For a group whose first single sold in the neighborhood of four million internationally and whose four succeeding albums have been acclaimed with accelerating fervor, Procol Harum have had one hell of a time consolidating their deserved reputation as one of the finest British rock bands to emerge since Sgt Pepper.
In uncompromising pursuit of the realization of their unique artistic vision, Procol have frequently shunned the fashionable. Following A Whiter Shade of Pale, when all else was groovy and trippy and painted in psychedelic swirls of da-glo color they opted for dark, almost unbearably intense musical expressions of anguish. While their contemporaries were content to rehash classic blues and Rock 'n' Roll, they were off creating seventeen-minute cantatas (In Held 'Twas In I) and teaming up with a symphony orchestra (long before such teamings-up became almost obligatory) at a Shakespeare festival in Canada. And when their contemporaries got to tirelessly singing the virtues of getting it all together out in the country Procol instead painted bleak musical pictures of men at sea or created albums whose theme was man's inability to accept his own mortality. Always, they've been slightly more cerebral, more disposed to darkness than the competition.
None of which carried a lot of water for the consumer busy worshipping whichever heavy inevitable the rock papers were lionizing at the moment.
All of which made no small impression on the more discerning - with no indecent exposure trials or stories of inverted sexual preferences or reputations for going through groupies like so many facial tissues working in their behalf and consequently virtually no press beyond ecstatic reviews of their albums and all-too-infrequent American performances each of the three Procol albums A&M has released to date has sold a minimum of 150,000.
This time out, with Broken Barricades, they, with as much help from us as can possibly be provided, will triple that figure: with no undue prompting from us, but rather simply. because it's where their vision has led them this time around, Procol Harum have become universally accessible.
Broken Barricades promises to captivate and delight even the most viscerally-oriented. It speaks the universal language of youth, hard rock and roll, with an accent of finely-wrought musical heaviness, occasional brass adding inflection to the group's exceptional playing.
Broken Barricades is Keith Reid writing searingly direct words, Gary Brooker providing appropriately powerhouse music, singing most soulfully, and pumping his piano with abandon, BJ Wilson and Chris Copping laying down a beat that by no exertion of the imagination could be termed inaccessible, and Robin Trower, one of the most respected guitarists in rock writing the music for the album's obvious choice for a single, Poor Mohammed singing and playing some of the best guitar we'll hear this year.
Broken Barricades is an album that, just as did the Rock 'n' Roll classics Procol employed as encore numbers on their last visit to America, will inspire the listener not to contemplate, but to leap atop his seat to whoop and boogie joyously.
It is, at long last, Procol Harum for the millions.
Produced by Chris Thomas Procol Harum / Broken Barricades SP4294 on A&M Records and Tapes.
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