Pazz and Jop 1971 – #18 (tied)

Procol Harum – Broken Barricades

When you think of Procol Harum, if you think of them at all, it is of the mystical beauty of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (easily a top 100 all-time rock song, and I will wrestle to the death (or at least until we’re both really, really tired and bored) anyone who disagrees) or whatever the hell “Conquistador” is getting at. Those are pretty different tunes, and knowing nothing about the band coming into this, it did not surprise me to learn there was by 1971 an internal tension as to what they were and would become. The album is kind of schizophrenic, switching in disjointed fashion from track to track. (Track 2 practically gave me vertigo, it so differed from its predecessor.) The rockers really rock, the mellow songs are often beautiful (though not all that interesting, other than the lovely strings, horns and gentle piano of “Luskus Delph”), and none of it seems to fit together all that well. For all that each song brings, the album doesn’t feel like a big experience, but rather a collection of really nice smaller ones.

My favourites are the rocking bookends of “Simple Sister” and “Poor Mohammed”. In the former, the stretch from (roughly) 2:38 to 5:05 is awe-inspiring: starting with a simple bass riff and light drums, elements are added bit by bit to amp up the intensity, remaining grounded by the original instruments. It’s how an epic should sound. The latter is a sort of southern rocker, with possibly the only coherent lyrics on the record, though, man, they could sure use a better vocalist on this one (the lead guitarist was given the chance to, umm, shine). The lyrics on other tunes, though certainly unique and memorable, are often nonsensical (“Baby sandwich soaped for comfort”? “Your baking breath breeds body ‘x’”?). I loved the piano on the bluesy  “Memorial Drive” (a sort of honky tonk feel) and “Playmate of the Mouth” (banging away in the background), though organ, the instrument the average listener most associates with the band, is largely absent (likely because the current organist was also their bass player). Also pleasing is a sort-of percussion jam session on “Power Failure” (though I didn’t much care for the song overall, and the part I like definitely feels out of place), and there is some fantastic guitar work throughout. In the end, a band I always thought of as a one- (or maybe two-, depending on how you feel about “Conquistador”) trick pony just maybe has enough tricks to make a further dip into their catalog worthwhile.

(This is another one I listened to on YouTube, but Spotify at least has a version of my favourite track for your listening pleasure.)

(Originally posted on Facebook, May 1, 2021)