Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


[page in the process of being converted from MP3 status to full status]

Class ?

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Camel fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Camel fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Coming soon.



Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating =

Attitude is okay, but there's too much monkeying around when they're supposed to be cameling instead.

Best song: ARUBALUBA

Track listing: 1) Slow Yourself Down; 2) Mystic Queen; 3) Six Ate; 4) Separation; 5) Never Let Go; 6) Curiosity; 7) Arubaluba.

I like the band. They make me feel nice and all that. But magis amica veritas, and this album is, like, the perfect, bulls-eye illustration to my general theory that "second generation progressive rock" (by which, of course, I mean practically every prog rock band whose first album was released not earlier than 1972), however intelligent, well-crafted, and well-meaning it can be, simply sounds way too derivative and unimaginative for those who have already spent some time assimilating the first generation. I mean, definitely, this is only the debut album for Camel and we should be patient, but it already shows that they were drawing their primary influences from already existing art-rock bands and that "trailblazing" is really not the kind of word that could be associated with these people. Nothing wrong with that, on the grand scale, but it does hurt the status of your little record book, somewhat.

Actually, that's the nagging thought I catch myself on nearly all the time I'm listening - "now who does that tune remind me of?" Three main influences come to mind primarily. First of all, King Crimson (naturally). The band's jazzy style, usually tight, but at times relaxed and with elements of improvisation, certainly borrowed a lot from that ensemble; moreover, Camel's approach to lyrics is also quite similar to King Crimson's 1973-74 lineup principles (I don't know, however, if Camel or Larks' Tongues In Aspic came out first): the lyrics are pretentious and not too understandable, but hardly loaded with cliches, short, usually up to the point and never overshadowing the music, as on certain Jethro Tull records.

Second - the Soft Machine. Definitely. While it would be a mistake to group Camel as 'Canterbury rock' (they did have certain personal and stylistic connections with that branch in general, but not really much more than any other bands at the time), the influence of Wyatt, Ratledge and company is unmistakable. Weird chord changes, shifting tempos, spacey synth effects, a special jazzy dexterity of the rhythm section, this all belongs to the Soft Machine.

Third, and maybe most important - Pink Floyd. Yes, good old Pink, not the Barrett Pink, but rather the slow, lethargic, "heavenly" Waters Pink of 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Echoes'. Couldn't you mistake 'Mystic Queen' for a Pink Floyd composition, for instance? I certainly could; with its slow tempo, moody organ, relaxed acoustic guitar, and sad, tender vocals "mantra-lizing" out the lyrics a la Rick Wright, not to mention a very Gilmour-esque guitar solo, it would have made a perfect selection for Meddle, except that it should have been inserted inside 'Echoes' or else people would have thought that the second side of the album is just a rewrite of the first. (That said, the grand climax at the end of the second minute is more in the vein of King Crimson's 'Epitaph'... or, perhaps, Procol Harum's 'Repent Walpurgis'? Somebody stop me before this review becomes a treatise on the historical evolution of art-rock).

With all these influences, I'm really hard pressed to say what separates this album from the more groundbreaking output of its predecessors, apart from the fact that it melds all these influences together, of course. Maybe it's just a matter of the band behind the wheel being Camel - the nicest, humblest bunch of art-loving hairy youngsters to come out of the 70s. Derivative or even unmemorable, the music is always nice, and kicking it would be like shooting your neighbour's perfectly friendly dog just because it does not want to play with your stupid tennis ball. The seven compositions are rather long, but never long enough to make you completely lose patience, and make up for some promising, enjoyable background music.

There are but two styles explored: the faster, bouncier 'jazzy groove' (Soft Machine-inspired), and the slower, moodier 'folky groove' (Pink Floyd-inspired), but they are fine masters of both, and you won't hear me complaining about lack of technical proficiency or anything like that. Problem is, none of these melodies really grab me - even after repeated listens, this is still just "nice", never breathtaking or climactic like some prog classics can be. 'Never Let Go' is very pretty, but since I can't feel the 'body' of the melody, it escapes me as soon as the song is over; the only thing I remember is the sincere pleading intonation of the vocalist as he begs us to 'never let go', and gee, he does it so nicely that I'm almost a-willin' to never let go if only there was, like, something in my hands that I could actually exercise the not-letting-go over. But my hands are empty, and the more tragic is the parting.

