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Camel - Moonmadness CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.38 | 2154 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
3 stars Camel's highest-rated album was released in 1976, when the original prog movement was already on its way to a slow but steady decline. As often happens in all forms of art, the products of those inevitable stages in the creative cycle have a languid, somehow world-weary quality that many people find very appealing. In fact, their beauty, even perfection in a strictly formal sense (think of the elegantly curving shapes of Art Nouveau artifacts) is often undeniable.

Moonmadness is one such product: harmonious, full of softly flowing melodies, devoid of any sharp edges, definitely soothing. The very names of the songs project a peaceful, vaguely New-Age vibe, with all their references to air, water, and the inevitable moon. The music is flawlessly executed, the vocals soft and muted, the tracks blending almost seamlessly into each other. It is the polite face of prog, offering just enough compositional intricacies to keep fans satisfied and avoid accusations of sell-out. However, those listeners who need to have their attention constantly engaged and stimulated will ultimately find this album disappointing, even boring. Moonmadness soothes the ear, but never once does it challenge it in the way prog milestones like Close to the Edge or Larks' Tongues in Aspic can do.

Even more so than its predecessor, Mirage, which occasionally featured some slightly more energetic moments, Moonmadness is an orgy of lush keyboards, tasteful guitar licks, and sweetly pastoral flutes (check in particular Air Born). Andy Latimer's vocals sound even flatter than usual, which in a way makes the instrumental tracks stand out - the actual songs are often nothing short of soporific, as is the case of Song Within a Song (greatly enhanced by Richard Sinclair's vocals in the live version featured on A Live Record). It is not a coincidence that the album's highpoint is the 9-minute-plus instrumental Lunar Sea, possibly Camel's finest hour. Initially driven by Doug Ferguson's pulsing bass lines and Andy Ward's measured beat, it slows down in the middle in order to allow Andy Latimer and Peter Bardens ample room to display their skills, then picks up the pace again. Latimer's guitar work is particularly good here - there is no denying that he is a fine guitarist, no matter his vocal shortcomings.

The 2002 Decca remastered edition of the album offers a real bonanza for Camel fans. Not only does it feature alternative versions of Another Night and Spirit of the Water, but also three previously unreleased live recordings - respectively Song Within a Song, Lunar Sea, and a tantalising excerpt from the band's third album The Snow Goose, the solemn, majestic Preparation/Dunkirk. None of these versions, however, differ significantly from those already present on the album.

Don't get me wrong, in spite of my criticism of the album, I find Moonmadness a thoroughly pleasant listen, and even give it a spin with some frequency. However, as I already stated in my Mirage review, calling it one of the best-ever albums in prog is, at least in my opinion, somewhat of an exaggeration. It is perfectly all right to want to avoid the excesses of the more avant-garde subgenres of prog, and go for music that does not tax the brain (or the ears) too much - and Camel are excellent purveyors of this kind of 'undemanding' prog. On the other hand, I find that a band like PFM does 'beautiful prog' much better than Camel - unfortunately, their not being English undeniably plays against them (and their English-language albums are anything but representative of their better output).

Therefore, I will stay with a solid 3-star rating. Good album indeed, but in no way essential. If you bother exploring a little further afield, you might find that there are so many real masterpieces just waiting to be discovered, and even change the way you see prog.

Raff | 3/5 |


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