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Camel - I Can See Your House From Here CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.87 | 617 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars I am firmly convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the advent of MTV was the equivalent of prog homicide in the 80s. Until someone can present a compelling, intelligent argument to the contrary that's my verdict and I'm sticking with it. Yet the punch- drunk attitude and atrophied muscles that made prog unable to put up much of a fight in its life struggle were the result of what was happening in the rock & roll universe in the later years of the 70s and I place into evidence this black vinyl platter entitled "I Can See Your House From Here" released by the previously respectable prog jockeys known as Camel in '79 as exhibit A, your honor. In addition, if it pleases the court, I can also swear that, having been quite active in the music biz goings on of that tumultuous decade, I witnessed first hand the sad deterioration that slowly but surely eroded the health and fitness of the once hale and hardy genre known as symphonic progressive rock to the extent that it nearly became an extinct species in the years that followed. In other words, I know of what I speak and I warn you, it ain't pretty.

Ere we get to the musical festivities, however, we must address the album cover. I take it as an attempt to symbolically portray technology/science as being the secular savior of the blue planet's inhabitants. As the beatniks used to say, that's heavy, man, heavy. Evidently, according to Wikipedia, said sleeve was controversial in some circles, however small they may have been, and, therefore, garnered some attention in the UK media (Camel was still only a brand of ignitable cancer sticks here in the U.S. of A. so we Yanks were unaware as we puffed away). Yet the tiniest sliver of perspective will reveal that this wasn't exactly the Beatles' outrageously satiric "butcher cover" in comparison and has long since entered the realm of useless minutiae. And well it should have because it looks like something 13-year-old Sid threw together one morning at St. Alfonso's parochial middle school for the talented & gifted to rile the nuns, yet it remained inoffensive enough to earn him no more than a stiff whack across the knuckles with a ruler from sister Bess, much less a late afternoon lock down in detention. Truth is, bad art is just bad art, nothing more. This crude illustration is juvenile and far beneath this group. However, after listening to the songs inside, its stupidity is somewhat appropriate. Allow me to explain.

They open with the band's CEO/head dude/guitarist Andrew Latimer's "Wait," a sort of conglomerate casserole of the era's prog pop (a.k.a. Queen, Post-Peter Genesis, ELO and the like) and assorted New Wave flavorings. This lifeless tune exemplifies the confused, direction-challenged state of mind that saturated progressive brains of that day in that the exploding world of affordable synthesized keyboards was spiraling out of control. Need proof? Here's a partial list utilized on this album: Yamaha C.S. 80, Prophet Five, Solina, Mini Moog, EMS Sequencer, R2D2 and a rare Cherry 2000. (Okay, I'm kidding about those last two.) The rapid development of polyphonic keyboard devices helped to spawn the New Wave movement in that any bozo who could master "chopsticks" and considered Rick Wakeman a deity could now call himself a musician and make funny noises with a machine. I'm not indicting the whole genre, mind you. Like any category of music there were brave pioneers and fearless innovators mixed in with the twits and pretenders and the cream did, indeed, rise to the top eventually. But my point is that Camel overindulged in these gadgets and lost their balls as well as their bearings in the process. As they say, "it ain't what you're packing in your dungarees, it's what you do with it that counts" and these boys unfortunately went limp in the clutch. Back to "Wait." Other than some energetic Moog solos from Jan Schelhaas and Kit Watkins and a smooth vocal performance from bassist Colin Bass this song is unremarkable.

The band-penned "Your Love is Stranger Than Mine" is next and it's very typical of the inane, slick commercial fare that was flooding the airwaves unabated around that time. Colin sings okay but the background harmonies are uncharacteristically lazy and off-key as if they were no more than an afterthought and that's inexcusable. Mel Collins' saxophone solo is the only mildly interesting aspect to be found and even then his instrument veers perilously close to sounding like a tenor kazoo. Kit's instrumental, "Eye of the Storm," is New Age-ish, pseudo-enlightened shopping mall muzak at best and its only potential redeeming quality lies in its being employed as a cure for chronic insomnia. This snore- inducer is the epitome of blandness and is totally bereft of dynamics. Andrew's tell- tale "Who We Are" follows and it sports a plastic shuffle feel massively devoid of soul on the intro before it morphs into a throbbing Alan Parsons Project-styled verse and then moves on to a syrupy chorus so saccharine as to cause onsets of diabetes in perfectly healthy humans. The lush orchestral instrumental section sounds like something my dear old mother, may she rest in eternal peace, would've liked and that's no compliment, by the way. Look, buckaroos, if I wanted to expose my ears to this kind of sappy mush there are other contemporary composers who do it a lot better than this. I'm just saying.

The most appealing thing about Latimer's "Survival" is that it is only 1:10 long. This is romantic made-for-TV movie soundtrack stuff and extremely run-of-the-mill at that. Yark. The proggy introduction to his and Jan's "Hymn to Her" is promising but Andrew's anemic vocal is an immediate let-down. The middle part in 11/8 provides a teeny tad of hopeful excitement but it passes much too swiftly and they soon return to ladling up the doldrums. "Neon Madness" is a lousy California New Wave imitation during the verses and choruses but the decent instrumental section in 7/8 only befuddles me as to what they were trying to accomplish. Add to that Latimer's bluesy guitar ride toward the end and you've got yourself a real head-scratcher here. They hit rock bottom, though, on "Remote Romance." It's so putrid it makes Devo look like a supergroup that included Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. This fetid turd of a tune encompasses all that was ugly, revolting and demeaning about the New Wave phenomenon. It contains no perceptible substance or meaning. If I owned a Saturday night special and entertained suicidal tendencies this song could be the straw that broke the Camel's back and just might convince me to bite the barrel and pull the trigger. It is an insult and should be banned.

At this juncture I was ready and willing to use this disc as a Frisbee for Fido to fetch from the pond, and then something unexpected occurred while speeding along the record's ever- widening path to the dreaded one-star rating. A stellar track called "Ice." This composition showcases the kind of moving, emotional music Andrew is really gifted at writing. It begins as an ethereal, flowing guitar and piano piece that patiently evolves into deeper, richer tone territories wherein everyone shines, even the troubled drummer Andy Ward. Watkins' fluid Moog solo is particularly brilliant and Latimer turns in a passionate guitar lead that waters the eyes. The classical guitar coda is a cool surprise and the whole deal's a much-needed touch of class. This 10-minute vacation from mediocrity (and worse) may be akin to tying a fancy bow on the tail of a grunting feral hog but it's the only cut that warrants repeated listens and is the album's sole saving grace.

In all fairness I must say that I've purchased five of this band's albums prior to this one and have been more or less well-pleased with the product every time so I'm hoping this is an anomaly. Yet I do still feel a bit betrayed because I spent $8 plus tax on this sucker and I would've enjoyed a Happy Meal from MacDonald's a lot more, collecting a spiffy "Avatar" toy to play with in the bargain. If this isn't the nadir of Camel's career, then I don't want to find out what is. This is poor enough for me. This court is adjourned. 1.6 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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