Oh, wait, silly me. There is one feature that I will really never let go of. Their guitarist is a goddamn genius - the only reason Andy Latimer is so rarely mentioned as a guitar god is that people rarely remember the lesser deities in general. He certainly borrows a lot from other players (I think one of the main influences is Ritchie Blackmore, whose vibrato technologies Andy has managed to mimic to a tee), but since the music of Camel is not really hard rock, his guitar playing is "majestic" rather than "angry", and certainly unique in some ways. The major highlight of the album, where Andy shines in all his might, is the closing instrumental 'Arubaluba', with some excellent riffage and not any less excellent lead work. It's also fast and it rocks - but, again, not in a Deep Purple way, with a somewhat softer and less, er, 'sexual' edge in this particular occasion. Don't miss it, although it's not very typical of the band's general style and might not appeal to the diehard Camel fan.

Elsewhere, Andy shows that, apart from Blackmore, he has been attentively listening to Robert Fripp - some of the passages in 'Six Ate' are based on the fast, mathematically precise riffage of '21st Century Schizoid Man' - and maybe even Santana (the album opener, 'Going Down Slow', with its calm, steady Latin groove that suddenly turns into a wall-rattling temperamental solo midway through); pure jazz guitar chops are heard on the proto-National Health 'Curiosity'. Without a doubt, the guitar solos throughout are the best parts of the songs, and one major thing they have over subsequent instrumental passages on later records is dynamics; there's much more youthful aggressiveness in the playing than there would be on those records where the songwriting was to finally catch up with the playing and then eventually overshadow it. By contrast, Bardens lets his organ mostly stay in the background, being an essential part of the sound but nowhere near as overwhelming as the keyboards on ELP, Yes, and Genesis records. Occasionally, he hauls out the Mellotron, a nice touch considering that the proto-technological monster had almost died out by 1973; sometimes the wah-wah gimmick and a few other cosmetic devices are also used, which is all good, giving the album a slightly diversified sheen. In short, taste is something you can't refuse these guys.

Oh yes, there's also the singing question - at least three band members take turns providing lead vocal parts, but not one of them is able to make any impression, and apparently they know it, so the vocals are kept to a minimum (and two out of seven songs have none at all). Incidentally, it's pretty damn hard to tell one guy from another; they all sound like slightly dusty clones of Pye Hastings. In fact, if there is one thing that's more or less common for all of "Canterbury rock", it's the vocals - quiet, high-pitched, and very weak voices, suggesting that Canterbury singers obviously do not drink, smoke, swear, date, eat non-kosher, or watch anime. Wait a minute... that's pretty much my portrait, except for the non-kosher part. No wonder I have so much respect for the Canterbury scene, even if Camel do not actually belong to the Canterbury scene, as every good mother's son will tell you.


MIRAGE ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1974

Okay, a year has passed and supposedly by now the band should have figured out where the hell it was heading to in the first place. So have they? Well... yes and no. No, because there still ain't no trace of a distinct style. Yes, because they now obviously want to shed the jazzy Canterbury-style elements and are moving closer to their more experienced pals in the prog business - most notably Yes and Genesis. Translated into basic English, this means dropping much of the previous album's technical complexity and pure instrumental virtuosity in favour of more classically-inspired, emotionally resonant passages. Even Latimer's guitar seems more subdued, because on Mirage Camel obviously want to be heard as a democratic band, not just some nameless freaks backing up an exceptionally versatile guitar player or something. In short, despite the lengthy passages, Mirage is probably a more accessible album than the debut one, and a far more accomplished creation - I still wouldn't recommend it over the prime prog creations by Yes or Genesis, of course, but it's good stuff to feed upon when you've already exhausted those bands.

Only the opening number, 'Freefall', is more or less following in the steps of Camel: with strong jazz overtones and jazzy guitar solos, but essentially it's just a harmless and somewhat memorable, energetic pop song with its fair share of (harmless) atmospheric pretention. But the two other shorter tunes already venture into alien territory: thus, 'Supertwister' almost sounds like Jethro Tull,. with medieval marches, overwhelming flutes and a "folksy-classical" feel, topped by a typical Tull-type gimmick, too - it ends with the sound of a bottle opened and somebody pouring champagne (or just coke?) into a glass. Likewise, 'Earthrise' also borders on medieval (with all those organs around); Pete Bardens makes the number his own with very tasteful and perfectly flowing waves of soothing keyboard sounds that can be more or less equalled to a slightly less virtuoso clone of Rick Wakeman.

