[Review] Barclay James Harvest: Eyes of the Universe (1979)

Woolly’s out, synthesizers are in, and the remaining trio keeps the machine running smoothly.

Kronomyth 11.0: The eleventh after XII.

BJH’s 11th album is basically XII minus the musical contributions of Woolly, which still adds up to a pretty solid record. With sequencers and more modern keyboards, Eyes of the Universe draws a clearer parallel between BJH and the electronic balladry of The Alan Parsons Project. The comparison is most keenly felt on the material from Holroyd: “Love on the Line,” “The Song,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Lady.” As on XII, the creative spirit of John Lees seems confrontational and restless. Verses crash into perpendicular choruses, two of the songs employ anagrams and one of them (“Skin Flicks”) openly quotes the Moodies.

For most of Eyes, it’s XII all over again as the band seems to limp into the new decade. That is, until the end of Eyes, when Lees and Holroyd present a pair of nearly perfect, languid songs the recall the autumnal and eloquent Octoberon. “Capricorn” features cut-up lyrics (a technique employed of late by Mr. B) and a beautifully melancholy melody, followed by Holroyd’s grand sonic statement, “Play to the World.” In point of fact, those two songs are not radically different than XII’s “Streets of San Francisco” and “Giving It Up,” respectively, but the sum effect of the two tracks together elevates Eyes to a higher level, which could probably be distilled into an extra, imaginary halfstar if you’re inclined to see things that way. Again, it’s not a bad record, but it is mundane enough to make you wonder what Woolly was up to.

Original elpee version

A1. Love on the Line (Les Holroyd) (4:40)
A2. Alright Get Down Boogie (Mu Ala Rusic) (John Lees) (3:57)
A3. The Song (They Love to Sing) (Les Holroyd) (6:04)
A4. Skin Flicks (John Lees) (6:51)
B1. Sperratus (John Lees) (4:59)
B2. Rock ‘N’ Roll Lady (Les Holroyd) (4:27)
B3. Capricorn (John Lees) (4:33)
B4. Play To The World (Les Holroyd) (7:02)

Expanded CD bonus tracks
9. Sperratus (unreleased single edit)
10. Rock ‘N’ Roll Lady (unreleased single edit)
11. Capricorn (single edit)
12. Play To The World (unreleased single edit)

The Players

Les Holroyd, John Lees, Mel Pritchard with Alan Fawkes (saxophone) and Kevin McAlea (keyboards). Produced by Barclay James Harvest and Martin Lawrence; engineered by Martin Lawrence.

The Pictures

Design by Alwyn Clayden. Photography by John Shaw.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on November 5, 1979 in the UK (Polydor, POLD/POLDC-5029), the US (Polydor, PD-1-6267), Germany, Israel and South Africa (Polydor, 2383 557) and Japan (Polydor, MPF-1279) with lyrics innersleeve.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on July 12, 1984 in Germany (Polydor, 821 591-2).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in October 2006 in the UK (Eclectic, ECLCD 1049) with 4 bonus tracks.

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