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Camel - Stationary Traveller CD (album) cover

STATIONARY TRAVELLER

Camel

 

Symphonic Prog

3.35 | 495 ratings

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3 stars I was introduced to this album by the television screening of the "Pressure Points" video - I'd never seen a band present an entire album as a video before, and the whole package had Neo-Prog all over it.

For this is an evolved Camel - pared back and stripped down, but, thanks to the ever- present constant of Andy Latimer's magical guitar tones, still Camel.

There was much to dislike about "the '80's sound", but a few bands managed to produce great synth-washed sounds - Gary Numan's Tubeway Army, Cabaret Voltaire, Visage and John Foxx to name a few.

The sound of "Stationary Traveller" is not as stark as those synth-based bands - and, being Camel, far more melodically oriented rather than avante-garde like Cabaret Voltaire. It may have the glossy sheen of an AOR rock album along the lines of Dire Straits, and it may be lacking in the experimental department, but something about it still says Prog Rock to me.

I really hate to award it anything less than 5 stars, as it had a real impact on me the first time I heard it - but, since emotional impact is an important factor of Neo-Prog, and this album was released at the right time, I'm going to say that this is an Excellent addition to any prog music collection - but have to admit that it's not really an essential pick.

Even if it's not mind-blowing prog, the emotional intensity is mind-blowing, and any fan of Neo-Prog - and closet AOR listeners too - should invest in this album, which pays bonus dividends on every listen. I'd also recommend the "Pressure Points" video to anyone who can handle 1980's hairstyles - particularly as it mixes in parts of "Snow Goose" with this album.

The album opens with "Pressure Points", which gives a clear indication of the rather minimalist approach that is to follow. A pulsating low synth gives way to percussion stabs that sound like something out of Dire Straits "Private Investigations" (released 2 years later). Latimer immediately pounces on the opportunity to give a crash course in how to wring maximum emotion out of a single note - a wondrous feat that he is simply THE master of. This is wrought into a fine, strong, thread of melody, backed by synth, with sliding modulations. Gaffer tape for the neck hairs, please!

Pressure Points feeds into Refugee which is a great rock song with no outstanding Prog features - and yet somehow has Prog written all over it. The keyboard backing is like a kind of low Roger Hodgson electric piano "bounce", the bass obviously has a low B- string, and feels fat and solid, and Latimer's subtle rhythm picking and Mark Knopfler soundalike vocals make for a satisfying mix that sounds as if it ought to be on Rock Radio on the hour every hour.

Things pick up on the Prog front with the sinister entry to Vopos, which has one of my favourite 80's sounding build-ups of all time. The fretless bass absolutely snarls, and the menacing lyrics bring the nightmare to life. This is a showcase example of how "less is more" can be a profound Progressive feature, as the song slowly builds over time, then drops back expertly around 3:30.

A wondrously toned guitar solo carries the piece into Cloak and Dagger Man, an urgently charged rock song with tremulous synths and magnificent but subtle guitar work from Latimer. A firey guitar solo is followed by an equally charged keyboard solo using a particularly edgy sound. Guitar and keyboard finally team up for a sensuous ending.

The instrumental title track is the standout- as well as the centerpiece, and even closer to "Private Investigations" than "Pressure Points". The guitar melodies, as we come to expect from Latimer, are spine-tinglingly beautiful in themselves as well as in tone - and then we are treated to some wooden flute playing giving a nice "Incantation" touch. The whole is an ambient treat that drops into rock ballad territory around 3:30, and works material found later in "Long Goodbyes" with "Comfortably Numb" and "Hotel California" flavours.

"West Berlin" has flavours of "The Wall", with that big snappy '80's snare sound that I'm really not keen on, but fine textures otherwise, with very careful Alan Parsons standard attention to detail in the production. It's a reasonable enough song, with a good, if derivative instrumental passage around 2:30 that returns around 3:45, but otherwise the second lowest point on the album, showing how "less is more" can turn into "not enough" if you're not careful.

"Fingertips" is another ballad, with that softly flanged and farty-sounding fretless bass that you either love or hate. The lyrics are poignant, but I find the presentation until Mel Collins wonderful sax solo to be rather syrupy. This is the real low point for me.

Fortunately it picks up with the instrumental "Missing", which is surprisingly uptempo for Camel, and reminds me a lot of Twelfth Night on their "Live at the Target" album (1979). This is more firmly in Prog territory, with satisfying changes - although in reality these are from one jam riff to another. Latimer's solo around 2:10 is especially cool, displaying a good mixture of speedy and balladic melodies. There are also touches in here that put me in mind of Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) style compositions with the slightly odd reggae feel. All good stuff!

"After Words" is really a mellophonium driven intro to the epic ballad "Long Goodbyes", another song of soul-stirring beauty and magnificence - and a fitting end to one of the best Prog Rock albums of the 1980s (and there weren't many, let's be honest!). A Hackett-style entry feeds into some flute playing that is remarkably Gabriel in feel. But that chorus is simply epic - and my repetition of the word should serve to underscore just how huge this is. A little REO Speedwagon, maybe, but hey - I like some REO Speedwagon ;o)

A really, really, good album. But it'll never make it into the Prog top 100.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |

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