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Caravan - Cunning Stunts CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.12 | 312 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

3 stars An admitted step in the "commercialized" direction. Yeah? What's wrong with that? Is that your definition of a cunning stunt, sir or madam? Pye Hastings wanted to be a successful rock musician; don't we all want to succeed in what we strive at? Taking that into consideration, it is quite understandable why the change of direction took place. Caravan's first foray into "pop slop" brought upon a minor success on the charts that had given Hastings hope, despite having betrayed his previous trench coat and fishing hat clad cult fan base in order to "sell out". Being a second generation member of this Caravan cult, I can't say I'm happy with all of the decisions made on this album but the ones derived from Caravan's roots (Pretty sounding instrumentation and ace melodies) make this album a very tolerable bugger.

The only notable change in the line up is that the uncanny Ozzy Osbourne sound-alike, John G. Perry, has been replaced by a certain Mike Wedgewood on bass. Wedgy had been previously part of another "progressive" outfit called Curved Air and in which, he had the curious behavior of penning something called "songs". Not particularly good ones either. During his short time in Caravan, he kept up this painful habit and wrote some real stinkers that clog up this album's already unhealthy arteries real nicely.

The Wedgewood compositions "Lover" and "Welcome the Day" are completely incompatible with Caravan's sound. What would be incompatible for this white n' nerdy n' proggy group, you ask? "Lover" is a "passionate, soulful crooner" and "Welcome the Day" is an "aggressive, 'soul on fire' funker". Is there any other band that these two genres would sound more awkward and stiff coming out of? Well? yeah, certainly a lot of bands on these archives that's for sure. Anyway, "Lover" and "Welcome the Day" would sound much happier being played, written and performed by Aretha Franklin and Sly and the Family Stone, respectively. I surmise the skinny and wimpy duo of Pye Hastings and Mike Wedgewood, would have to have a quick 'plasty and live on devil's food cake for the rest of their lives before they'd even be considerable as pop divas. Eww is right.

Thankfully, the rest draws from much more standard influences for Caravan and the results are much nicer and respectable. With the exception of "Show of our Lives" which is a warm, friendly, show tune-y opener, everything else is easily identifiable as either pop or prog. "Stuck in a Hole"? Snappy Elton Johnesque pop with lots of wooden block clunking. "No Backstage Pass" Very weighty power ballad pop with a massive melodic chorus built on pure sprawl. "Dabsong Conshirtoe"? Hmm, what else would a twenty minute song be labeled as? If you guessed neo-beatnik poetry masquerading as synth horn filled dance pop with twenties stylizations, you lucky kiddie, are correct.

Yeah right. More like the long awaited sequel to the second side of "Abbey Road" with a firey prog instrumental coda. No kidding. "Dabsong" might in fact be one of the best prog twenty minute epics ever. The first three sections are three individual pop songs that segue into each other while the rest is purely instrumental. The songs themselves have absolutely nil to do with each other (other then being very catchy ditties) and the lyrics range from prog ponderings to more Pye Hasting patented lustings after chubby call girls. (To think Mr. Perverse Pye was totally one upping 'Sir Mix a lot' long before the rapper's debut in 1988) However, I like to think of this as one continued, (musically) conceptual piece of dynamics as the tension rises through three mighty fine pop songs, is dropped on a light, jazzy, and flutey interlude and slowly mounts with the final section "All Sorts Of Unmentionable Things" on a really dangerous and evil sounding riff until it bursts into a heavenly reprise of the closing section of "Show of Our Lives" before the tension is released for good on a tiny folkie snippet thing entitled "The Fear and Loathing of Tollington Park Rag". Yes, the lyrics are complete Canterbury scene styled canterbabble but musically it holds together extremely coherently (and the melodies stick in your head with a vengeance) and almost manages to knock "Supper's Ready" off it's high perch for me. Sorry but "Dabsong Conshirtoe" doesn't even touch my spiritual nerve in any way. (or even reach in that direction, for that matter) unlike the one in a million, "Supper's Ready".

Well, with that last song colour me surprised that this album even made it on the charts. I'm sure the commercial pop crowd was a lot more tolerant towards nuances such as twenty minute long time wasters back then. (Wasn't Yes's "Going For The One" also mildly successful despite it's 15 minute epic?) While today, they're pretty oblivious to anything that isn't saturated with Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus all over it. Come to think if it, what if Billy Ray's daughter ever came around to writing (Yea, I'm 98% sure she doesn't even write her own songs, but if she did?) a twenty minute epic would prog archives include her in their vast discography? Would people here embrace it or shun it? Well, if it was a mighty country flavored epic with those eye ball tic bad, "cowgirl" vocals, I know I'd spit my acidic critic juice all over it. The day Prog itself finally sells out? Yes and dee dee. This album is a little bit commercialized too but what it actually knows how to do (pop n' prog NOT funk n' soul) it does well.

Album Grade: B-

Best Songs: Stuck in a Hole, Dabsong Conshirtoe,

Worst Songs: Lover, Welcome The Day

LionRocker | 3/5 |


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