The other two numbers are fantasy epics, all soaked in mystical atmosphere, medieval elements and innocent Tolkien stylistics (the first part of the first suite is actually called 'Nimrodel' after a Tolkien personage). These can't really be discussed separately, but I guess the second one is better because it has a more vast share of memorable and/or intriguing moments. For instance, that main guitar riff that opens the suite and then comes back near the end - this is Camel's most brilliant moment so far. And it's just nice to witness 'Lady Fantasy/Encounter/Smiles For You' go from one mood to another, alternating gritty hard-rocking passages with moments of moderate beauty. Oh, did I mention yet that there are very few vocals on the album? Maybe even fewer than on all those Yes and Genesis records; the boys clearly make an emphasis on the instrumental side of things, and I like it - this makes the music speak up for itself without some pretentious whiny dumbass (like, say, Jon Anderson!) make it seem like a secondary accompaniment to his own personal Gospel.

That said, I can't give the album any more than three and a half stars (unless I'd like to up the rating because of the cool album cover reproducing a slightly 'mirage like' pack o' Camel cigarettes), because apart from the above-mentioned riff, nothing on here really blows me away. It's obvious that they want their music to produce a cathartic effect (it wasn't obvious with this record's predecessor), but they just don't possess enough genius or at least enough experience to achieve the desired effect. Result? Nice, pleasant, soothing and tasteful mood music, well worth putting on as a relaxative accompaniment to your daily activities. Of course, for some this is music's ultimate goal, so maybe you should rush out and buy it now.



Year Of Release: 1975

Hey, what a nice little record. Again, nothing special, but it's a very heartfelt and cozy three-and-a-half-stars as compared to the "more ambitious, but colder" three and a half stars of the last album. Unfortunately, I have never read Paul Gallico's story upon which Camel based their completely instrumental suite; it is probably advisable to read the book before putting on the record, but then again, it's quite enjoyable without the literary accompaniment either. The story, entitled "The Snow Goose" indeed (and to be fair, the true name of this album is Music Inspired By The Snow Goose), is of a mixed realistic/mystic character and has more or less the following subject: a lonely guy called Rhayader who dwells in the marshes of Essex encounters a wounded snow goose and cares for the bird together with a girl from the neighbourhood, called Fritha (who actually brings the bird to Rhayader). They live together for a while and develop an affection between the three of them; then, when the snow goose recovers, he departs and Fritha leaves Rhayader. Later on, Rhayader assists to help save people at the evacuation from Dunkirk and is mortally wounded during the battle; the Snow Goose is seen to have been circling around the battlefield. I probably missed the moral of it all, but I'll just wait until I lay my hands on the book.

In any case, the record follows the subject pretty closely - at least, the track titles do, because the record is completely instrumental, apart from a few wordless chants here and there. And since it is based on an actual literary work, it comes off as being quite interesting and thought-provoking, too. Unfortunately, Camel just aren't all that talented to achieve a true feel of solemn grandiosity: despite the obvious lyrical matter of the work, Snow Goose only drives me to tears once, during the beautiful guitar passages on 'Princesse Perdue' ('Princesse Perdue', i.e. 'lost princess', is the nickname that Fritha gave the goose). This time, Andy mostly refrains from showcasing his technique, instead going for a Steve Hackett-type vibe - minimalistic and atmospheric. It works, but, like I said, it works effectively only once; at least, nothing on here sounds like a true Genesis rip-off.

I don't suppose I could really name all the individual tracks on here: there's too many of them, and about half don't go over one and a half minutes, as the band apparently didn't want to make a double album. The actual musical themes are many and diverse, and they more or less fit the mood that the track title supposes, although sometimes the effect can be surprising: for instance, the 'Rhayader Goes To Town' section is pretty grim and is closer to an actual 'rocker' than almost anything else on here, and you can only understand the connection when you realize that the track supposedly represents people's reaction to Rhayader the outcast as they shun and fear him. To be honest, small scene depictions were added to some issues of the album. Not all of them, though.

