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Caravan - Better By Far CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

2.85 | 135 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Try not to stare at the parts that are bare!

"Better by far" falls outwith the classic Caravan Deram label years of "Land of grey and pink", "For girls who grow.." etc., which were indeed better by far than this album. That said, the music here is enjoyable if relatively unchallenging.

Recorded in Spring 1977, the line up is essentially that which recorded the previous "Blind dog at St. Dunstans", with Dek Messecar replacing Mike Wedgwood on bass. The band moved labels once again for the album, this time to BTM/Arista, with the legendary Tony Visconti taking on the roll of producer. Pye Hastings is once again the dominant force throughout, writing all but three of the tracks.

The album sets out in reassuringly traditional fashion with the upbeat "Feelin' alright" (no relation to other songs of the same name), which has the sound of the lighter Caravan songs of old. The song sets the mood for much of the album. The following "Behind you" tells a raunchy tale in the best traditions of "Golf girl":

There could be no way I was going to stay with a man like that on my heel He was six foot four and could eat a door and his fists were like great blocks of steel But his wife was rude and it seemed so good to have fun while he was away While he lived in hope of the sale of soap, like the cat and the mouse we would play

The title track is a slower ballad type song which finds Hastings in particularly melodic tone vocally.

The dedication to the talents of the violinist ("Silver strings") is understandably a Geoff Richardson composition. It is not a great song either lyrically or melodically, the clever arrangement enhancing what is actually a pretty ordinary number. Richardson remains in the song writer's chair for "The last unicorn", a fine instrumental dedicated to Peter S Beagle, the author of a book by that name. The early part of the tracks which features strings is reminiscent of Stackridge, before a more familiar synth solo lifts the tempo. This track has distinct echoes of the great Caravan days, and shows the band still willing to work out instrumentally, at least on occasions.

"Give me more" features some more of Caravan's wonderfully smutty lyrics. Who can resist smirking to lines such as "She's got ill repute, and an over-size foot, bad breath and drives a Mercedes" and "Though I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare, she said: "Would you like to touch?" (complete with female vocal), I said, "Very much"". The naive innocence of Hastings voice countered by the erotic screams of guest vocalist Vicki Brown only add to the fun.

Keyboard player Jan Schelhaas sole compositional contribution to he album is "Man in a car", which he also appears to sing. The vocal sections are rather prosaic, but his bursts of synth are positively striking. The songs marks a change of lyrical style for this track and the remainder of the album, the nudge-nudge innuendoes being replaced by more obscure fantasy based poetry.

"Let it shine" starts of with a slight country twinge before settling into a pretty orthodox Caravan pop song of the type the band would utilise more and more on subsequent albums. Guitar and keyboards duet effectively for the track's play-out. The album closes with "Nightmare", the longest track at around 6 minutes. The lyrics here are particularly troubled and un-Caravan like, but at least have a positive ending. Richardson's swan-song on viola is superb, the track making a good case for its inclusion in any list of Caravan greats.

In all, a surprisingly good offering from a less familiar Caravan line up. While some of the tracks point towards the pop direction the band would later pursue, those pop undercurrents were there even on their best albums; they are essentially one of the band's characteristics. There are enough reminders of the band's great albums here to make this a worthwhile acquisition for those who appreciate those releases.

Despite a reasonable promotion effort by the band's new label, the album failed to find significant success. Geoff Richardson would leave within a year of its release to pursue a career in session work, and the band was once again in turmoil.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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