So begins Procol Harum’s seventh studio album,
Exotic Birds and Fruit. Words that give way to the 1974 opener Nothing
But the Truth, a belter of a tune whose intent, and indeed top billing, is
to address any concerns that seven years into the band’s lifespan, Procol
Harum had become a spent force.
Firing on all cylinders, Nothing But the Truth also kicks off Salvo’s
final batch of reissues from the original Procol run, with
Procol’s Ninth and Something Magic also seeing the
light of day in digitally remastered, lushly packaged editions.
Exotic Birds and Fruit is a return
to the rockier sound of
Broken Barricades, with the orchestral elements stripped away
in favour of a back-to-basics approach – the band playing together as a
band, minus the symphonic embellishments. The result is a rawer sound, ideal
for touring, though one still at home to the now trademark powerhouse piano
and serpentine organ threadwork.
Anybody who followed
Procol Harum week at Head Full of Snow will be aware that I am a
big fan of the progressive, symphonic rock sound exercised on the likes of
A Salty Dog and
Grand Hotel. However, the lack of such extravagance on
Exotic Birds and Fruit takes nothing away from the album or the group’s
ability to knock out a damned fine tune.
This is ably demonstrated by the aforementioned Nothing But the Truth,
up there with Hello Susie from The Move’s
Shazam as far as
grab-you-by-the-throat-and-throttle-you-for-attention album openers go.
Beyond the Pale revels in an East-European flavoured melody that curls up
from the crackling fury of a Hungarian campfire, whilst elsewhere Fresh
Fruit bounces along joyfully, straight into the up-tempo wall of rock'n'roll sound that is
Butterfly Boys – a sly dig at Procol Harum’s then
label, Chrysalis Records. They even revisit old ground in the shape of
Monsieur R Monde, a dynamic reinvention of the 1967 song Monsieur
Armand, which appears as a bonus track on the reissue of
Shine on Brightly.
Exotic Birds and Fruit is another in the long line of excellent
albums from the songwriting team of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, proof in
1974, if proof were needed, that Procol Harum weren’t ready to be put out to
pasture just yet.
As ever, the remastering and sound quality is top notch, and the Salvo
reissue of Exotic Birds and Fruit adds a rare B-side, Drunk
Again, plus an alternate mix of Strong as Samson as bonuses to the
original nine tracks.