The general atmosphere is very realistic - Camel really succeed in recreating the cold, chilling, and lonely feel of Rhayader's place; since there is no true romance present, there aren't too many 'love' passages. Instead, the oddest moment on the record is 'Friendship', supposedly illustrating the 'threesome' relationship; is the jazzy brass rhythm supposed to represent the goose, I wonder? I got a little laugh at that one. Other highlights include the majestic 'Flight Of The Snow Goose' and the thunderstormy 'Dunkirk' (the battle); but to tell you the truth, the record is pretty even and flows together as a unified, concentrated mood piece rather than a set of disjointed pseudo-classical instrumentals. Snow Goose has often been called Camel's most accessible album, and it's not difficult to see why. It ain't great, but boy am I glad that I own it, even in MP3 form. Even if the actual musical themes might not be at all memorable, it is only supposed to set a mood - and it fully succeeds in that respect. The mood is great. Scoop it up at all costs if you see it cheap. Good work. Nice work.

I don't even feel like continuing this review. I wanna go meditate for a while.



Year Of Release: 1976

Seems I just can't metamorphose into a Camel diehard, no matter how hard I try. While Moonmadness certainly captures the band at a good, professional, and self-assured stage of their existence, it is also a serious regression from the past successes, notably Snow Goose, and is plain BORING. Yes, it's that exact and particular word. B-O-R-I-N-G. The funny thing is, Camel's record label actually pressed on 'em to deliver something more easy-going and accessible than Snow Goose, you know, something with vocals and catchy melodies, all that stuff. So they did. But does it work? If you'd like to think so.

I mean, it's really really hard for me to tell why the album's such an obvious yawnfest. In places, it reminds me of (shivers) Kansas - only the players are a bit more talented and a bit more willing to experiment. What's the problem, then? I'd guess it has a lot to do with the construction of most of these songs. See, the rhythm section just plain sucks on here. Very few interesting guitar or keyboard riffs, completely unheard bass and a drummer who's really trying to raise the energy level at times, but what can a poor drummer do alone when all the rest of the band sounds so uninspired? And on top of those nearly inexistent, feeble rhythms the band just piles lengthy guitar, flute and keyboard solos that sound equally monotonous. Occasionally they get something going there - hitting on some really emotion-triggering guitar chord or blowing out a really touching flute note, but I never volunteered to go searching for those needles in the hay. What use do I have of these songs? They don't rock, they don't feature powerful overwhelming climaxes and... bah. It works as solid mood music for background, but I already have FIFTY TONS of solid mood music for background dusting away on the shelves. Okay, maybe not fifty tons. But still, I have enough mood music to shove it down the throat of Pete Bardens until he starts throwing up... eh, sorry. That was a cheap trick to draw the audience's attention by means of excessive violence.

Now wait here, I don't wanna say everything is so darn desperate. With a little help from your friends and with a little luck, as Sir Paul would recommend, it is fairly possible to bring out the best in each and every one of those numbers. 'Aristillus' opens the record on a stern, almost gothic note, with the robotic synth drone adding the obligatory Camel mystery touch. Then, 'Song Within A Song' is a nice 'dream sequence' with unpretentious lyrics, caressing vocals and a couple nice flute lines. Not much guitar, though, so Latimer compensates for it on 'Chord Changes' with a few patented jazzy 'rolls' of his own that are well worth taking in. 'Spirit On The Water' is a short two-minute breezer of a mellow piano ballad with electronically encoded vocals (you know, that kind of effect when it seems the singer is letting his voice through an electric organ), reminiscent of Floyd. Then there's 'Another Night' which kicks in with a bit more might and rolls along at a steady and mighty pace and has a few well-placed moody riffs to it. Then there's 'Air Born', arguably the most gorgeous and resonant piece on the album (not surprisingly, it's the closest in tone and style to all those majestic passages on Snow Goose). Great guitar passages on that one - so warm, you know, so calm, so lush... And then there's the magnum opus, 'Lunar Sea', which has so many different sections you're bound to like at least one. And what's the reviewer's view on the albumas a coherent unity? It's pretty positive. It's atmospheric, see, and that's exactly what the title and the tracks' titles suggest. 'Atmospheric' in the primary sense, as the album deals with nature and, well, atmosphere.

You're probably wondering now, 'Wow, this guy keeps contradicting himself all the time. All the songs are good and the album only gets three stars?' Well, first of all, it's still less of a contradiction than you can sometimes find in the All-Music Guide (where, for instance, they gave Black Sabbath's TYR a good review but a one star rating!), and second, there's no contradiction here, cuz I just said 'it is possible to bring out the best in these numbers'. But there's a good deal of worst, too. All of these moments are surrounded by seas and oceans of that keyboardish/guitarish dreck I've already mentioned above - fiddle-dee-dee noodling that just does nothing for your organism. I mean, heck, I might actually have liked one particular section in 'Lunar Sea', but how do I remember which one? I'd have to relisten to all of its nine minutes again, and I really don't wanna do it for the fourth time. No I don't!



