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Caravan - Better by Far CD (album) cover

BETTER BY FAR

Caravan

 

Canterbury Scene

2.86 | 101 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars Something about even this perceived poorer album `Better By Far' from Caravan still brings a smile to my face. I love the cheeky lyrics, wonderfully upbeat sound and energetic playing. There's a real infectious quality to this album that makes me proudly place it alongside their classic discs.

Although some listeners may be a little dismissive of the fact that a lot of the music on this album is full of pop arrangements, this has really been a classic Caravan trait from even their first album. Think about it - `Place Of My Own', `Hello, Hello', `Golf Girl', `Love To Love You', and so on are all very much pop songs, filled with great ideas and wonderful playing, and there's still a lot of that same vibe present on this album. The band also seem very happy and re-energized throughout.

Pye Hastings vocals have never sounded so confident, distinctive and full of character, and he seemed to be really pushing his guitar playing on this one. Drummer Richard Coughlin is all over this album, constantly dropping in busy drum fills and really driving the energy of the record. Jan Schelhaas performs endless `crowd pleasing' keyboard/synth and minimoog runs, and large parts of the album feature his wonderfully subtle electric piano playing. Geoffrey Richardson on violin steals all the dramatic and serious moments, and Dek Messecar's bass is always loose and upfront.

The album kicks off Richard's pummeling drumming, a minmoog intro and pumping bass before properly launching into a punchy and up-tempo poppy number, similar to `Memory Lain' and `Headlong' off `Plump'. Very upbeat and hand-clapping chorus. Listen to Coughlin really bash away on this one! The energy present on this track pretty much maintains throughout the whole album. Abrupt ending though!

`Behind You' is a very perky and naughty track, with some morally suspect (but quite comical!) lyrics, great catchy chorus too, and it's full of the band's usual humour and positivity. Killer solo in the middle, pure Caravan. Keyboards solos all over this track!

"Better to have tried than never...than never to have tried at all." How cheerfully naÔve and innocent! Sweet vocals from Pye and heartfelt lyrics on the title track, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on `Cunning Stunts' alongside pieces like `Lover'. Lovely synths and electric piano all the way through, far more understated and effective than drowning it in orchestral strings. Has a nice melodic and low-key guitar solo in the middle too. OK, so the `wanna make love tonight' bit is a little cringe worthy, but you'd have to be made of stone not to smile at the loved-up sentiment of a line like "I got a love, and I just wanna let it grow, a gift from above, telling me to let it show!" If anyone could sell that kind of sweet romantic ideal, it's Caravan! OK, so perhaps I'm just a wimp...

Nice upfront bass on `Silver Strings' and some pleasant group harmonies, even if the song itself is a little schmaltzy and tacky. Even if it's trying to be more of a pop song, it's really kind of loopy and a little bent! Pye's "do-bee-do!" bits are amusing, but the middle chant out call bit of "yay!" is just hideous. Effective violin from Geoff Richardson in the middle, and it ends with a very quirky synth solo that gives it that very typical Caravan identity.

Of course the absolute highlight of the album is the wonderfully atmospheric and stirring instrumental `The Last Unicorn'. It's a vivid title that conjures up all sorts of wondrous imagery, and all the band gets to shine on this. Geoff Richardson's grand violin playing sets a reflective and thoughtful mood during the first half, and then out out nowhere, the bass kicks in and it really takes off! Richard Coughlin's drumming is absolutely furious on this, and Pye lets rip with a wailing guitar solo. Proof that Caravan still had what it takes at this point in their career, and it's one of their greatest moments ever committed to vinyl. Bit of a classic.

Despite wonderfully absurd lyrics ("I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare"!) and trademark Caravan naughtiness, `Give Me More' is a little sickly-sweet and let down by a hideous wailing female vocal in the chorus. There was similar problem with this on the previous `Blind Dog' album, shame to hear it again. Disappointing, because Pye's singing is actually really rather good, and the lyrics are frequently highly amusing.

`Man In A Car' has a very slight country feel with smooth harmonies. A number of really quick minimoog solos throughout, with two very brief dreamy and atmospheric sections that make for a very pleasant track.

The slight country sound remains for the start of `Let It shine', which has yet another catchy and well sung chorus, is well played and still recognizable as Caravan, but it's probably one of the most commercial and straight-forward tracks on the album. Perfectly lovely and forgettable at the same time.

`Nightmare' is a little bit darker for Caravan, and probably the most serious moment of the album. Very restrained vocals from Pye through the whole track, and his guitar solo at the end is a real example of subtlety and precision without show-boating. There's a very moving violin solo about two minutes in with some nice upfront bass really heightens the drama. Despite the lazy fade out at the end, and the fact that the track still feels too short, it's finishes off the album in a grand way.

So it's not going to ever be considered a classic along the lines of their first few albums, but I think it's still got more than enough interesting ideas, great playing and classic Caravan charm to justify grabbing a copy. It's the sort of album that makes me smile if I'm a little down or had a bad day at work, and Caravan is a band that has provided my friends and I with so many wonderful musical moments.

Three and a half stars really!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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