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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: Welcome To The Show

BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST: WELCOME TO THE SHOW (1990)

1) The Life You Lead; 2) Lady Macbeth; 3) Cheap The Bullet; 4) Welcome To The Show; 5) John Lennon's Guitar; 6) Halfway To Freedom; 7) African Nights; 8) Psychedelic Child; 9) Where Do We Go; 10) Origin Earth; 11) If Love Is King; 12) Shadows On The Sky.

By the late Eighties / early Nineties, some of the prog dinosaurs were willing to show signs of life, but most were still hibernating in «commercial» lairs, and Barclay James Harvest, of all people, were fairly safe in one of those lairs as long as the East European markets were open — and open they were, with more and more breachings of the Iron Curtain, as lovingly commemorated by Les Holroyd in one of these album's worst songs (ʽHalfway To Freedomʼ). Consequently, Welcome To The Show — no, this is not a live album, wouldn't it be too damn obvious even for a band like BJH if it were? — simply offers you twelve more slabs of different varieties of adult contem­porary muzak for all tastes. Sappy adult contemporary, hard-rocking adult contemporary, mysti­cal adult contemporary, anthemic adult contemporary, ethnic adult contemporary — you name it, we got it, as long as it is glossy, «serious», and deadly dull.

Needless to say, Holroyd's half is about twice as putrid as Lees' — mostly either electronic pop junk with a steady beat, but no true hooks (title track; ʽThe Life You Leadʼ) or Phil Collins-style big ballads with big brass saxophones and so much h-e-a-r-t you'll cry out for liver in no time (ʽWhere Do We Goʼ; ʽShadows On The Skyʼ). Of particularly specific cringeworthiness is ʽAfri­can Nightsʼ, a nostalgic remembrance by Les of the band's tour of South Africa in 1972 — if the annoying electronic congas do not do you in a matter of moments, the lyrics surely will: if it is indeed true that one of Les Holroyd's most lingering memories of traveling through the apartheid-torn South Africa in 1972 is how "the sound man played The Eagles / As we listen / ʽTake It Easyʼ echoes on through our lives"... words fail me so utterly.

But every once in a while, Lees comes quite close to matching the tastelessness of his crumblier partner. The juiciest «highlight» is ʽJohn Lennon's Guitarʼ, a song about how — listen to this! — a guitar, borrowed from John Lennon at Abbey Road Studios in 1970, turned out to be instrumen­tal for the recording of the Barclay James Harvest song ʽGaladrielʼ. Yes, that is what the song is about, and it tells the story in plain documentary fashion. No, there is nothing wrong in borrow­ing a guitar from John Lennon, or even in acknowledging that fact twenty years later. Yes, one does not usually do this in the form of a sentimental ballad, for fear of not only looking stupid on one's own, but also making every recipient of said ballad feel equally stupid. Yes, the Beatles were great and all, but why all this relentless sucking up? ʽTitlesʼ were bad enough, and now "I remember the day, I remember the day, the day that I played John Lennon's guitar, I remember the day, as if it was yesterday, and I know that the memories will never fade..." — am I the only one to suspect some neural imbalance here?

Almost as bad, but in a different way, is ʽPsychedelic Childʼ, a slurred logorrhea of «flower power clichés» set to... no, not retro-stylized «psychedelic» sounds of fuzz guitars, harpsichords, and sitars, as could be thought, but to a muscular riff-rock sound with a serious hair metal flair: the «heaviest» that Lees gets on this album, perhaps under the influence of a Def Leppard concert or something in the same style. A song that sounds awful and makes no sense whatsoever at the same time — mission accomplished to perfection.

Struggling to find anything even vaguely redeeming about the album, I can only think of two songs that have potential: ʽLady Macbethʼ is John's valiant attempt at writing and recording some­thing inscrutably mysterious (but the song is still butchered with plastic electronic key­boards), and ʽIf Love Is Kingʼ features one of those quintessential-classic Lees solos that can be melodic, intelligent, and kick-ass at the same time — unfortunately, it has the unluck to be stuck on top of yet another forgettable pop-rocker, driven by a corny synth riff. It really baffles me how this obvious talent — at his best, the guy could rival Dave Gilmour as a soloist — could be com­bined with such poor skills at decision taking, but natural selection works in mysterious ways.

If BJH are the poor man's Moody Blues, then Welcome To The Show is the equivalent of a poor man's Sur La Mer, and that, as anybody vaguely familiar with Moody Blues history can easily tell, is not much of a compliment. And, naturally, the album runs for one whole hour straight, be­cause, according to an unbreakable law of physics, the worse a BJH album is, the longer it has to run. To give the record a thumbs down is to say nothing — I'd like to submit an official demand to remove it from public circulation, but, fortunately, it seems that nature has already settled this in its own wise way.

Check "Welcome To The Show" (CD) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. "If BJH are the poor man's Moody Blues, then Welcome To The Show is the equivalent of a poor man's Sur La Mer, and that, as anybody vaguely familiar with Moody Blues history can easily tell, is not much of a compliment."

    Can't wait for poor man's Keys of the Kingdom...

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    1. The best part is, now that BJH have split into two separate competing factions, you'll get to hear TWO of them! It's like Santa Claus' slightly mentally diminished stepbrother bringing you the poor man's Xmas two weeks after the real one.

      I wonder if, during the course of their reminiscences of South Africa, they might have mentioned the fact that there was a BAN (courtesy of the British Musician's Union) on groups touring Sun City and other landmarks of Apartheid Land. Remember, the Byrds got into serious trouble for doing just that. How did BJH manage to circumvent this? Or was violating the ban the reason for them getting dumped from EMI, and relocating out of Britain?

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    2. Oh, and in case anyone hadn't noticed, the cover art (not the image itself, but the entire presentation and "feel") is a transparent rip off of Pink Floyd's "Momentary Lapse", font and all.

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    3. I think it has more in common with the Bee Gees' ESP myself.

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