convincing rocker in the world, but he tries), and a great instrumental chunk in the middle based around a different bass/piano riff while Trower first builds the tension with his riffage and then does a bunch of totally effective and efficient solos, with strings and horns gradually popping up to remind that this is, in fact, still Procol Harum you're listening to. It's a weird combination of materials, definitely, but then I'm all for weirdness when it's a synonym for originality, and I'd definitely be more than a bit surprised if there were any other rock songs that quite resembled this little ditty.

Other high quality hard rock tunes on this album include Memorial Drive, a great riff-driven groove (with semi-bombastic lyrics that sound oddly out-of-place but don't hurt anything), Power Failure, with a neat rolling piano riff augmented by power chords (and some random 'live' cheering in the middle, for whatever reason), and the closing Trower-sung Poor Mohammed, which rocks so well that I find myself desperately wishing that the band could have included more tracks along these lines and made the album longer. The main riff is just killer, especially that little slide thing at the end of each iteration, and I haven't even mentioned the crunchy soloing at the end. Go Robin go!

The other two tracks aren't hard rock, but they manage to rule nonetheless, and are an interesting diversion in the PH catalogue. Well, ok, Playmate of the Mouth is slightly 'hard,' but that's mostly because it's quite bass-heavy otherwise, it's a lumbering mid-tempo beast of a piano-driven song, with all sorts of unusual brass parts and what-not. As for Song for a Dreamer, this is where Robin really lives up to his Hendrix legacy (for me, anyway), in that the atmosphere and kinds of guitar tones he creates remind me heavily of Hendrix's Rainy Day suite on Electric Ladyland (without being any kind of rote copy), and that's a big compliment I've always been very fond of that suite, after all. Everything's so danged dreamy and echoey and mellow that I simply can't help myself enjoying this, even if it has, again, NOTHING to do with the classic PH sound.

So there's your great, great album. Unfortunately, this is the last album (until the short-lived '91 reunion) to have Trower on guitar, as he decided to leave (or was pushed out? Who knows {The former [Ed]}) and pursue a critically-acclaimed solo career. I should also note that this album is extremely difficult to find on CD in the late 1990s, most of the Procol Harum catalogue was reissued world-wide, but for whatever reason this album seemed to escape the attention of the reissuing company. Oh, and one more thing. What the hell is with the bonus tracks on this album? There are but two of them, and they are ... A Whiter Shade of Pale and Homburg. As in, the original recordings of these tracks. Weird.

[Since this was written, of course, Broken Barricades has been reissued on CD both by Gary Brooker's Gazza label and by the excellent Repertoire Records: order from Amazon Germany or from Amazon USA]


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Reproduced by kind permission from John's website


 

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