BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST: FACE TO FACE (1987)
1) Prisoner Of Your Love; 2) He Said Love; 3) Alone In The Night; 4) Turn The Key; 5) You Need Love; 6) Kiev; 7) African; 8) Followed Me; 9) All My Life; 10) Panic; 11) Guitar Blues; 12) On The Wings Of Love.
All through 1985 and 1986, some of the worst years in commercial pop music history, thankfully little was heard of Barclay James Harvest — in fact, this was the first time ever in the band's history that they decided to take such a long break, and the musical press must have finally breathed a sign of relief. But not to worry: refreshed and remobilized, John «Jesus Loves Africa» Lees and Les «Boy Loves Girl» Holroyd are back, and now they have the opportunity to make full use of the CD format: the full CD version of Face To Face contains twelve songs and stretches out for a grand sixty minutes. Turns out that the years weren't simply wasted, after all. But maybe this is exactly what all the German fans were waiting for — that new, improved TV dinner from your favourite band, now 20% more nutritious.
The best I can say about Face To Face is that every time I listened to it while doing something else at the same time, I had no impression / memory / faint reminiscence of what I just heard ten seconds after I'd heard it. And this was the good news, because when I finally got angry with myself, dropped everything, and started focusing in on the music... well, the most awful thing about this whole late-period BJH trajectory is that there really was no single-moment werewolf transformation: it was more like a portrait-of-Dorian-Gray kind of a thing, with each subsequent album adding another streak to the general degradation. But by this time, Barclay James Harvest can no longer even be called «poor man's Moody Blues» — this late Eighties stuff sounds like a parody on late Seventies BJH, which itself sounded like... oh well.
Without going into serious details (this album certainly ain't worth it), I will just briefly mention some of its more appalling elements. Number one: how many song titles with the word ʽloveʼ in them does one really need? we got the message twenty years back, thank you very much. Number two: didn't John Lees already set The New Testament for Kids to music with ʽHymnʼ, a decade ago? so why did he feel the urge to do that again, in an even more thorough, and even more trivial, manner? Number three: didn't John Lees already come up with his best anti-oppression / anti-war song more than a decade ago with ʽChild Of The Universeʼ? Who needs this particular ʽAfricanʼ, with its plastic synth-rock arrangement? Number four: excuse me, but the combined evil of the melody, the arrangement, and the lyrics makes ʽPanicʼ a fine candidate for worst BJH song ever written by Lees on any occasion — tough as the actual competition might be. The "yeah yeah yeah rock'n'roll" bit simply shows that the man must have not been in his right mind at the time: no normal human being could have agreed to release this crap on a commercial basis.
You might think that Les Holroyd is finally doing better, but no dice: his ʽTurn The Keyʼ is horrendous Phil Collins-type adult contemporary, his ʽPrisoner Of Your Loveʼ is bland synth-pop, and, although his ʽKievʼ may have been driven by pure generous empathy with the victims of Chernobyl, in the context of his past karma it just feels like a continuous quest to write a sugary love song to every bisyllabic European city: for some reason, we never got around to hearing his ʽBelgradeʼ or ʽMadridʼ, and I am still personally and impatiently waiting for my own ʽMoscowʼ. And, for that matter, do Barclay James Harvest fans exist in India? China? Central African Republic? They may want their own personal tribute to their capital cities, too.
All right, enough sarcasm. Truth be told, under normal conditions Face To Face provokes neither laughter nor anger — even when the band are at their most appalling, they cloak it so well with slick, inoffensive production and soft, inobtrusive singing that all the senses just go plain numb. I do feel like giving the album a thumbs down this time, though, seeing as how it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and even the band's trademark «melodicity» is reduced to rehashing, recycling, and regurgitating chords and leads that weren't on anybody's hot list in the first place.