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Camel - The Single Factor CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.65 | 536 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars I have a confession to make. I didn't buy this album with honorable intent. I won't lie. I had ulterior motives. As a seasoned prog reviewer I've found that it's oftentimes much more fun to criticize recordings that are seriously flawed as opposed to glorifying impressive works of aural art. In other words, my arsenal of snarky and sarcastic adjectives is darn near unlimited compared to my finite stock of the complementary persuasion and, besides, it's also easier to inject my questionable sense of humor into satirical essays as a rule. So, when I came across Camel's "The Single Factor" LP lolling in the musty bins of the local Second-hand Rose recently I just knew that I had a pitiful vinyl spheroid in my mitts into which I could gleefully poke more mean-spirited holes than a rusty screen door. (I could always claim later that the Devil made me do it.) Imagine my surprise and tempered disappointment when, after a few cursory listens, I had to admit that I liked it! Okay, "Moonmadness" it ain't, but when I consider the group's depressing state of affairs and the musically-confused time frame it was created in I find a lot to admire.

First of all, this is a lot more of an Andrew Latimer solo project than an official Camel offering. The band as a cohesive, functioning entity had ceased to exist in '81 and Andy, being the sole remaining founder of said combo, was stuck with the daunting task of fulfilling the group's contract with the label as best he could. Latimer enlisted the capable skills of Tony Clark to co-produce, rounded up a handful of crackerjack musicians like Ant Phillips and bassist David Paton, booked time at the prestigious Abbey Road studios and plunged ahead courageously. "Damn the torpedoes and the consequences!" he cried nervously. (Or so it's reported.)

One need only to notice the 1982 copyright date on the sleeve to cause any expectations of grandeur to dissipate like smoke and, frankly, to warrant a dread of the worst. Video may have killed the radio star but what it was doing to progressive rock was a fate more horrible than death. Add to that the eviscerating wounds that had been cruelly inflicted on the genre by the punk and New Wave movements of the latter 70s and prog was in the I.C.U. ward on life support. (If there had been a "do not resuscitate" order in effect we might not be talking today, kids.) All this is intended to warn you that the opener, "No Easy Answer," is nothing more than a mealy ort of pop fluff solely intended to bore its way into the heads of Top 40 radio listeners and create a chart-topper if at all possible. I suspect that the corporate honchos made him do it in hopes of recouping a fraction of their investment. It's no coincidence that it sounds remarkably like any number of the Alan Parsons Project hits for that very reason. It also gives Andy a chance to explain his dilemma up front. "You know it's always easy to say/you've gotta take it day by day/but sometimes it can be hard," he sings. We feel ya, bro.

While that low-calorie ditty is far from being intolerable or an outright insult the next cut, "You Are the One," is a big improvement. The Hammond organ droning at the onset is as comforting as a warm blanket on a cold night but the droll mood it creates stands in stark contrast to the upbeat chorus that comes along like sunlight breaking through dark clouds. Latimer's strong vocal chops reveal a new & improved confidence from him in that department and, while the song is still firmly entrenched in the pop category, it's entertaining enough to merit repeated plays. There's even a lofty spiritual slant to his lyrics with lines like "Looking round I can see/you are still here/not in sight but in me/your being appears," he avows. "Heroes" follows and it has a cool, mysterious prog intro before revealing yet another sizeable debt to Alan Parsons with its dense keyboard sounds and haunting melody. (Success breeds imitation, what can I say?) Here Andy turns the singing duties over to the soprano warblings of his buddy David Paton and the boy delivers a smooth performance from the higher registers as well as providing some silky notes on the fretless bass underneath. Latimer's imaginative arrangement shows that, despite the song's obvious contemporary leanings, he hasn't completely abandoned his progressive roots. You can take the lad out of prog country, you know.

The instrumental "Selva" is a charming slice of pure prog, though. The Prophet synthesizer manned by Duncan Mackay provides a deep, rich backdrop for the guitars of Phillips and Latimer and the composition is beautiful beyond reason. It conjures up serene, peaceful mental images and elevates this album to the next level. It's worth a whole star in itself. I'm a real sucker for songs under a minute in duration and "Lullabye" qualifies to be in that designation, coming in at a brisk 55 seconds. Not sure why, but short and sweet always gets me where I live (no snide remarks, please). Speaking of instrumentals, "Sasquatch" is next and it has a lively, energetic groove that's irresistible. If proggers had a TV station this would be the theme for the evening news program (hosted by the inimitable and charismatic anchorman Iain Lemming) and no one would complain. Andy's expert guitar work is superb, Camel keyboard guru Peter Bardens (in his only appearance on this disc) turns in a delightfully airy but inspired mini-moog solo and the whole thing has a dynamic, electrified atmosphere that can't be ignored. Well, done Mr. Latimer.

The same can't be said for the follow-up, "Manic," though. Andy's stab at getting heavy- handed fails to make the grade. His Ozzy-ish vocal is woefully underpowered, causing the whole endeavor to cave in on itself. At least he introduces a somewhat proggy, spacious interlude toward the end to break the monotony but it's a case of too little too late. "Camelogue" contains certain dubious New Wave ingredients that belie the doomed era it was born in. It's not a total embarrassment due mainly to the quality guitar work but it's also far from being memorable. While Susan Hoover (his wife-to-be) penned the words it's easy to connect the dots to Andy's own career predicament. "Standing at the crosswalk/wonder which direction to go/listen to the small talk/claiming how they told me so/I improvise/have to keep going for the song and the road/a lonely rise/now I'm relying on a song of my own," he relates. "Today's Goodbye" is next and I kinda like the stacked 10CC-like vocals that dominate this tune. It's really just a power ballad but it works for me, especially the contagious chorus that gets stuck in my brain for days on end. Latimer's echoing slide guitar doesn't hurt, either.

Possibly saving the best for last, Andy clears the bases with the interconnected "A Heart's Desire" and "End Peace." The former is a melodic gem with classical overtones that features guest Chris Rainbow on vocals. And the way it slides effortlessly into the instrumental 2nd half is very gratifying to this old prog dog. Andy and Ant combine to present a gorgeous piece of music that's like a slice of heaven and the "shimmering" fade out sends a shiver up my spine. And that's no little feat to turn your nose up at.

Andrew Latimer could've gone into the studio for a couple of days and churned out 8 or 9 tracks of dromedary manure to fulfill the requirements of Camel's contract with Gama Records and not given a hoot for the band's legacy. Other artists have done just that in similar circumstances. Yet it's what a man does when faced with adversity that defines his character, not when he's surrounded by talented cohorts riding the crest of popularity and acceptance. I expected to have a few heartless chuckles over "The Single Factor" but what I came away with was a newfound admiration for Andy. There are several low points to be navigated around, to be sure, but the occasional heights he attains are well worth the price of admission. Just goes to show that you never know for certain about an album until you lend an ear. 2.8 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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