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Camel - Stationary Traveller CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.45 | 776 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The mid-80's could be considered a low point or a high point in music, depending mainly on the band; while some classic groups lost their way with pop aspirations, many embraced new sounds and styles. CAMEL rode an interesting middle course- the band's sound is more obviously modern, but not quite as laughably 'of the age' as so many 80's releases. Latimer & company had never been the most experimental of the classic proggers, tending rather to use whatever musical elements were current to craft accesible songs with intriguing depth and texture. Ultimately, like any good album from the period, whether you can appreciate "Stationary Traveller" depends heavily on whether you can stomach the mechanical minimalism of the rhythms and the glossy plastic production touches.

"Pressure Points" establishes the album's contrasting elements immediately: a pulsing synth rhythm and digital synth pads cushion a slick and searing guitar lead. Gilmour fans should have little trouble appreciating Latimer's tone and approach, but a harsher critic might observe that the track does little more than establish a theme and then provide a brief occasion to showcase Latimer's skills.

"Refugee" is full of classic 80's pop sounds, somewhere between ALAN PARSONS PROJECT and BILLY JOEL's less retro moments during the period. It's catchy, and reasonably intelligent, but it fails to light my fire in any single respect. "Vopos" delves deeper into the synth-pop textures, and almost suggests "Black Celebration"/ "Music for the Masses" era DEPECHE MODE (with the addition of some bluesy guitar, of course). Undoubtedly, Latimer's guitar is really the star of the album. Liquid-smooth overdrive with just a hint of soulful rasp, the solos sing much more effectively than any of the vocal tracks. He's rarely been as aggressive as on "Cloak and Dagger Man"...though it doesn't redeem an ultimately lackluster song.

The title track is the kind of moody instrumental that nobody does quite like CAMEL. The synths are understated, the drums much more natural, the changes are romantic and melodramatic in the best possible way, and the guitar comes in crying just as you need it. After this highlight it's back to the album's formula with "West Berlin", which is a mixed-bag of soaring chorus and plodding verse, all framed by completely typical 80's tones. "Fingertips" is a mellow, decent song- enjoyable for the Mel Collins cameo but not especially outstanding in any other area. The missing background song for a reflective Miami Vice montage? Then there's "Missing", which could appear on the soundtrack of any 80s blockbuster (though it has more interesting movements than most Jan Hammer or Harold Faltermeyer compositions). And "After Words" approaches heartbreaking, with the sad piano and accordion-like backing, but there's just not enough of a song there. And it's mixed so low that it almost disappears if you listen to the album at low volumes.

"Long Goodbyes" is a sentimental climax to the disc. I imagine those GENESIS fans who felt "Follow You Follow Me" was too sentimental or otherwise out-of-place will feel much the same with this track, but to me it's more like "Afterglow"; it has a genuine and heartfelt quality and sonically stands the test of time much better than most of the tracks. The verse and chorus seem a little mismatched, but the narrative brings them together.

CAMEL fans get what they want: undemanding and comfortable music with an interesting narrative foundation and a few moments of real musical bliss. For non-fans, all I can say is that "Stationary Traveller" won't be the disc that changes your mind- unless your tastes run to ALAN PARSONS PROJECT's "Ammonia Avenue" and post-Waters PINK FLOYD. "Stationary Traveller" is generally well-done but not particularly inspired, enjoyable but not very memorable.

James Lee | 2/5 |


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