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Camel - Stationary Traveller CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.45 | 776 ratings

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4 stars REVIEW #11 - "Stationary Traveller" by Camel, (1984)

Following 1982's "The Single Factor" and its critical failure, it's more than likely that record label Decca gave guitarist Andrew Latimer and "his band" Camel more creative control over their next album. With drummer Andy Ward now effectively retired from music following a failed suicide attempt onset by drug addiction, the band took 1983 off before returning with roughly the same lineup as before. Both Chris Rainbow and David Paton remain in the band after being brought on from the Alan Parsons Project, while Paul Burgess of 10cc fills in on drums and Ton Scherpenzeel of Kayak is the band's new keyboardist.

"Stationary Traveller" is Camel's third concept album, based on the brave souls who fled the German Democratic Republic seeking freedom from one of the world's most oppressive regimes. This is Camel's most political album, although it is by no means controversial in its criticism of the GDR's totalitarianism, and is a continuation of Camel's melancholic approach to storytelling, a dynamic which seems to be in Latimer's wheelhouse. Musically, the mood of this album is dark and pessimistic, reflective of the situation at the time in the divided Germany, and really sets this album apart from the rest of the band's 80's material, despite not really being any different instrumentally from "The Single Factor" or "Nude".

You can tell that Camel had a much more organized and calculated approach to this album as opposed to the frantically put together nature of "The Single Factor". Everything seems to gel, and the tracks are sequenced in a way that makes sense. The opening instrumental "Pressure Points" sets the tone for the album, with a bleak and minimalistic synth lead that gives way to a broad Latimer guitar solo. On future remasters of this album, this track is sometimes replaced with a ballad titled "In the Arms of Waltzing Frauleins", featuring vocals from Chris Rainbow. This song seems to be designed to segue the end of the Second World War and the Cold War in the context of the album's concept, and it is definitely an emotive song, but its exclusion from the original issue does not bother me. If I had to choose however, I am fine with omitting "Pressure Points", as I feel "In the Arms" transitions better into the first conventional song "Refugee", which is a pretty typical 80's rock song, but unlike much of the material from "The Single Factor", it's done right, conveying a political message to contrast a very professional and smooth sound straight out of the APP.

The tone of the album only gets darker from here, with the longer track "Vopos" (short for Volkspolizei, the East German secret police) taking a pretty unique turn for Camel, with some haunting lyrics, and an slow and prodding exposition that opens up into a chill guitar solo. The next track, "Cloak and Dagger Man" is the most obvious singles track from the album, with a lot of eighties synth and glitz that makes for an okay yet dated song where Rainbow really shows off his impressive vocal range. While Rainbow and Latimer share vocal duties on this album, their respective inclusions on songs make sense, with Latimer taking the helm on the more depressing and low-key tracks and Rainbow hitting those more dynamic and upbeat songs. Side one is concluded with the title track, which is a chilling and melancholic instrumental with a strong Latimer guitar solo, which is right in Camel's wheelhouse and done to perfection.

Side two opens up with an uncharacteristically upbeat song for this album, "West Berlin". I really like how the band makes this very subtle good vs evil contrast between the West and East, with songs focusing on the East being dark and melancholic, while songs about the West are cheerful, hopeful, and emotional. This is one of those small features that really makes for a good album. This song is one of my favorites on the album, with a very strong pop chorus and soulful lyrics where Latimer's vocals seem much more refined than they have been on past Camel albums. There is then a flawless transition into the surprisingly emotional "Fingertips", a mellow and intimate song which is capped off by a beautiful Mel Collins saxophone solo. Grade-A work right here in pulling at the heartstrings, especially with the theme of perhaps one of the hardest decisions a person can make in risking their live in trying to flee to freedom, and the apprehension of perhaps never having an opportunity to escape again.

We then enter the instrumental portion of the album, with the songs "Missing" and "After Words". This to me is the lowest point of the album, although the musicianship isn't bad, it's just forgettable in the context of the album. A lot of emphasis is put on the work of Scherpenzeel, with the latter song being a short piano interlude that sets us up for the album closer, "Long Goodbyes". There perhaps isn't any better way to cap off this album than with a song like this, which is in the vein of "Drafted" and "Heroes" from the band's previous two albums in terms of sound and structure. Chris Rainbow's vocals are a tad bit suppressed here as he is in a lower register, where I would expect Latimer to be, but where this composition really strikes is in the transition to the final guitar solo. Believe me when I say Andrew Latimer saved the best for last, with a tearful performance that is the kind of stuff that would make a grown man cry. This is 1980's Camel, and neo-prog in general, at its very best.

I firmly believe "Stationary Traveller" is Camel's best album of the 1980's, and is a return to the quality songwriting and musicianship that we received from 1974 to 1977. While the album is not as progressive as Camel's most famous works, it should still be respected for being thoughtfully produced and listenable 1980's synth-pop. At the most carnal level, this album evokes emotions better than "The Snow Goose", while retaining a contemporary sound that fits in with the times. The only real glaring issue is that much of the album is dependent on Latimer's guitar work, and there really isn't much inspiring contribution from people such as Burgess, Scherpenzeel, or Paton. In reality, you could have put any generic musician behind Latimer and received the same effect, so in a way the album can be seen as one-dimensional from the standpoint of musical virtuosity, and of course that is a criticism of this album, but personally this is one of my favorite Camel works. While not essential, I think this is a wonderful album to flesh out a 1980's prog album collection.

Camel would sit out the rest of the 1980's following this album, as the band faced legal challenges which you can read more about on the band's website. Fortunately, Andrew Latimer was able to win the lawsuits and keep control of the band, all while moving to the beautiful state of California, which would be the focus of the next Camel album, 1991's "Dust and Dreams", free of Decca's creative control.


PacificProghead | 4/5 |


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