[Review] Procol Harum: Broken Barricades (1971)

The band’s fifth includes a few great tracks, but the split in musical personalities between Brooker and Trower is increasingly evident.

Kronomyth 5.0: Crash-barrier waltzing.

The first half of Broken Barricades is a fair match for A Salty Dog, which is high praise in these parts. The second half, well, not so much, but half a great album from Procol Harum is nothing to sneeze at. The band’s fifth album is notable as the last to feature Robin Trower, who writes three tracks on here and sings two of them. Suffice to say I didn’t realize how good a singer Gary Brooker was until I heard Robin Trower sing.

The band’s last album, Home, seemed mismatched. Keith Reid’s poetry didn’t roll smoothly from the mouth of Brooker, the melodies didn’t support the lyrical content and Brooker and Trower moved to opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Maybe it was ever thus, but the earlier albums struck me as a more artful balance. That balance returns on the first side on Broken Barricades. Simple Sister sounds like the second coming of “Cross-Eyed Mary,” with its mighty guitar riff and dramatic phrasings. Broken Barricades is a return to the sublime sounds of A Salty Dog or, if you prefer, Genesis. Trower’s Memorial Drive is a blues-based rocker with some graphic language that benefits from Brooker’s vocals. The side closes with one of their loveliest (and most poetic) songs over a long career, Luskus Delph.

For years, Procol Harum has resisted the prog label, and the second side of music bears that out. Trower’s Song for a Dreamer is hippy/trippy stuff, but the rest of the songs are straightforward rockers, no more or less proggy than Elton John’s heavier stuff (a reference point that comes up on this album more often than you might think). Power Failure is the best of the batch on side two; this despite what has to be one of the weirdest drum solos I’ve ever heard (B.J. Wilson deserved a better showcase). Playmate of the Mouth is a boozy number that suggests a nasty version of The Kinks, and Reid leaves the bad taste in the mouth of Trower for the even nastier Poor Mohammed.

The music of Brooker and Trower had become fractured over time, the one leaning toward ambitious rock arrangements with orchestral touches, the other embracing blues-rock and an unhealthy affection for the cowbell. The split should have freed up Procol Harum to make proggier music, only I don’t remember it shaking out that way. Yet the band is still capable of making great music together, as “Luskus Delph,” “Simple Sister” and “Broken Barricades” ably prove.

Original elpee version

A1. Simple Sister (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (5:47)
A2. Broken Barricades (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (3:10)
A3. Memorial Drive (Robin Trower/Keith Reid) (3:43)
A4. Luskus Delph (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (3:47)
B1. Power Failure (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (4:30)
B2. Song for a Dreamer (Robin Trower/Keith Reid) (5:25)
B3. Playmate of the Mouth (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid) (5:03)
B4. Poor Mohammed (Robin Trower/Keith Reid) (3:06)

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. Broken Barricades (long fade – raw track)
10. Simple Sister (raw track)
11. Poor Mohammed (backing track)
12. Song for a Dreamer (King Jimi) (backing track)

CD reissue bonus tracks (Germany – Repertoire)
9. Broken Barricades (single edit)
10. Power Failure (single edit)
11. Simple Sister (mono version)

The Players

Gary Brooker (vocals & piano), Chris Copping (bass & organ), Keith Reid (words), Robin Trower (lead guitar), B.J. Wilson (drums). Produced by Chris Thomas; engineered by John Punter; tape operated by Chris Michie.

The Pictures

Album design and artwork by C.C.S. Associates. Photography by Pete Sanders.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in May 1971 in the UK (Chrysalis, ILPS 9158), the US (A&M, SP-4292) and Germany (Chrysalis, 6499 657) with diecut gatefold cover; reached #32 on the US charts and #42 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-released on 20-bit remastered compact disc in Japan (Victor, VICP-62043).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on October 30, 2002 in Germany (Repertoire, REP 4980) with 3 bonus tracks.
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2009 in the UK (Salvo, SALVOCD022) with 4 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on 3CD on May 31, 2019 in the UK (Esoteric, ECLEC 32673) with 33 bonus tracks.

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