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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: Victims Of Circumstance


1) Sideshow; 2) Hold On; 3) Rebel Woman; 4) Say You'll Stay; 5) For Your Love; 6) Victims Of Circumstance; 7) Inside My Nightmare; 8) Watching You; 9) I've Got A Feeling.

No big changes from the formula here, either — just small ones, and, as usual, for the worse. For instance, there is a further slight tilt into adult contemporary: ʽI've Got A Feelingʼ, another vile bur­glari­zation of a Beatles title, represents Holroyd's most faithful adoption of the Eighties' sen­ti­mental ballad style (watery synthesizers, trembling falsettos, the works). A little more guitar than there was last time, but what guitar? The leaden arena riffs of ʽHold Onʼ have nothing to do with John's lilting melodic solos.

Perhaps the biggest introduced «novelty» is a set of female singers singing backup, an idea that might have meant wanting to give the record a little soulful-gospel flavor, but ended up, I think, moving the band closer to Europop. One needs to go no further than the album opener: ʽSide­showʼ starts out as a glossy uptempo folk rocker, but then, as massive strings and female choirs start fountaineering from the speakers, it becomes an odd mix of Bee Gees and ABBA (in fact, a few of the string movements are almost openly copied from ʽDancing Queenʼ). As usual, they have the means to pull it off without embarrassment, but the whole style is really so alien for John and Les that they have no means whatsoever to turn it into something remarkable.

Those who have never embarked on an anti-arena rock crusade might get to like the rockier stuff on here. ʽRebel Womanʼ (despite the title, this is, curiously, an anti-Soviet song, written in the wake of the Korean airliner incident) has a streak of grim catchiness, although it could have done better without the irritating synth loops — and, perhaps, with an actual guitar solo (for some rea­son, Lees saves all of his solos for the ballads on this album — an unexplainable choice, since he used to do really well on the fast rockers). ʽInside My Nightmareʼ could have been just as good, had they kept the girls away from the microphone and made the basic guitar riff less sterile. At the very least, the two songs are a refreshing change of pace from the usual mush.

And the usual mush is hardly worth commenting — lots and lots of ballads that mostly reshuffle old ideas, scraped off Bee Gees and Elton John (ʽFor Your Loveʼ) records; I wouldn't be surpri­sed, either, to learn they had been listening to late Genesis and early solo Phil Collins as well (ʽSay You'll Stayʼ definitely has the same atmosphere as ʽFollow You Follow Meʼ). The staying power of these tunes is expectedly close to zero, although, once again, I have to stress: even at this late period, BJH songs are all «forgettable» and «mediocre» rather than openly offensive and embarrassing (unless you start bringing in the lyrics).

It should also be noted that this is the first BJH album on which Holroyd compositions outnumber those of Lees (5:4), and also the first BJH album on which Holroyd compositions are significant­ly weaker, as the man completes the transition from folk-based soft-rock into synth-choked adult contemporary, while Lees still attempts to at least nominally justify the «rock» heritage of the band. Thus, even though at this point there is still no talk whatsoever of splitting the alliance (after all, they didn't just kick Woolly out of the band for nothing: Turn Of The Tide showed how happy they could be as a duo), it is not excluded that the first faint traces of the creative rift can be tracked to some time around this period.

Check "Victims Of Circumstance" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Once again, Barclay James Harvest spews out a tasteless pastiche of other peoples' ideas. Of course, this time there's an added bonus: one of the most hideous album covers in rock music history. When it comes to formally competent but offensively bland and barren "rock and roll" music, no one beats the Barclay boys! Hands down the most useless group of their era.