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Renaissance - Camera Camera CD (album) cover

CAMERA CAMERA

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

2.50 | 129 ratings

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SteveG
5 stars Eight rapid fire old time camera shutters clicking open and closed signal the invisible metronome of Camera Camera's opening title track and we're off. Jon Camp's bass takes over the beat with five identical propulsive bass notes that climax in a quick four note melody, while long time acoustic guitarist Michael Dunford shadows Camp's leading bass with surprise stabbing stereo electric guitar chords that are actually rhythmic notes that cascade around the soundstage. New drummer Peter Baron adds electrifying drum fills and briefly detours to hit his snare on the offbeat before rejoining the song in conventional rock band style. Briefly, images of Bill Bruford and Chris Squire fill my head before Peter Gosling's distinctive synth notes fill the sound stage joined by Annie Haslam's distinctive vocals. But Haslam herself surprises and climaxes her multi tracked choruses with some never before heard high octave vocal hijinks.

This is how I first remember hearing the formally symphonic progressive rock band Renaissance back in 1981 and I was thrilled. I recently played a near mint copy of the original vinyl album of Camera Camera and the initial rush is still the same.

For very good reasons. After the departure of long time members John Tout and Terry Sullivan following the release of the more 'radio friendly' Azure D'dor album in 1979, the remaining group members, Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford and Jon Camp found themselves without a record contract while facing a wholesale change that invaded the pop music scene of the early eighties when New Wave ruled the pop radio waves. And frankly, the band's longtime orchestral sound was sounding long in the tooth ever since the release of the Novella album in 1977.

Realigning themselves with former manager Miles Copeland, who now owned IRS Records' subsidy label Illegal, the group recruited keyboardist Gosling from their offshoot band Nevada and added crack studio drummer Baron. With full financial backing from Illegal, the band produced a terrific electric prog album while still maintaining elements of their classical sound. Gosling settled on a distinctively thick synth sound that incorporated elements of dissonant sound, space age whooshes and buzzing into his melodic tones. Baron brought a more prog style of drumming with solid beats backed up with lightning tom fills and deft cymbal work. Aside from Dunford taking up rhythmic electric guitar in place of his previous percussive acoustic, Camp forsook his trebly bass sound for a fat grubby tone that was still the melodic anchor of each and every song.

Camera Camera revealed the new band's penchant for dynamic instrumental sections that were based around Baron's rapid hi hat and encircling tom tom fills that bring to mind Phil Collins without being outright derivative. A rich thick sound mix that gives a prog fan a lot to sink his musical teeth into. Other standout tracks include Tarant-tula, with its creepy electric guitar arpeggios that are chased with a menacing bassline from Camp, and the moving acoustic guitar based Okishi-san, which conjures up images of ancient Japan with the story of a lovelorn Geisha taken away to another village far from the gentleman caller she has fallen for.

Long time lyricist Betty Thatcher shines in her stories of lost love on this song as well as in the heart rending Bonjour Swansong (only available on the CD version.) I once read that a critic stated that Bonjour Swansong was Northern Lights recast in waltz time. While the song does have a strong resemblance to Northern Lights in it's slow but not quite waltz time chorus, it's execution could not render the song more different. Less complex and presented as a pop song, Bonjour Swansong displays the return of Dunford's beautiful acoustic strums that supports Haslam's multi tracked vocals for the choruses before Haslam stops the show with one of her ethereal moments in the song's middle eight section. Camp's bass is confined to simple scales in the song's catchy choruses instead of his complex melodies that were displayed in the more prog tinged Northern Lights, and this is the main reason why the song succeeds and sounds original.

Jigsaw is Thatcher's mirror of the band's fortune and interpersonal relationships which were fractured after the release of Azure D'or, and the band does another incredible job of transferring the chaotic feelings into dramatic time signature changing music.

Ukraine Ways is another of the band's neo-classical prog pieces that conjures up images of the cold former Soviet Union, Cossacks, and Russian men dancing. The song goes through several changes from dynamic prog to dramatic vocal yearning with Gosling playing cascading classical piano around Camp's melodic bass lines in the chorures. The song's musical high point is Camp's pounding bass notes in the instrumental section that's supported with more rapid fire drum fills from Baron before a very distorted guitar lead, almost reminiscent of a garage rock tone, briefly teases before returning in full force for the songs climactic lasts moments. Great waves of whooshing synths slowly die off as this great album draws to a close.

Camera Camera is not without its faults. Fairies (living at the bottom of the garden) and Running Away From You are bland pop songs that evoke feelings of the band having gone New Wave as synths are used for the quirky rhythms, and Gosling's sometimes noisy synth tones can be off putting to some people. But in a time when Yes and Genesis were devolving into pop acts and King Crimson actually embraced New Wave, Renaissance still put quality into their music.

Camera Camera was a brave album that Renaissance bet their professional future on. Too complex in some instances and too fey in others, the music would never be appreciated by anyone other than a diehard electric and symphonic prog fan. Camera Camera manages to encompass both of those subgenres easily. Thirty plus years after it was first released, it's time for diehard fans of the band's older sound to drop their prejudices and gave this album a deservedly fresh listen.

How fortunate are the fans who got the message the first time around. Five stars for another essential album in the Renaissance canon.

SteveG | 5/5 |

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