Procol Harum
Exotic Birds and Fruit


3.5
great

Review

by Divaman USER (112 Reviews)
May 10th, 2018 | 12 replies


Release Date: 1974 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The last (nearly) great Procol Harum album.

Exotic Birds & Fruit was Procol Harum's seventh studio album, and it's my favorite release of theirs, post-1970's Home. It has some shortcomings (which we'll talk about), but it also has three of the band's best tracks from their later days, "Nothing But the Truth", "As Strong as Samson" and "The Idol". This is enough for me to give it the nod even over such excellent entries as Broken Barricades (1971) and Grand Hotel (1973).

The lineup of the band for this LP consisted of Gary Brooker (vocals and piano), Mick Grabham (guitar), Chris Copping (organ), Alan Cartwright (bass), and Barrie Wilson (drums and percussion), with all of the songs being written by Brooker (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics). Unlike their previous two releases (Live With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Grand Hotel), all of the music (except for some contributions by a couple of guest musicians on "As Strong as Samson" and "Nothing But the Truth") was performed by the band itself -- there was no accompanying orchestra. This was good, in that it provided for a more stripped down sound. It wasn't necessarily Procol's best lineup ever -- Matthew Fisher had been long gone by this time, and Robin Trower had left just before the Live album -- but it was certainly a capable bunch.

For me, the album has two main flaws. The first is inconsistent songwriting. Some of the tracks are pretty forgettable. "The Thin Edge of The Wedge", for example, is slow and creepy, but that's about all it has going for it. "Monsieur R. Monde" features some interesting drumming by Wilson, but not much else of note. And "Butterfly Boys" is kind of raucous, with some bluesy piano, organ and bass, but in the end, it's really not much more than a musical shot at their label (with which they were angry at the time), dressed up in boisterous-but-basic rock clothing.

The second flaw is a little more unexpected. In spite of what the band's web site would have you believe about this album, it's really not Keith Reid's best work. As recently as Grand Hotel, Reid was still churning out the kind of grand and epic ideas in his lyrics that had become Procol's trademark. On this effort, however, even the best songs feature lyrical weaknesses. "As Strong as Samson" wants to be about relevant social issues, but it comes off as kind of mawkish and trite. And although the lyric for the chorus, "The weakest man be strong as Samson/When you're being held to ransom" isn't bad on paper, it was hard enough for Brooker to sing as to be almost incomprehensible on the record (at least for me). As for "The Idol", while it contained a strong central idea (there's a hero who has helped the singer's people out of jams in the past, but now he's just too indifferent to be bothered saving them again), some of the individual lines are embarrassingly bad: "But he could see no point in diving in/He knew that he would neither sink nor swim". Both of these songs make it on the strength of their music, not their lyrics.

So let's talk about the big three numbers. "Nothing But the Truth" leads off the album, and this one is immediately identifiable as a Procol Harum song. It's upbeat and almost heroic sounding, and contains some surprising chord progressions. It unfortunately failed to chart when released as a single, but that doesn't lessen the quality of the song. It certainly starts the album out on a solid (and energetic) note.

"Strong As Samson", on the other hand, is slower, but just as dramatic. Its main selling point is that its chorus contains a hook strong enough to hang the heaviest of winter coats upon. And while I've criticized it for being a little emotionally manipulative, the music itself lends the track a certain nobility.

Finally, there's "The Idol", which tells an interesting story (albeit through some painfully cliched lyric lines). It's a slow song with some excellent rolling piano, and probably Brooker's strongest vocal performance on the album. And while it starts out quiet, the closing outro features some frenzied guitar work by Grabham layered over Brooker's piano and dual vocal lines (one of which features a calm repetition of the opening line of "Oh the i-i-idol/Oh the i-i-idol", while the other finds him continually blasting out, "Just another idol made of clay!"). It's one of those distinctively bizarre songs that is unique to Procol Harum.

There are some other worthwhile tracks which, while not as good as the big three, do lend the album some texture. "Fresh Fruit" is basically a musical produce commercial, which is silly, but kind of amusing: "Here's another point of view/Fruit is good for doggies too/Rover wags his tail with glee/When he gets his Vitamin C". "New Lamps for Old", meanwhile, is something of a throwback. It's a leisurely, wistful-sounding track that feels like it could have fit on the Home album, somewhere in between "Nothing That I Didn't Know" and "Barnyard Story". It closes the album by paying a slight homage to the more epic Procol of earlier years.

