Sunday, November 22, 2015

Camel - 1974 [1989] "Mirage"

Mirage is Camel's second album, released in 1974. It features some of their best-known songs, including "White Rider" and "Lady Fantasy". It is also a showcase for Andrew Latimer's flute, notably on "Supertwister".
There are five tracks on Mirage, two over 9 minutes. Those two are multi-part songs: "Lady Fantasy" and "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider", the latter being about The Lord of the Rings. The album was released on Gama Records/Deram Records.
The album was voted no. 51 in the Top 100 Prog albums of All Time by readers of 'Prog' magazine in 2014.

With their second album, Mirage, Camel begin to develop their own distinctive sound, highlighted by the group's liquid, intricate rhythms and the wonderful, unpredictable instrumental exchanges by keyboardist Pete Bardens and guitarist Andy Latimer. Camel also distinguish themselves from their prog rock peers with the multi-part suite "Lady Fantasy," which suggests the more complex directions they would take a few albums down the line. Also, Latimer's graceful flute playing distinguishes several songs on the record, including "Supertwister," and it's clear that he has a more supple technique than such contemporaries as Ian Anderson. Camel are still ironing out some quirks in their sound on Mirage, but it's evident that they are coming into their own.

The classic Camel lineup occupied a unique niche in progressive rock, specializing in fluid, spacey ensemble workouts – rarely as flashy as Genesis, never as bombastic as Emerson Lake and Palmer. "We're considered a progressive band, by default, really," guitarist-flautist Andy Latimer told Will Romano for his 2010 book Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. "I always thought that people like Yes and King Crimson and ELP were much more obscure than Camel. They were probably better players and consequently got into much more complicated material, which made it even. . . less accessible." The quartet's second album, Mirage, fulfills their debut’s scattered promise, with Latimer and keyboardist Pete Bardens leading the rhythm section through breezy instrumentals (the contemplative "Supertwister") and expansive multi-part suites (the Lord of the Rings–themed "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider").

Mirage is such a wonderful album from Camel, a band who was coming of age as a more "undergound" progressive rock band (not that prog was radio-ready) on their second release.  Camel excels here with a tight variety of compositions, and you can see so much potential coming off this album that their debut only showed so much of.  Even the vocals, though never the highlight of the band, are more accentuated and not as weak this time around.  From the beginning, "Freefall" displays a more challenging direction, especially in the middle break.  Again, Peter Bardens' keyboards and Andrew Latimer's guitars play off one another so well, and I cite Bardens' lead vocal as the first evidence of my case above about stronger singing, even if neither he nor Latimer are powerful singers.  "Supertwister" introduces us to Latimer's flute playing, and Doug Ferguson has a nice thick bass part to go along with this beautiful interlude-style number.  I especially like "Nimrodel," Camel's first try at true extended storytelling, with frequent time changes and musical soundscapes, ending with a guitar solo which sounds like Latimer played this from a mountain top.  The first ever Latimer/Bardens collaboration (which would become the cornerstone of the band) is "Earthrise," another instrumental featuring Andy Ward doing some excellent speed drumming portions, but the keyboard/guitar exchange continues to highlight.  However, the major piece is the 13-minute "Lady Fantasy" suite, but unlike Music Inspired By The Snow Goose, there were two lyrical sections, but the music provides that atmosphere, and Latimer has some excellent guitar that people can air out to, especially about nine minutes in.  If you have the remastered edition, the original mix of "Lady Fantasy" is even better than the studio one, complete with effects on the final guitar and keyboard solos, and Ward's drums sound slightly more live.  Even if they weren't quite as regarded or famous as Yes, Genesis, or ELP, Camel preserves the progressive roots on this album, and it's still my favorite in their catalog.  Remember that if you own this album, it's essential to try out Music Inspired By The Snow Goose and Moonmadness to complete Camel's prime trilogy.

Funny thing about Camel. I started looking into them at a friend's suggestion at the end of last summer. Then one day I was listening to a medley from THE SNOW GOOSE on YouTube and my mum walks up behind me and says, "Who is that?" I tell her it's Camel. "Oh my God, I haven't heard them in ages!" Turns out Camel were one of her favourite bands back in the 70s. She had four of their LPs on vinyl: MIRAGE, THE SNOW GOOSE, BREATHLESS, and RAIN DANCES - the very four I had decided I needed to get myself, coincidentally enough. Since she had never gotten around to upgrading her Camel albums to CD, I had never heard any of it before, but I ended up discovering it on my own anyway.

And I'm glad I did too. MIRAGE was the first disc I sought out, and I know of very few albums that conjure a more distinct, cohesive atmosphere than the dream-like mist that pervades this one. A bracing "Freefall" opens the set, a song whose multiple time and dynamic changes place the album squarely in the prog camp right from the get-go. Next comes the soporific instrumental "Supertwister", a showcase for Andy Latimer's flute playing, which acts as a delicate counterpart to the "dirtier" stylings of, say, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. Most of MIRAGE is instrumental really - the lyrics are few and far between, and delivered in a sleepy croon that only contributes to the hazy soundscape suggested by the cover artwork.

Side I of the original vinyl concludes with what may be my favourite single entry (not counting THE SNOW GOOSE) in the Camel canon, the Tolkien-inspired "White Rider" suite. A musical impression of Gandalf the Grey's triumphant rebirth as Gandalf the White, the tune incorporates ambient keyboard passages, martial rhythms, galloping instrumentals, and ethereal woodwinds to evoke a true vision of Middle-earth. Seldom have I heard a better piece of progressive rock.

Side II features another instrumental, "Earthrise", that continues in the mold established by Side I and gives the musicians a chance to strut their stuff - Andy Latimer's immediately recognizable guitar licks (shades of Dave Gilmour) and Pete Bardens' elegant keyboards especially stand out. And last but not least comes the other candidate for my single favourite Camel song, the twelve-minute "Lady Fantasy" suite. Opening with a suitably bombastic blast of keyboards and drum fills, "Lady Fantasy" calls to mind the Doors in its organ-tinged verses and progresses through three movements and a good half-dozen major themes, alternating some of the softest, dreamiest moments on the album with some of the loudest and most intense. Another masterpiece.

Camel were never very popular, which is a damn shame, because they deserve a much wider audience than just progheads. If you'd like to delve into their uniquely dreamy brand of musical magic, MIRAGE would be a great place to start.

Tracks Listing

1. Freefall (5:47)
2. Supertwister (3:20)
3. Nimrodel / The Procession / The White Rider (9:12)
4. Earthrise (6:42)
5. Lady Fantasy (12:46)
- a. Encounter
- b. Smiles For You
- c. Lady Fantasy

Total Time: 37:47

Line-up / Musicians

- Peter Bardens / organ, piano, celesta, Minimoog, Mellotron, vocals
- Andrew Latimer / vocals, guitars, flute
- Doug Ferguson / bass, vocals
- Andy Ward / drums

3 comments:

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