ART ON YOUR SLEEVE

An occasional series featuring LPs boasting ‘fine art’ on their covers, with words about the music and something about the art

 

#1

PROCOL HARUM – Exotic Birds and Fruit

[1974]

 

Procol Harum - Exotic Birds

THE MUSIC

By 1974, the massive success of Procol Harum’s debut single was a long time gone. Not that the band had disappeared; more gently but inexorably declined. The primary song-writing team of Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid (with notable contributions from Robin Trower along the way) had written the bulk of the band’s songs over seven annual albums of increasingly patchy quality. Their eighth album was something of a return to form, with Brooker-Reid writing all nine songs on Exotic Birds and Fruit.

Exotic Birds S1

Side one is daubed with symphonic grandeur, opening energetically with “Nothing But The Truth”, followed by the rousing mythological adventure of “Beyond The Pale” and peaking with the sublime “As Strong As Samson”, a soaring melody delivering politically charged lyrics that still penetrate today. If you know nothing of Procol Harum apart from “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, listen to “As Strong as Samson”. A powerful tune, great organ work, goosebump chorus. Do it now. Meanwhile, “The Idol” closes the side effectively, despite extending the final chorus rather too long.

IMG_0135

Although the opening song on Side Two, “The Thin End of the Wedge”, does not really mesh stylistically with the rest of the album, it has a sinister filmic feel which pleases. After that come a couple of undistinguished rockers (“Monsieur R. Monde”, “Butterfly Boys”) split by a jaunty if rather laboured Music Hall number (“Fresh Fruit”, about, er, fruit). The last song, “New Lamps for Old” is a slow ballad in the classic Procol Harum style and brings the album to an elegiac close.

Despite side one being a whole division superior to the second side, Exotic Birds and Fruit is a solid album imbued with the rich hues of Procol Harum exoticism. Let me hammer the point home one more time: side one is deliciously juicy.

 *

THE ART

bogdani_fruit_birds

The first difference that stands out between painting and sleeve is the colour. Why did the art director decide to wash out the vibrancy of the original into a sun-faded snapshot? I know they didn’t have much in the way of electric lighting in the 17th century, but really. Of course, this first salvo might well be manifestly unfair as I am compelled to reveal that the 2000 Repertoire CD re-issue redresses this imbalance by sporting a lovely reproduction of the artwork.

The second obvious point is, how come the painting is not a scene of decimated fruit scattered dead and dismembered in pools of fly-blown nectar? Every bit of produce in my back yard is peppered with peck-holes, gouged with beak-thrusts and strewn around like a corpse-choked battlefield. What is wrong with those birds? Has the artist drugged them? Are they, in fact, stuffed? Was Mrs Bogdani an accomplished taxidermist? That would explain the drunken lean of the cockatoo and the belligerent pose of the much smaller red parrot. Though it does not offer any clue as to why the cocky looks so damn happy. Fermenting fruit fumes, perhaps. And when did walnuts become fruit?

Alas, extensive internet research yielded no answers. Nor has my understanding or appreciation of still life painting expanded. Perhaps there are readers out there who can shine the light of fine art understanding upon my woeful ignorance. Please.

Procol Harum Exoitic Birds 

The Song

“Strong as Samson”

The Artist

Jakob Bogdani [1670 – 1724] was born in Hungary but migrated to England when he was thirty years old, building a successful career based on his popularity with the court and associated aristocrats. This from the Procol Harum web site:

“One of Bogdani’s most important patrons was Admiral George Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough’s brother, whose famous Windsor aviary provided the inspiration for many of the exotic birds that abound in Bogdani’s work.” So not stuffed, then.

5 comments

  1. I’m remiss. I left off Procol Harum with Broken Barricades, the last with Trower and my personal favorite, and have never heard this one. Going to address that deficiency soon thanks to your post. As for the overly happy cocky, all I can offer is that maybe late 17th century painters brought in fluffers for their contracted models… I get a randy, expectant vibe from our boy’s facial expression.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It is possible that in bird-land, the prospect of fresh fruit at the conclusion of a sitting produces that look you picked up on. One species roughage is another’s aphrodisiac.
      As for Exotic Birds… True it is devoid of that Trower edge, but still a worthwhile addition to a Procol fruit salad.

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  2. […] 3) Vinyl Connection‘s Bruce Jenkins gives us an in-depth look at the cover of Procol Harum’s 1974 release titled Exotic Birds and Fruit in the latest edition of the ongoing series he calls “Art On Your Sleeve”. Bruce digs in to a number of aspects of the band’s eighth album, with insights on the choice of art, the lighting and why he thinks the cover might feature birds that have been sedated. Always an interesting take on classic album cover design – enjoy – https://vinylconnection.com.au/2015/02/12/art-on-your-sleeve/ […]

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  3. […] the second instalment in the Art On Your Sleeve series I’m delighted to welcome JDB. Her blog Augenblick is currently dormant but well worth […]

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  4. […] #1 Procol Harum – Exotic Birds and Fruit […]

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