Year Of Release: 1977

Boohoo... Somebody just shoot me on the spot. I have enough of having to give these goddarn Camel albums three fuckin' stars. But what can I do? This is, as far as I know, basically Moonmadness Vol. 2. I open my mouth to speak and I slam it shut once again. Immediately. Is it a good album? I don't know. Does it suck? Probably not. What is it? Oh, just shoot me.

All I know is that the songs get a wee bit shorter and they also start drawing on more contemporary influences; there's some jazz-pop here, even some disco (in a small and safe proportion), and they even collaborate with Brian Eno on a quasi-ambient instrumental, certainly not one of Eno's major successes. But they're still treading this neither-fish-nor-meat groove which I can't stand. As for the instrumentation, this is where Mel Collins (formerly of King Crimson, hey) joins the band, so they now have a smartass saxophone player. Whatever for? Have you shot me yet?

Okay, let's take it like that: instead of going through the album track by track, which would just drain all my life energy from the already less-than-lifeless body, I'll just single out the things that distinguish this album from its predecessor (not that there are many). 'Highways Of The Sun' is Camel's feeble, but slightly nice, attempt at writing something 'overtly commercial' - an upbeat synth-pop tune with optimistic lyrics and a nice moderate d-d-d-d-rive throughout... oh boy, it hurts. I'm already falling asleep. What a better way to fall asleep than lulled by the sounds of the soothing ambient composition 'Elke'. Somehow, I like Eno's own ambient compositions a bit more, but perhaps I'm imagining things and this is just as good as anything else.

Skip it. Let me cling on to 'Tell Me'; I'm currently imagining that it's my favourite track on the album, but maybe I'm just being light-minded. It takes that 'heavenly', atmospheric sound first pioneered by 10cc on 'I'm Not In Love' (you know, the ethereal synth passages and otherworldly vocal harmonies that have since then become so popular in adult contemporary), adds some flute and spooky basslines, gentle vocals and becomes a great romantic composition.

'One Of These Days I'll Get An Early Night' is the most uprising of the tunes, it's the one that borrows from disco rhythms a little and so - naturally - becomes the scarecrow of this album in the eyes of so many prog lovers (the other predictable scarecrow is 'Highways Of The Sun'. Damn those ridiculous prog fans. They'll trash everything as long it doesn't have a 534/987 time signature). If you turn up the volume quite loud and give yourself in to the groove, you'll like it. If you don't, you'll like it as well, but in an abstract and detached way. Kinda like me.

And that's about it. The reasonable question is: how can I give three stars to something THAT boring and pointless? Well... it's all due to that stupid objectivity. I'll probably never want to put this on a fourth time, but I couldn't voice any particularly serious complaint except that none of this stuff ever grabs me by the throat. I mean, heck, it's not Kansas - if it were Kansas, I'd accuse them of a) stealing other people's melodies, b) wallowing in gruesomely inadequate lyrical pretentions, c) making all of their songs sound exactly the same, d) presenting themselves as powerful and "rawking" when they're in fact just a bunch o' wankers, e) adopting nasty poisonous synth tones and drowning all their scarce musical ideas in that shit, and f) just trying to get out of their redneck skin without understanding how to do so. But Camel aren't Kansas, and I can't accuse them of any of these crimes. The melodies are there - they're just not too interesting. The pretentions are at an all-time low (so they're adequate, at least). The songs mostly sound different from each other. The instrumentation is tolerable, although I sure wish Mr Bardens would let Mr Latimer shine more often, as on the first album.

It's just BORING. That's all I have to say. Good, reasonable lads creating good, reasonable music. Hrmph. I hate good, reasonable music. Get your three fuckin' stars and get out of here.



Year Of Release: 1978

See, I'm gonna cause more controversy here, but frankly speaking, I don't really care. Most Camel fans view Breathless as some sort of sellout, a dull, out of touch album that has Camel run through an uninspired, poorly performed and arranged set of 'pop' and 'disco' numbers, rating it as a one- or two-star album at most. Now I know I've had some disagreeances with prog fans before, but this is perhaps the only case where I'm left absolutely dumbfounded. So much, in fact, that I end up always questioning myself whether we're actually speaking of the same record, and whether the fans and critics actually listened to the record at all - and then I answer myself that yes, they probably did, because me - after the pre-required three listens - the poor little me can find very few differences from the previous two albums on here.

