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Carmen - The Gypsies  CD (album) cover

THE GYPSIES

Carmen

 

Prog Folk

3.20 | 23 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Carmen's The Gypsies is one of the most paradoxical albums I've heard. On one hand, it's an album that anyone could have recorded, and yet it still retains that old Carmen style. And, even though I usually try to shoot down so-called "sell out albums" (usually choosing my misguided own), I can fully understand why this is thought to be Carmen's pop album, even though Carmen was utterly incapable of selling out as a rule of thumb.

It's actually a really sad record as a whole. Partly is because of the atmosphere: as usual, Carmen belts out some pretty moody stuff. However and as usual, this has to do with the band itself. In case you didn't know, they were in bad shape by now. The various tours were collapsing, their various vans with their various instruments were exploding, various members were being eaten by horses (Paul Fenton! NO! Why? Why not Roberto Amaral?!?). Huh? Oh yeah, and John Glascock was being tempted into the fold of the diabolical Ian Anderson.

But here's the real problem: Carmen, since they were only really capable of creating (and recreating) one album, they had to add something to the mix each time. The first one rocked hard. The second one "progged" it up. The third? Er, well, it just tries to be quiet and pretty. And it does succeed, for the most part. But, in all sad honesty, it adds nothing to Carmen's legacy.

We open with "Daybreak," another pessimistic flamenco rocker. Except it opens with a nice acoustic introduction, that ALMOST turns into "Bulerias." Heh. Wonder if they threw that in for the fans (if you'll recall how the other two openers started)? Anyway, the rocker part is nice, if nothing we haven't heard before. Good guitar and cute keyboard noises in the background.

"Shady Lady" follows the pattern; sweet, acoustic intro, before turning into a harder number. However, it's not THAT hard. It's more like...flamenco soft rock. If you can imagine that. And I think you can. Gorgeous vocals, of course. "High Time" continues that trend, another soft flamenco rocker that's nice, but nothing new.

While it might not be the most instantly rewarding number, I swear that "Dedicated to Lydia" is the best song on the album. Just listen to that (again) acoustic introduction; it's absolutely Carmen, but I can imagine hearing it on a classic Genesis album or something. It's similar in feel to, say, "Lonely House," but quite different. And the ghostly, floaty vocals? Charming. Bittersweet lyrics, Carmen's goodbye. Great use of build too, love the keyboards and drums when they come in. Totally atmospheric, totally sad, too bad it ends so soon...

Of course, Carmen couldn't let us go without one duffer, so next is "Joy." Once again, the melody is decent, maybe good. But the stupid birthday anthem lyrics? "Without the kids next door, there'd be no laughter after the pain?" Ugh. Your arena rock is showing again Carmen...

Well, the title track should win back a little. "The Gypsies" is a sturdy song for sure, featuring Allen's last shot at true, finger flashing catharsis. Best guitar solo on the album, as well as proof that Carmen could still belt out a killer coda when they wanted. Well, in truth, the coda IS just the solo, but it's a cool solo! And then it fades back into the sound effects it started with. Neato.

"Siren of the Sea" is also a highlight, a desperate waltz with a nice, mandolin powered intro. Well, no mandolins credited in the album, so it must just be a guitar. Anyway, nice tune, very Queen-like (it seems to me). "Come Back" is no great shake. It's another flamenco soft rocker, although it's got a very nice, very noble guitar solo in it. Once again, getting the Queen image...

And we close with "Margarita," an instrumental. It is, once again, pure Carmen, but totally un-Carmen. It's not heavy. It's not technically shocking. It's just...pleasant. Acoustic and piano driven. Nice martial drumming. Pure atmosphere. And then...it fades...away...

I think that's half of what makes people call this the Carmen pop album, by the way. That the numbers are shorter and fade out rather than come to a definite conclusion (as it stands, the title track will probably please the proggier listeners the most). But, rather than some selling out, I'd wager that this has more to do with the band falling apart, little by little, and just not having the strength to finish the songs.

And this is not surprising at all. I mean, we all knew that Carmen couldn't last. And, once again, there should be no surprise that the album is a little softer. After all, Carmen had been experimenting with spacey synths on the last album, and the sound and feel here is much closer related to that than the heavy, showoffy Fandangos in Space. Heh. In fact, isn't that like the classic progressive genre in a microcosm? From loud and moody to spacey and synthy to keyboardy and poppy? I mean, you can only turn the sound so far if you lose the guitars...

But without any real classic numbers (although the highlights are all good, just nothing you haven't heard before...well, 'cept maybe "Lydia"), there's nothing to REALLY make the album. I actually don't see how they could have done worse; Carmen's understanding of melody and song structure is too pure to create something THAT gross. Unless, you know, they just started pumping out all kinds of synth driven arena rock. Even though this is certainly the worst Carmen album, it's also the most underappreciated...uh, if something like "appreciation" has ever actually been heaped on Carmen.

Still, Carmen decides to go out with a whimper instead of a bang. And, all things considered, it leaves me a little sad. And, after all, wasn't that the point?

The Whistler | 3/5 |

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