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CAMEL

Camel

 

Symphonic Prog

3.94 | 884 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 53, Camel, Camel, 1973

I acquired Camel's debut album a little after the classic three, Mirage, The Snow Goose and Moonmadness. It is very different from any of them, resembling a classic four member band and favouring extended, simple songs with a couple of instrumental pieces. The line-up is essentially organ, drums, bass and electric guitar, with other keys and acoustics featuring occasionally, and plays an odd mixture of blues and Latin music with odd psychedelic and rock edges. I wouldn't really consider it genuine prog, but it is a very good album, with some great material. The vocals are fairly weak, but otherwise the playing is solid.

Slow Yourself Down is a good opening to the album, with a relaxed vocal, a solid organ performance (with that wonderful swelling high organ tone making an appearance). Andy Ward and Doug Ferguson create a rather Latin-feeling rhythm section. The instrumental break in the middle features a solid screechy solo from Latimer, as well as organ soloing. The piece comes to a neat blues-based conclusion. All in all, good, even if the second verse felt a little pointless.

The sublime Mystic Queen is the album's high point for me. A liquid vocal from Ferguson acquits itself quite well, conveying psychedelic lyrical content, while Bardens handles both background and lead organs competently. Latimer's brief soloing is welcome, and Andy Ward provides a performance which is both energetic and tasteful. Soft, relaxed, haunting and beautiful. Probably my third favourite Camel song (after The White Rider and Lady Fantasy).

Six Ate bursts in quite tastelessly after this sublime conclusion with a slightly elevator-y sound. The organ is basically repeating itself too much for my liking, and Latimer's twists are foreseeable and not particularly stunning. After about a minute and a half the piece shapes up with softer, faster and more rhythm-based sections taking precedence. Pete Bardens contributes a VCS-3 solo, which is a decent change. My issue with this piece is that it feels a bit random and meandering, never really creating a solid and sustained atmosphere.

Separation is a return to form, with rocking guitar, solid riffs, enjoyable vocals and lyrics, and a definite force without the crunch you'd get from a harder rock band. A superb whinnying guitar solo with a moving background transitions nicely to the chorus, and Ward is on top form for the song. The harder instrumental conclusion is stunning and fast-paced featuring another great solo. Good stuff.

Never Let Go begins with a minute of unrelated acoustic guitar opener before moving to the vocal material, with a fairly nice organ-based backing. Pete Bardens' vocal is woefully inadequate, not having the force to really convey the lyrical ideas, but I can't see either of the other available vocalists doing much better. An excellent VCS-3 solo features before the piece returns to the acoustic ideas with backing bass for a brief interlude. It is at this point that the piece really kicks off, with full mellotron, percussion and nicely twisted acoustics, as well as a superb bluesy guitar solo for the final 'never let goooo'. With a better vocalist, it could be a very strong piece.

Curiosity opens with a slow bass before again moving to a rather Latin feel, before a weird softer and curious section with an odd very minimal piano and quietened vocals. The 'curiosity is killing me/I just have to go' chorus is sort of halfway-sung, leaving the music hugely dominant. The piece takes off a little with the guitar solo, though a rather wallowing organ solo doesn't help it much. At around the fourth minute, Latimer adds that odd and wonderful Spanish-on-an-electric thing (that we see, for instance, on Rush's La Ville Strangiato). Overall, a good song, but not as good as some of the other material on here.

Arubaluba is the album's second and much more successful instrumental, with a definite rock feel at the forefront and great guitar performances, as well as a very interesting grittier organ. Even Ferguson acquits himself pretty capably, and Ward is an impeccable drummer. A great ending, with some silly VCS-3 soundage to compliment it.

Homage To The God Of Light is a very good piece of extended psychedelic improvisation, with all four members handling themselves competently for an interesting 20 odd minutes of music. Ward takes a brief near-solo (a couple of organ stabs over the top), and both Latimer and Bardens do their jobs interestingly. Ferguson's bass feels less repetitive than it is, and the piece as a whole is a good bit of funkadelica.

I'm wavering between three and four stars here (both could describe the way I feel about it). I wouldn't really suggest it to those who want genuine full-bodied progression in their music, but I would say that anyone who simply wants a good, enjoyable album (with blues and Latin influences) shouldn't hesitate to get it. I think I'll go with four in light of Homage's presence on the remaster. Nevertheless, Camel will grow in a more progressive and interesting direction for the following Mirage, which benefits from a greater sense of exploration and more varied styles.

Edit:

I'm dropping Camel to three stars, since it is admittedly good and enjoyable, but not often much more than that. Additionally, the atmosphere is perhaps a bit too limited for my taste, and that's shown through a bit more with a few replays. Sorry, Kotro.

Rating: Three Stars Favourite Track: Mystic Queen

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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