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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: Everyone Is Everybody Else


1) Child Of The Universe; 2) Negative Earth; 3) Paper Wings; 4) The Great 1974 Mining Disaster; 5) Crazy City; 6) See Me See You; 7) Poor Boy Blues; 8) Mill Boys; 9) For No One.

Be warned — this is a different band now, a seriously different one, and without a single change in the line-up at that. A little of it may have had to do with the record label change (a shift from Harvest/EMI to Polydor); a little more of it may be related to the new producer, Rodger Bain, who had previously worked with Black Sabbath and Budgie. But I would guess that most of it had to do with shifts in popular taste — with complex symphonic prog already on the way out of fashion, and a more straightforward, simplified approach to «intellectual music» gaining the upper hand on the charts, Barclay James Harvest ditched the orchestra, restrained the Mellotron (without, however, shutting it out completely), cut down on the multi-part epics, said goodbye to the psychedelia, and decided that they were, after all, a «rock» band. A nerdy, wimpy, naïve one perhaps, but firmly committed to the idiom.

In a way, the band now sounds like an English equivalent of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: so­cially conscious roots-rock for the post-hippie age, produced by world-weary music veterans tee­tering between idealism and disillusionment. The one thing that they do not have on CSNY — gorgeous three-way / four-way harmonies, that is — they compensate for by retaining echoes of their baroque-pop sensibilities: there is still some occasional «lushness» in the arrangements, and John Lees, when in the mood, can still cut a richly melodic solo in the romantic idiom (where a Neil Young or even a Stephen Stills would rough-cut a kick-ass ragged block of «rawk» notes). But overall, the sound seems significantly impoverished compared to the first four. Not surpri­singly, it was this album that almost put BJH on the charts — picking up the interest of the ave­rage listener. From here on, the second half of the 1970s would be more commercially viable for the band, but much more disappointing artistically.

Not coincidentally, the album marks the complete elimination of Wolstenholme from the roster of songwriters: from now on, Woolly would be getting one, maximum two tracks per album for the rest of his tenure with the band. (The one track he did write for Everyone, the anthemic ʽMaes­tosoʼ, was canned by the rest of the guys, and not released until 1980 on Woolly's first solo album, although, as a repentant compromising gesture, it is now available as a bonus track on the re­ma­s­tered CD version). The songwriting is now completely dominated by Lees and Holroyd — the latter having risen quite highly from an initially modest position.

Lees, at this point, illustrates both the very best and the very worst about the band. On one hand, his two tracks that bookmark the record are probably its high points. Both are anti-war anthems and could, in fact, be regarded as a two-part suite: ʽChild Of The Universeʼ opens up from a more personal angle ("I'm a small boy with blood on his hands"), whereas ʽFor No Oneʼ concludes the subject in communal prayer mode ("please lay down your pistols and your rifles"). Both are very straightforward, lyrically trivial, and melodically monotonous, but played with enough strength and conviction to justify the simplicity, and the stormy wah-wah solo at the end of ʽFor No Oneʼ could rank among the finest displays of flashy guitar pyrotechnics of the decade (the good ones, fueled by the spirit, not just the fingers).

On the other hand, it is also Lees who is behind the corny idea of «reworking» the old classics on the tellingly titled ʽGreat 1974 Mining Disasterʼ — a song that superficially purports to reflect current class struggle in the UK, but in reality is a serious-faced deconstruction of the respective Bee Gees number, right down to a direct aping of the chorus: very strange, actually, that the Gibbs did not sue for copyright infringement, since what BJH do here goes way beyond «fair use». Additionally, the song throws some Beatles ("heard a song the other day... and though the song was kind of grey...") and some David Bowie ("...about a major out in space... about a man who sold the world away...") into the melting pot, with unclear purposes and ambiguous effects. Altogether, it seems as if the intention was to make a synthesis that would claim originality and, perhaps, simulate depth, but ultimately, it gives the impression of intentional theft due to lack of one's own ideas — an embarrassing failure, the way I feel about it, although it would soon be overshadowed by the even deeper crime against taste on the next album.

Holroyd's contributions are generally less ambitious than Lees'; the most prominent of these is probably ʽPoor Boy Bluesʼ, which sounds like a slightly «fairy-folksier» variant of Eagles stuff, and is seamlessly integrated with Lees' ʽMill Boysʼ in one big Muswell-hillbilly-whole (yes, the Kinks are also in here somewhere). The bass guy also continues to explore the outer sphere theme with ʽNegative Earthʼ, one more lonesome romantic space oddity that adds relatively little to the already available collection and relatively a lot to our understanding of Les Holroyd as a rather obstinate fellow — who knows, maybe he would have made an even better astronaut than a mu­sician, had he really been able to pursue his one true dream.

In overall curve terms, Everyone Is Everybody Else is the beginning of the fall — the initial transition works reasonably well, but when you start saving up on ideas (and most of these songs are really based on quite simple, repetitive, and scarce hooks), it does not usually take long before the infection takes over completely. With only one openly embarrassing track, at least one major highlight worthy of the old days (ʽFor No Oneʼ), and an overall inoffensive aura everywhere else, the album deserves an equally inoffensive thumbs up — much like, in fact, the Eagles do at their best, or CSNY do at their most relaxed. But it is an ominous thumbs up: from here on, the «big cheese dip» is all but completely predictable.

Check "Everyone Is Everybody Else" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I don't see the Beatles reference. Do you mean the opening to A Day in the Life? The vocal intonations are different on the live version I listened to, although maybe the drum work is similar.