All things considered, then, Procol Harum was still functioning at a pretty high level on this LP. Their work would take a turn for the worst after this. 1975's Procol's Ninth (which was really their eighth studio album, but their ninth when you include the Live LP) has its moments, but isn't nearly as strong as this one. After that, Something Magic (1977) was a big falloff from the band's previous work, and none of the four albums released after the fourteen-year hiatus that followed ever really sounded like classic Procol Harum. Powered largely by those big three tracks, then, Exotic Birds & Fruits is the last (nearly) great Procol Harum album.



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user ratings (24)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Divaman
May 10th 2018


2131 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

There's still not nearly enough Procol love on this site. I can't let this great band be forgotten.

Digging: Preacher Boy - Estate Bottled Blues

Divaman
May 10th 2018


2131 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I changed "great" to "(nearly) great", which I feel is more accurate. I rated it 3.5 stars, but Sputnik doesn't have a rating for "very good".

Batareziz
May 10th 2018


197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yet another nice review, Diva, and yet another pos. How come you missed Grand Hotel, which also doesn't have a review?

Procol Harum definitely need more love on the site (among many other bands), but they are not one of the greats in the progressive rock genre.

Jethro42
May 10th 2018


15312 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great to see a 3.5 from you!...A 3.5 coming from you is equivalent to a minimum of 4 for an average user ;) Good choice for a review!...Let's spread the love for Procol Harum!

I only remember ''The Idol'' out of the album and it's such a great song. Will give it another spin. Grand Hotel is probably my favorite of theirs.

Will read your review later.





Divaman
May 10th 2018


2131 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks Batareziz and Jethro. I chose this one over "Grand Hotel" because I like it slightly better. But "Grand Hotel" is on my list, and if no one else reviews it, I'll get to it eventually.



I don't know about them being one of the greats or not. They'll always hold an important place in my heart because "Shine On Brightly" and "Home" were among the first albums that exposed me to progressive rock, and it was like comic books for my ears.

Jethro42
May 10th 2018


15312 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The first half >>>> the second half.



Good job on the review, Diva.

Divaman
May 10th 2018


2131 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks Jethro. Yep - the first half is where the "big three" are.

Batareziz
May 12th 2018


197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oh I see, Diva. In this case it doesn't really matter where they're one of the greats or not. I checked PH out after I went through the titans of progressive rock: Rush, Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant. So I was less enamored with PH following this barrage of awesomeness. Need to re-listen.

I wanted to review Grand Hotel and this album eventually (and maybe a few others) some time in the future, but you beat me to it.

And it seems people do not want to read a sweet review about a band they do not see as interesting. Well, their loss.

Divaman
May 12th 2018


2131 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Feel free to review "Grand Hotel", Bat. I probably wouldn't get to it anytime soon, and if you publish one first, I'll happily just move on next time I'm ready to review Procol Harum and write about "Procol's Ninth" instead. In fact, I'd love it if you did the review for "Grand Hotel" -- I don't want to have too many albums from any band's discography to have me as the reviewer -- makes it look like I'm the only one who appreciates the band.



As for the number of readers, don't let that discourage you. I didn't get a ton of views right off the bat for my other Procol reviews either, but eventually people start to read them as more people wander throught the site.

Batareziz
May 12th 2018


197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I might do it, Diva, but same as you I don't plan to do it soon. I have a few things on my mind right now and I don't like to deviate too much as I'm worried to break the flow, so to say. And I don't mind reviewing whole discographies, since eventually I might inadvertantly help someone to attempt to listen to something I reviewed (if it's worth it, of course).

Same here, pretty much all of my reviews are very slow, eventually getting a constant increase in views some time later. It's no bother for me as I do it not for the immediate appreciation but want to attract attention of people to something I see as worthy of such attention.

e210013
May 15th 2018


1892 Comments


I was out for some days, so only now I saw your review. It's always nice to see a review of Procol Harum. However, I'm not very familiar with this album. I must confess that I only know their six studio albums, precisely till this one. But it seems I need to check this one too. It's great to see some love for this band, one of the pioneers of prog. Besides, it needed a review.

Nice work, pal. Pos.

TheIntruder
May 16th 2018


375 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Another blank was filled by you Diva. Nice. Continue your good work, man. Great review as always. Have a pos.



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