There are a few crucial differences, though, and these are enough to make me give the record a well-deserved five star rating and proclaim it the best Camel album I've heard so far. Numerous frictions and serious tension among the band members were beginning to show (and would eventually result in Bardens quitting the band), but here, the lineup is stable so far, with Sinclair sharing vocals with Latimer and Mel Collins joining as a permanent member. The songs themselves lose just a wee bit of their complexity - just a little bit - and this time around, most of the tracks have vocals. And whammo, this does the trick: the addition of vocals leads to the appearance of nice, atmospheric vocal melodies, just the stuff that was sorely missing on Rain Dances and Moonmadness. All of a sudden, we don't just have a pretty, but pointless sonic panorama, we have lots of upbeat, optimistic, cheerful, heartwarming numbers that make Breathless one of prog-rock's most sunny and joyful releases, a sorely needed antidote to the usual pessimistic intonations of prog rock (and rock in general).

And mind you, I still say 'prog rock'. Sure, there are some elements of a poppy approach, but not really much more than there were on Rain Dances (wasn't that the album where they first started toying with disco motives, after all?). And what was wrong with a 'poppy approach' anyway? The big deal is, where the previous two records failed to make their point, Breathless states it perfectly. The title track opens with a beautiful acoustic passage and then descends into charming falsetto harmonies with obvious medieval stylistics - and Collins puts on the final touch with a gorgeous oboe part. Then on comes the lengthy 'Echoes', ruled by Latimer's skillful guitar parts (finally, Latimer is back!), and even Bardens manages to throw out something better than stupid noodling - for instance, the marvelous ascending synth line at the end of the first minute simply takes my breath away. Great playing, even if the track is a bit overdone.

'Wing And A Prayer' is a bouncy jazz-pop number that's catchy and makes great use of an echoey slide guitar in the background - heck, the way the jerky drums, the syncopated synth riffs, the jangly acoustic guitars and the vocal harmonies bounce off each other is marvelous. Who could put down that song? It's so dang romantic! 'Down On The Farm'? Whoever could dream of joining together a bombastic quasi-metal section and a Kinksy 'rustic Britpop' melody replete with animal noises? And it works! 'Starlight Ride'? I cry every time I hear that vocal melody! Even Paul McCartney could hardly have come up with anything better! The flute drives me crazy! Sheez... may everybody who ever dared to give this beauty one or two stars burn in hell.

Aw well, perhaps it's the next two tracks that bore the hell out of listeners? 'Summer Lightning' and 'You Make Me Smile' do make use of contemporary dance rhythms, but who cares? They make good use of it. They got great harmonies, great instrumentation, they got the bounciness... they got everything. Perhaps only the instrumental 'Sleeper' is a bit excessive (it returns us to the wanky jazz-rock pattern of old), but since it's just one instrumental, I can tolerate it and even appreciate it as an integral part of the album. And it all reaches a culmination in the stately, majestic 'Rainbow's End'.

Simply put, there's not a single total duffer on the album. Every song has at least something to offer; the vocals give the album an edge that was so sorely missed before, and by and large, Breathless is really unique - like I said, it is a quintessential 'beautiful' record, a flowery, gentle and passionate one, a perfect choice to put on for a tasteful romantic evening, even if you're alone. If this is called 'selling out' and 'losing inspiration', I can only say this: if every band I know 'sold out' in the same way with every new album and 'lost inspiration' in the same way with every new song, I would just have to quit this business, because nobody wants to rate records if all you can give them is five stars. And kudos to the All-Music Guide, who alone of all the sources I know was wishing to acknowledge the record's greatness. See, even the AMG can have its ups at times.



Year Of Release: 1979

Bardens is gone, but the band was still on a roll, and the new keyboardist, Kit Watkins (formerly of third-generation prog band Happy The Man), while lacking the ambitions of his predecessor, turns out to be good in that (a) he actually plays almost as well as Bardens and (b) he doesn't always get in Latimer's way. Face it, Bardens' keyboards might have been one of the crucial elements in Camel's sound, but the real and true star of the band has always been Andy, and whether he was playing speedy pseudo-metallic runs or relaxed, smooth, luxurious jazzy lines, he always provided that little bit of idiosyncrasy which was enough to distinguish Camel from other bands.

