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Barclay James Harvest - XII – Deluxe Reissue album review

Prog-gone-soft quartet’s airbrushed 1978 set still has its charms

By the late 1970s, Barclay James Harvest’s prog roots were increasingly only evident in the somewhat nebulous ‘concepts’ that they used to loosely tie their album tracks together with, and the vaguely mystical sleeve art. The music itself seemed to have been smoothed off and simplified to compete with the soft-focus, radio-friendly charms of Journey, REO Speedwagon et al.

Yet perhaps that was just where their muse naturally took them. They certainly weren’t bad at this AOR lark, as this 1978 album showed, and this new sonic overhaul works well – perhaps too well for those of us who found the airbrushing of BJH’s sound a little cloying in the first place. In Search Of England’s sentimental anthemics haven’t aged well, and the single Berlin is also a bland affair. But the second half of the album makes up for it, as the new audio clarity further enhances the spacey Floydian float of Nova Lepidoptera, and the banks of harmonies enveloping Harbour are fluffier than ever. Then the best is saved until last – Giving It Up and The Streets Of San Francisco remain two of the band’s finest ballads, and the alternate, piano-led version of the latter track is also the pick of the five extra tracks.