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Camel - Stationary Traveller CD (album) cover

STATIONARY TRAVELLER

Camel

 

Symphonic Prog

3.35 | 493 ratings

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Warthur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Stationary Traveller tends to be an overlooked album in the Camel catalogue, and it's not hard to see why - at this point, the band was essentially Andy Latimer and a team of trusty sidekicks, and without the keyboard contributions of Peter Bardens (or indeed the Canterbury-flavoured bass work of Richard Sinclair), many people felt that the band was missing something crucial at this point in its history; certainly, the production has dated poorly, and aside from the vocal contributions of Chris Rainbow and some excellent sax work from Mel Collins on Fingertips, Latimer's backing group turn in an uninspired, workmanlike effort, apparently content to simply provide a backing to Latimer's guitar, flute, and synthesiser work (in particular, Paul Burgess's work on drums seems entirely lacking in vigour, although the 80's production values don't help there).

Initially, I didn't enjoy this album, having first heard it after enjoying the likes of Mirage, The Snow Goose, and Moonmadness. But having digested Breathless and Rain Dances, I'd become more accepting of the idea of Camel performing shorter, more commercially-oriented tunes, and now Stationary Traveller seems like a logical descendant of those albums, combined with some cool, crisp influences from 80s New Wave (though not as much as some reviews of this album imply - this is still Andy Latimer and Camel, not Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army!).

In particular, Andy's guitar work on this album is a real treat, as always, and the later tracks - including the title track with its ethereal flute work, the gentle Fingertips, and the closing Long Goodbyes - show elements of Camel's earlier work, and indeed the title track wouldn't be completely out of place gracing one of the groups '70s albums. I get the impression that the coldness of many of the earlier tracks was entirely intentional - after all, with the songs I mention the lineup prove that they *can* sound like the Camel of former days, they just chose not to for some parts of the album.

It's important to remember that this is a concept album about the difficulties faced by East German refugees trying to escape into West Berlin, and I believe that the music is intended to reflect this. The colder, harsher, more emotionless tracks are intended to represent the East - economically deprived, politically oppressed, with free speech and free consciences strictly curtailed. The more warm and organic numbers, conversely, are associated with the West, and come to the fore in the latter part of the album as the protagonist manages to escape from beyond the Wall; their bittersweet tone is a reminder that the refugees have had to abandon plenty of friends and loved ones in order to gain their own freedom, and that the injustice of the situation continues (as of the recording of the album).

So, with that in mind, it's easy to see why many Camel fans found the album off-putting, especially since the more cold and less Camel-like tracks tended to be at the start - no better way to make a bad impression on someone looking for another Snow Goose or Nude!

Ultimately, the album is enough of a departure from the usual Camel fare that I think it is worth exploring, but at the same time for many fans it simply won't resonate. Sad to say, the combination of New Wave and Old Prog doesn't quite work here, which is a shame: a decent fusion of Gary Numan- esque synth rock and virtuoso prog musicianship would be a fascinating experiment to try. At the same time, I feel that the merits of Andy's musicianship (as well as that of some of his guest musicians) manages to save the album from being entirely forgettable. Stationary Traveller is the very definition of Good, but non-essential: three stars it is.

Warthur | 3/5 |

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