Free from the tensions that marred their last years of collaboration with Pete, Latimer now unfurls all of his talents on the ten-minute instrumental suite 'Ice'. Full of pomp and self-indulgence, yes, but it's drenched in creativity and emotion; Andy hasn't played that well and in such a dazzling way since God knows when. True, sometimes I tend to doze off due to the song's proverbial slowness, but I should admit the truth if it's ever to be admitted: on 'Ice', Latimer establishes himself as the veritable inheritor to Steve Hackett's legacy (in a metaphoric sense, of course - Steve Hackett was 'live and kickin' at the time and even released his best solo album that year): slow, meticulous, minimalistic, but beautiful and atmospheric. Wonderful, because previously Latimer was only at his best when he was able to concoct a catchy guitar melody - now he shows that he's really got it, that he can be at his very best when going in for mood and feeling proper.

The rest of the album mainly follows the "complex pop song" pattern of Breathless, albeit with somewhat lesser results. The vocal melodies mostly lack the kind of endearing charm that made songs like 'Starlight Ride' so memorable, and there's nothing light and cutesy like 'Down On The Farm' to trim down the overtly serious mood. That said, the songs are still well written and I'd still take this album over the pointless, monotonous jazz-rock noodlings of Rain Dances or Moonmadness any time of day. Perhaps the most glorious moment amidst all the vocal tracks is the seven-minute long suite 'Who We Are', an immaculate slab of romantic, dreamy, orchestrated pop with an anthemic refrain and beautiful acoustic work all over the place. It's the kind of song that you could tend to dismiss for lacking an immediate sharp, "jagged" hook, but which is bound to grow on your senses and trigger your emotional centers if you only let yourself get carried away. No cliches - just a soft, silky melody and incredibly tasteful arrangements. Kinda like the Alan Parsons Project at their best.

There's some upbeat material, too - do you think the band could have made it on the strength of the slushy songs alone? It's just that not all of the upbeat material cooks. The tired generic beat of 'Your Love Is Stranger Than Mine' can hardly be called particularly exciting - millions of numbers like this one have been written before. 'Wait' and 'Neon Magic' are slightly better, with more original ideas and even some strange influences... for instance, I hear quite a bit of New Wave in 'Wait', with its robotic basslines and jerky vocal melodies. 'Neon Magic', on the other hand, sounds strangely retroish, almost a throwback to the Fifties in parts. Then again, it's a rather subjective experience. Interesting song.

Oh! By the way, did I tell you that the album cover is the most un-Camelish yet? Remember they used to have all those desert landscapes and romantic imagery and stuff and camels on their covers? Here you got the Earth and a spaceship. You'd expect some sci-fi thematics, wouldn't you? But you only get one such song, in the goofy 'Remote Romance'. And when I say goofy, I do mean goofy: it's as if Camel knew that an attempted serious stab at sci-fi on their part would suck, so they do a short quirky little parody instead, replete with stupid noises, dumb lyrics, incoherent electronically encoded exclamations, but all pendent on a steady, pulsating synth line so that it never becomes ear-destructive.

In fact, the only real stinker on the album, as far as my assessment goes, is the plodding "power ballad" 'Hymn To Her', which is in parts not any worse than 'Ice', but what works well in the context of a moody, hypnotic instrumental, works poorly in the context of an unmemorable love song. Other than that, there's hardly any complaints - the guys are still pushing it out quite fine, even if it would hardly be possible for them to reach the spiritual level of Breathless once again. Ah well, whoever you are, it's really hard for you to put out spiritually uplifting records every year.

Unless you happen to be Jethro Tull, of course, and your admirers are ready to cut their enemies throats. But that's a different story.


NUDE ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1981

Boy, when you're on a winning streak, you sure ARE on a winning streak. As far as Camel's prog records go, this one presents the band at their absolute absolute frickin' bestest. And hey, I did say "prog", because after a couple years intermission, Latimer steers the band back into the progressive department. Granted, some fans would still complain that Nude is in fact just a 'pop-slop' record hiding behind a thin progressive screen, but let's not bitch about that, people. There are a lot of poppy moments on here, but there's also a lot of throwbacks to Camel's early classical-and-jazz-influenced period. Altogether, I'd say this is an excellent mix of everything they achieved in the prog camp and the pop camp. As far as gorgeous melodies are concerned, I'd still put Breathless higher, but for those who want a little bit more seriousness in their music, Nude might just be the ultimate Camel record. One thing's for sure: this is one of the best prog albums of the Eighties, and another thing's even more for sure: it emphasizes the uniqueness of Camel as the lone 'old stock' prog band that released its prog masterpiece in the Eighties of all decades. Talk about time warps and all.

