[Review] Procol Harum: Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974)

A heavier and darker album than Grand Hotel, but one definitely worth checking out.

Kronomyth 8.0: Ripe for the picking.

This was the first Procol Harum album I ever bought, followed shortly by one of the worst album reviews I ever wrote. With no critical compass or reference point to guide me, I concluded that Exotic Birds and Fruit was an average album by an average band. You might wonder how someone, even a novice like me, could make such a mistake, but I ask you: If A Trick of the Tail was the first Genesis album you ever heard, wouldn’t you think them overrated? And, yet, it’s a very good album, while admittedly not the sort of stuff from which legends are made.

Exotic Birds and Fruit is a very good album. There are some folks who even prefer it to their last, Grand Hotel, and while they’re different albums, the difference in quality is admittedly slight. The primary distinction between the two is that Grand Hotel seemed intentionally refined whereas Exotic Birds and Fruit isn’t afraid to rock. The opening Nothing But the Truth is one of the heaviest tracks they’ve laid down in a while, and the same might be said of Monsieur R. Monde. Chris Copping in particular sounds noticeably changed, adopting a more soulful sound on the organ that bears little trace of Matthew Fisher’s classical tastes.

Otherwise, Exotic Birds and Fruits is a logical successor to the Procol Harum legacy; a legacy that, frankly, finds its foundation in their first three albums. Only then do you really appreciate songs like As Strong As Samson, The Idol and New Lamps for Old for the grand old ghosts they awaken. Those three tracks are the crown jewels of Exotic Birds and Fruit. The rest of the record is a bit uneven: the dark and dated Beyond the Pale (with its shades of Sailor), the eerie wordplay of The Thin End of the Wedge, the bitchy Butterfly Boys and the silly novelty of Fresh Fruit are better encountered later in the book than in the introduction.

One thing I should add: I believe I am finally coming around on Gary Brooker’s voice. It is still an acquired taste, yet at this juncture I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing these songs or singing them as well as Brooker. There’s a resoluteness in his voice that brooks no substitute. I’m thankful that, eight albums on, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Procol Harum’s unique songcraft—not to mention the records of Robin Trower. Rich fruits, indeed.

Original elpee version

A1. Nothing But the Truth (3:11)
A2. Beyond the Pale (3:02)
A3. As Strong As Samson (5:04)
A4. The Idol (6:38)
B1. The Thin End of the Wedge (3:42)
B2. Monsieur R. Monde (3:39)
B3. Fresh Fruit (3:04)
B4. Butterfly Boys (4:24)
B5. New Lamps for Old (4:07)

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Drunk Again
11. As Strong As Samson (single version)

All songs written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid.

Original 8-track version
A1. Nothing But the Truth
A2. Beyond the Pale
A3. Fresh Fruit
B1. The Idol
B2. Monsieur R. Monde (Part I)
C1. Monsieur R. Monde (Part II)
C2. The Thin End of the Wedge
C3. Butterfly Boys
D1. As Strong As Samson
D2. New Lamps for Old

The Players

Gary Brooker (piano, vocals), Alan Cartwright (bass), Chris Copping (organ), Mick Grabham (electric guitars), Keith Reid (words), Barrie Wilson (drums, percussion) with B.J. Cole (pedal steel on A3). Produced by Chris Thomas; recording engineered by John “Polly” Punter.

The Pictures

Front cover painting by Jakob Bogdani.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in April 1974* in the UK (Chrysalis, CHR 1058), the US (Chrysalis, CHT/8CH 1058), Germany (Chrysalis, 6307 531/7107 561/7776 261), Japan (Chrysalis, WWS40047) and the Netherlands (Chrysalis, 5C 062 95266). Reached #86 on the US charts. (*First appeared in 4/6/74 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on January 15, 2001 in the UK and Germany (Repertoire, SPV 4917) with 2 bonus tracks.
  2. Re-released on 20-bit remastered compact disc on March 25, 2003 in Japan (JVC Victor, VICP-62046).
  3. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc on September 21, 2004 in the US (Friday Music, 1021) with 2 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2009 in the UK (Salvo, SALVOCD027)with 2 bonus tracks.

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