"Robin Trower taps into the ethereal magic that made Jimi Hendrix's playing so forward-thinking": Procol Harum's tribute to the departed shines on Broken Barricades

1971’s Broken Barricades was Procol Harum's last with guitarist Robin Trower. Despite – or perhaps because of - this, it’s one of their most guitar-led

Procol Harum: Broken Barricades cover art
(Image: © Chrysalis Records)

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Procol Harum: Broken Barricades

Procol Harum: Broken Barricades cover art

(Image credit: Chrysalis Records)

Simple Sister
Broken Barricades
Memorial Drive
Luskus Delph
Power Failure
Song for a Dreamer
Playmate Of The Mouth
Poor Mohammed

The evolution of a band is often strikingly fast, but it’s still surprising how quickly Procol Harum (still to many the Dylanish organ wafters of A Whiter Shade Of Pale) adapted to the changing climate of rock by going, er, rock.

1971’s Broken Barricades was the band’s fifth album and their last with guitarist Robin Trower. Despite – or perhaps because of - this, it’s one of their most guitar-led, as if Trower is
dumping every riff and solo he has left before departure. There’s even a rare Trower vocal, on the very axey Jimi Hendrix tribute Song For A Dreamer. There are no Homburgs or Salty Dogs here, just thunderous, bluesy numbers on which even the orchestra play second fiddle, as it were, to the guitars.

The result sounds surprisingly liberated, and free of the ponderousness that often filled Procol albums. Fans of continuity will be relieved to hear that the 2019 reissue of Broken Barricades included two additional discs of material from a New York show and BBC sessions, in which songs old and new featured alongside the usual coterie of alternative versions, backing tracks and the like.

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Other albums released in April 1971 

  • Satori – Flower Travellin' Band
  • 4 Way Street – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • In the Land of Grey and Pink – Caravan
  • Overdog - Keef Hartley
  • Survival – Grand Funk Railroad
  • L.A. Woman – The Doors
  • Sticky Fingers – the Rolling Stones
  • The Doobie Brothers – The Doobie Brothers
  • Thin Lizzy – Thin Lizzy
  • Elegy – The Nice
  • Extraction – Gary Wright
  • Mirror Man – Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band
  • Oh! Pleasant Hope – Blue Cheer
  • Survival of the Fittest Live – Amboy Dukes
  • Thirds – James Gang
  • War – War
  • Bloodrock 3 – Bloodrock

What they said...

"Broken Barricades is one of the most enigmatic, puzzling albums to come down the track in a long time, simply because of the high quality of the albums preceding it. It would be easy to speculate that Procol Harum has of late been overly influenced (for the worse) by the whole Led Zeppelin scene, but hopefully, it's more than that." (Rolling Stone

"Just because the resident poetaster doesn't have his own acoustic guitar, people make this out to be some kind of triumph for good old rock and roll, which is absurd. Good old rock, maybe. Pompous, muddy, indecipherable.." (Robert Christgau)

"No-one needs reminding that Procol Harum are, and have been for some time, one of Britain's most underrated groups, almost-ignored here but thought very highly of around the world and particularly in the States. Broken Barricades only further proves the band's abilities and that their following here is well-placed – Keith Reid's lyrics are as fine as ever. Playmate Of The MonthLuskus Delph and the title track being particularly outstanding" (Sounds)

What you said...

Philip Qvist: OK, I admit it. If you had to ask me to name any Procol Harum song apart from A Whiter Shade Of Pale you would have me stumped on the spot. Simply put, this is a band that has never interested me. I'm not sure why; it is probably one of those cases of them being from the wrong era at the wrong time. It's just one of things, I guess.

Anyhow, consider Broken Barricades as my first proper introduction to Procol Harum - and I have to say I'm impressed enough to consider listening to some of their other albums.

My highlight is Robin Trower's guitar playing, even if Song For A Dreamer and Poor Mohammed are big clues why he employed other singers when he went solo after this album. I can't really work out the lyrics of Keith Reid, although the songwriting is decent enough.

My favourite songs were Simple Sister and Memorial Drive, while Power Failure showcases B.J. Wilson's drumming.

So all in all, it's not a bad album - and probably not what I expected. By all accounts this isn't even their strongest album either - I definitely need to give this band some more love.

Mark Herrington: Broken Barricades (1971) squeezes an awful lot into a fairly short album. Simple Sister kicks things off, a great bluesy rock song , and Trower is clearly enjoying himself. This was his last album with them before heading off.

Bookending the album at the other end is Poor Mohammed which has an addictive , insistent tempo and benefits from the volume cranked right up, Trower on vocals. Playmate is at a slower tempo, but again has some great meandering guitar work.

Luskus Delph is a more traditional Procol Harum song , a sublime, dreamy middle-of-the-album track, followed by a Trower-laden classic in Song For A Dreamer, his tribute to Jimi Hendrix (who died the year before), with Robin Trower on vocals again. There are a couple of tracks that don’t quite hit the heights, but, overall, I find this an enjoyable listen. Procol Harum moving the dial, and my favourite LP of theirs, a good score from me.

Adam Ranger: Not heard this before, but being a fan of Robin Trower and having heard he is more prominent on the album, I had high hopes.

Sadly those hopes were not really met. It's not that it is a bad album, just that it doesn't seem to go anywhere or have any stand-out moments. To me, many of the tunes start well, but then seem unfinished or disjointed. Most of the instrumentals seem like filler. And a drum solo! I am a drummer but see no need for that here, but back then it was a thing.

Robin Trower certainly went on to much better things that I still listen to now, but I am not in hurry to play this album again.

Keith Jenkin: A very different and much bluesier sounding album to – in particular – their first three classics, mostly due to the absence of organist Mathew Fisher, which in turn enables Trower's guitar to take centre stage and his playing is very strong throughout. On first impression, this one sounds great but the reason I don't play the record much these days is mostly due to the fairly pedestrian songwriting, which to my ears hasn't aged that well, there are no real classic songs here.

Trower left the band after this album and looking back this was presumably the record that gave him the confidence to start out on what would turn out to be, for a few years at least, a pretty excellent solo career. Broken Barricades is for me a decent enough collection filler but it's also easy to see why it never crops up in any of the 'greatest ever' album listings.

Mike Canoe: Arguably, Procol Harum are another classic rock stalwart worth discussing even if, or maybe because, they are primarily known for one song, not actually on this album. Broken Barricades is an odd mix of psychedelic prog and blues rock. Robin Trower's Song For A Dreamer is definitely the highlight for me. Trower taps into the ethereal magic that made Jimi Hendrix's playing so forward-thinking while showcasing plenty of his own talent.

The languid art rock of Luskus Delph probably stands out most the next with B.J. Wilson drum showcase on Power Failure coming in third - although it sounds like the version most readily on YouTube might be live so I don't know if Wilson's solo is on the original album. With the album not being on Spotify in the U.S., it was unintentionally a case of out of sight, out of mind and I didn't listen to it as much as I would have liked.

John Davidson: This was another unknown album for me, having not explored Procol Harum beyond their hit song and the album it was on.

Broken Barricades starts with the excellent Simple Sister with its driving guitar and piano riffs. Trower is clearly in his element here, but beyond that there's nothing much to note. It's not a bad album by any stretch but equally not an essential add to my collection.

Final score: 6.94 (36 votes cast, total score 250)

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