Review Summary: The darker side of progressive rock, revealed.
Some things are easier said than done. If you wanted to create something prophetic, dark, and telltale-esque, prog rock was a perfect place for you. There was a catch, though; you were either all in or all out. The risks were only even higher if you wanted to drive a Gothic sound through the genre. Few artists have done so and even less did it well. However, there was a band that was in the right for the tough, specific, and risky criteria. That group was Strawbs.
Strawbs was well on its way when it achieved success in Grave New World and Bursting at the Seams, and was looking for something different. What they wanted was something that was a cross between the fantasy-like sound of Yes, the conceptual diversity of Pink Floyd, and the melodic driven folk nature of the early King Crimson. The personal demands of the group would become the result of Hero and Heroine, a dark, Gothic, and doom-laden album that does more than first thought.
There’s an advantage that Hero and Heroine has in comparison to other progressive rock bands of the time. It can work with a variety of different music forms and yet retain its prog-rock identity. Strawbs has been able to create dark, Gothic, blossoming, beautiful epics, such as Autumn, which gives flavor and spirit to the album. The group has been also able to construct simple, easygoing, fun mainstream folk-rock ballads that are able to attract both ears. But what Strawbs does best is producing the highly prophetic themes throughout every single song of the album, whether it is just a single stanza or the entirety of the lyrics. Examples include the title track, Round and Round, and Midnight Sun, which take on the darkest perspectives of the album. Strawbs ended up rocking the hardest on Hero and Heroine, which led to flourishing success of the fruitfully musical content.
What came along with the advantages of the dark, prophetic album is the lesser accessibility of the whole album itself. What of lack of accessibility does it suffer? The problem is simple, yet complicated: it is only capable for young, giddy men who like using and abusing drugs. This mislabel was unfortunately too complex and serious and ended up becoming a soundtrack associated with the generation of “drug takers” and becomes a defenseless target on No Man’s Land due to the rejection of auto-sensitive popular music lovers. To desensitize an album strictly ruled by prog rock elements are almost on both on the band’s and the critic’s scourge against itself. How could that change? Simple: rely on some popular genres and techniques. That’s what Strawbs did.
What made up for the lack of commercial and radio support on was the highly respectable guitar driven lead by Dave Lambert. He delivers romanticist-era solo sections in sections of songs such as Shine On Silver Sun and Deep Summer’s Sleep while executing cold dark slashing riffs in other songs like Round and Round. Add the excellent, yet subtle songwriting and folk-style lyrics of Dave Cousin help and you get back-up for the sharp guitar playing of Lambert. To top it off, you get the muscular rhythmically heavy riffs done well by Chas Cronk and Rod Coombes and the result of a very heavy progressive rock. This was vital to the success of Hero and Heroine.
Hero and Heroine was a finely-executed progressive folk album that incorporated some special content in the end. It had an exceptional foundation of fine instrumentality, a variety of effective rock elements, and Cousin’s great songwriting, which made up for the infrequency of publicity. This album, if popular and mainstream criticism disregarded, could be considered one the darkest and best done prog folk rock works of the mid-1970s.