Procol Harum's seventh studio album, Exotic Birds and Fruit, was released in April 1974. In its original LP incarnation, four songs made up side one -- "Nothing But the Truth," "Beyond the Pale," "As Strong as Samson," and "The Idol" -- all of which featured some of the band's best later work. They had retreated somewhat from the orchestral hybrid of their previous album, Grand Hotel, although "Nothing But the Truth" still boasted a string arrangement. They replaced the sweetening with extra muscle in the remaining instruments, making this one of the group's harder rocking sets. And lyricist Keith Reid, having explored elegant decay in Grand Hotel, was unusually straightforward in his social prescriptions here. True, the words still dripped with literary references to everything from Shakespeare to ancient mythology, but, as Reid declared up front, this time he was interested in "Nothing But the Truth." He expressed that truth most eloquently in "As Strong as Samson," an outright political statement, if one spoken in general terms. The song was also downcast, and composer/singer/pianist Gary Brooker gave it a lovely, wistful melody. The disillusionment was completed with the final song on the first side and its tagline, "Just another idol turned to clay." In contrast to the masterpiece that was side one, side two of the LP was uneven, containing second-echelon songs, the best of them perhaps being the most lighthearted, "Fresh Fruit," a tune that gave Brooker a chance to exercise his barrelhouse piano talents. In this CD reissue, annotator Patrick Humphries suggests that the rocker "Butterfly Boys" might have been directed at the executives at the band's label, Chrysalis Records. If so, they must have been unhappy, as Brooker cried, "Give us a break! We got the crumbs...you got the cake." The reissue adds two bonus tracks, the first being the non-LP B-side "Drunk Again" (Reid writes so much about drinking, it makes you worry about his liver), a rocker that allows Brooker to bring out his inner Jerry Lee Lewis. The second is an alternate mix of "As Strong as Samson" that is in a lower key than the master take. Since it seems to be the same take, just a bit slower (and 17 seconds longer), that may account for its being in D flat.
Exotic Birds and Fruit Review
by William Ruhlmann