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Camel - Moonmadness CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.38 | 2150 ratings

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5 stars By the time of this writing, Camel's music has spanned a number of variants in sound and approach, some less successful than others by anyone's reckoning, even though not all are in agreement as just exactly what connotes their highest and lowest points. Yet there are clear tendencies, and Moonmadness is one that emerges at the top of many people's lists of Camel's albums. I am one those and can say that this is probably my favorite Camel album ever. It is often criticized as being too mellow, a criticism offered to the band in general as well, but to me that is not a detriment. I do not subscribe to the notion that soft & mellow = bad music, as I do not subscribe to the notion that hard & heavy = good music. There was a time when I did think so, but I am far past my teen years now. This is not to say I do not enjoy hard & heavy music; I do. In fact, one of the best moments of Moonmadness is the climax of Lunar Sea where Andrew Lattimer rips his guitar to shreds. In fact, Lattimer had always been the first among equals in this band. That being said, he is but one of two stars on this album, the other being Peter Bardens, whose keyboards give Moonmadness its most unique aural qualities. The driving keyboard dominant Aristillus opens the album and sets the mood. Barden's pulsing rhythms, moog melodies, and swift runs is what the song is all about. Keys also herald the second piece, Song Within a Song. We hear Lattimer on flute lending it a more natural beauty. His dream-like vocals also lend a similar quality. The song reaches some symphonic heights with a powerful guitar-led theme before it goes into a rapid section where Bardens takes the lead again. His lines rise up and down, and keep a character similar to the first track. Lattimer's rhythm guitar is spectacular. It ends on a repeated theme played on the keys, reaching a bright climax. Next comes the instrumental Chord Change, and it is Lattimer's turn to shine. His lead guitar dominates almost the entire time and shows both his melodic nature and ability to just wail. The fast opening section leads to slow and soulful middle. Bardens backing organ gives a bluesy/gospel feel, and he gets a short solo. I find it interesting that Lattimer does a lot of up and down runs on this song similar to what Bardens had done on the previous two. A dramatic bridge leads the band back to a reprise of the opening segment, played at a slightly faster tempo now. The guitar comes forward again. What was originally Side One ends with the short Spirit of the Water. Again, Lattimer offers a dream-like vocal performance, accompanied by Barden's gentle piano and alternated with a melody played on recorder by Lattimer. Nothing in particular develops in the song, but it is delightful. So far, there is little here that would attract your average rock fan. The music alternates between slow sections, mostly with vocals, and space/jazz/rock instrumental passages. This changes. The original Side Two opens with Another Night, a march that powers its way through its entire running time. Andy Ward's drums not only provide the marching rhythm, but his fills and cymbals add a great deal of drama. Lattimer's guitar is the main lead instrument, and all times is very tasty. This is one of the things I like about his work ? it is melodic and thematic, and represents composition rather than jamming. The flute comes back for Air Born. The methods and formats are set by this time: melodic instrumental introduction, thematic bridges, dream-like vocals, great leads and solos. Despite that, this is one of the best songs on the whole album, and everybody gets an opportunity to show his stuff, if only for a quick fill, even Doug Ferguson on the bass. He is the weakest link on this recording, playing adequate but not spectacular bass. At least he keeps the bottom end of things and works well with Ward on the drums. The structure of this song is perhaps the most complex of the whole album, moving from section to section with plenty of bridges. It does not, however, speed up. The whole thing is played at a slow tempo, giving it more of that dream-like nature which is the dominant characteristic of Moonmadness. Perhaps they are saving up speed for the next song. The climax merits its own paragraph. Lunar Sea is the longest track, over nine minutes in length, and purely instrumental. It is also the fastest and one of the great masterpieces of the 70s. A now-typical thematic opening sets the stage, and quickly moves to a guitar-led fast section. This changes to a mid-paced segment with Bardens back on the moog. Ferguson's bass line is so important here, coming to the fore in way not yet heard. His playing is clean and consistent. Lattimer provides some incidental guitar chords, but Bardens is the star. This section, more than any other, gives the impression of being on the moon. Abruptly, we return to another fast section, only even more so, and Lattimer comes out with all guns blazing (or should that be all strings?). This is some of his best guitar playing; I recommend this to all you guitarists reading this ? you can learn a lot here. Fast, melodic, clean, and again at times he just wails, but at no time is he ever out of control. This is an exemplary piece any axe slinger would be proud of. The band as a whole provides lots of energy which helps spur Lattimer to the heights he hits. Reaching a climax, we return to a reprise of the spacey introduction, and everything fades out, ending with some synthesizer sounds reminiscent of outer space. Moonmadness by Camel has elicited a wide variety of responses, both positive and negative. Each piece on the album is organized in more or less the same way, and there are a few dominant characteristics to the album. Yet none of the songs is a mere repeat of any of the others. Bardens' keyboard work here is among my favorite in the entire genre of Prog, and Lattimer gives many first-rate guitar performances. Instrumental melody is one of the strong qualities of Camel's music, and plenty of that is provided here. As I consider this a classic of the era, I can only give it five stars. This album came to my attention shortly after it was first released in 1976 (this was the American edition with the picture of a camel in a space suit standing on the moon ? a picture I really like). As long as I have been listening to Moonmadness, I never get tired of it. It is also perhaps the best known of all Camel's albums. As such, many reading this review will probably be familiar with it. If you have never heard it, and do not care much for Camel's music, this will probably not persuade you otherwise as it is arguably their best album. Not only do I think that the case, but I also think this is an essential album of Prog. So give it a(nother) listen.
Progosopher | 5/5 |


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