For the review now. Nude is a full-fledged concept album along the lines of Snow Goose, although unlike that one, it's not fully instrumental. The concept revolves around the story of a Japanese soldier who was left stranded on a desert island after a battle fought there in World War II and spent twenty nine years living in complete isolation. After that period, he is discovered and triumphantly escorted back home where everyone accepts him as a hero - but after spending just a short amount of time back home, he grows weary and disappointed of the modern world and finally escapes back to his island, last seen sailing out from a Japanese dock. The story was actually based on a real case (except that the Japanese guy in question simply escaped to a farm in South America after his return home), and is very moving even without the music. With the music, it achieves heights The Snow Goose could only dream of, although not too many diehard Camel fans would want to share their opinion with me.

But the music is great anyway. For one thing, the album is diverse. And it seamlessly alternates soft, luxurious pop songs with rocking (sometimes jazz-based) instrumentals and almost ambient-like sonic landscapes, with each piece perfectly conducting the mood it is supposed to conduct. The bizarre thing is, Nude in its entirety is essentially a mood piece, but it manages to be a mood piece and a multi-part multi-faced story at the same time. In places, it's similar to Pink Floyd, but it flows more smoothly than any given Pink Floyd album, and Latimer and Co. don't resort to any of Floyd's sonic gimmicks like sudden volume changes and trippy sound effects in between songs. They don't need that.

The three main vocal pieces are beautiful. 'City Life' begins the record with chiming synths and soft silken vocals (at this point, Latimer starts sounding more and more like David Gilmour, but that's all right given that I actually like Dave's voice even more than his guitar playing), and the tune soon develops into a gracious mid-tempo shuffle similar to classic Caravan material. The 'I couldn't take the honesty, it seemed to be too easy for reality' chorus is one of the most emotionally charged moments in Camel history, with tear-inducing intonations and all, and the uplifting poppy sax solo rounds the song out with a magnificent climax. 'Drafted', the song where Nude decides to join the army, is slightly less ecstatic, but the beautiful classical piano melody still serves as a solid background for Latimer's heartfelt vocals, and then Andy delivers some of his minimalistic slide solos that have never sounded more honest so far.

Finally, the third vocal number which comes towards the very end is easily just as depressing and more so than any Floyd song. It describes Nude's horrendous inner emotional battle when he's returned home - 'tell me no lies, has peace arrived... or is this some kind of joke?'. Threatening minor chords abound, and both Watkins and Latimer play their hearts out on the solos showcasing Nude's "inner war" with himself and the new surrounding world to which he cannot get used to. Camel don't raise the tension in rough, obvious ways; the arrangement is tight, but minimalistic, and this makes the effect even stronger when you really dig in the tune. A masterpiece of a soul-crushing tune.

The rest of the album (apart from a couple interludes) is completely instrumental, and most of it is pretty good, too. The 'Docks' instrumental, for instance, sounds like an improved and re-arranged outtake from Obscured By Clouds, Pink Floyd's most underrated record if there ever was one, especially with all those echoey guitars and no-mercy-for-the-wicked basslines. 'Beached' somewhat recaptures the tension and aggression of 'Dunkirk', but it's actually more complex, with several mood shifts along the way as the Japanese troops are beaten off the island and Nude remains there, fallen unconscious during one of the attacks. And as for the ambient stuff, it's hardly exceptional - I mean, hey, Brian Eno had already created most of his ambient masterpieces by that time - but it's still beautiful. Aww man, gimme 'Landscapes' or 'Reflections' any time of day. You can just tune into the whole image, and since it's so well connected with an actual story, here's a whole actual world for you. Beautiful world, too. Maybe not as 'green' as Eno would have it, though.

Funny, still, how this record was released in friggin' nineteen eighty one. I mean, who really cared? Nobody but Camel and, uh, the Alan Parsons Project were doing that stuff at the time. I mean, all odds considered, it was a pretty cynical time, with all the illusions shattered and all the pretty fantasy worlds ruined, and if you were playing art rock you were supposed to sound like Drama or Jethro Tull's A or whatever. The fact that Camel managed to put out this quasi-rock opera and not sound like stupid hopeless romantic assholes stuck in a time warp should alone guarantee the band a place in the pantheon. Much more so than its derivative, not tremendously exciting early period. Welcome fully developed artistic growth!


Return to the main index page