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Carmen - Dancing on a Cold Wind CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.73 | 84 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars (Give a woman a 3.5!)

When a weird little band's debut is really strong, like, say, oh, I dunno...Fandangos in Space, for sake of argument...the question that immediately pops up is "but can they keep it up?" And, in the case of Carmen, the answer is, "Yes, yes they can. For about a song and a half."

Because Carmen honestly can't keep it up. Not for very long at least. And the problem is that they didn't progress. Which isn't to say that they didn't get more progressive. Quite the opposite, Carmen get more progressive on this album, blowing away "lightweight" stuff like "Bulerias" and "Sailor Song." But the music itself didn't progress. Simply put, Carmen bit off just a little more, and they were already chewing at full capacity. But boy, it sure is fascinating to watch (er, "listen").

Still, it's hard to not like an album with such a strong opener as "Viva Mi Sevilla." Easily the best song on the album, and arguably Carmen's hardest ever, it quite possibly blows away everything on Fandangos in Space (All Music Guide (who actually talks about Carmen!) calls it the best Carmen song ever, and I ain't disagreein', you'll notice). Making more than fantastic use of a slamming, dramatic build, it morphs into a throwback to "Bulerias." Which doesn't piss me off at all. The spacey, extended coda takes some time to get used to, but this is a song where everything works. Everything. All the musicians play their hearts out (the strongest of course being my big three of Allen, Glascock and Fenton).

"I've Been Crying" starts out as a very effective flamenco art-pop rocker (love the guitar work under the theme). Too bad that instrumental part in the middle sort of spoils it. I mean, when it moves it's okay, but when it's stagnant...well, Carmen just shouldn't do stagnant songs. Doesn't suit them.

Case in point, "Drifting Along." Glascock and Fenton are both great, but it's still somewhat boring at first. When it hits that creepy synth passage, you think, "Wow! This would have been a cool introduction." And it would have. Maybe that's why it flows into "She Flew Across the Room" so well, a slightly superior tune, with some cool, fuzzy guitar lines under the melody.

Oh, wait, my bad. That's wasn't "She Flew Across the Room," that was the second movement of "Drifting Along" I guess. Funny how it used the same. The REAL "She Flew Across the Room" IS an intro for "Purple Flowers" (unless it's a coda for "Drifitng"). This is getting confusing.

Okay, "Purple Flowers" has a fairly decent chorus, although Carmen imitating a train isn't quite the same as Tull doing it, trust me. Then, a mid-song movement that's built like their usual coda pops in, and it's pretty good. Too bad it's not a coda, since the REAL end of the song lingers on for a bit too long.

"Table For One" starts the side long epic "Remembrances," one of the most underrated side long epics in the history of prog. Certainly one of the most forgotten (and that is both understandable and unforgivable!). The construction of "Remembrances" is surprisingly sound, complete with repeated themes to ground the piece, and character parts being divvied out to various band members. And, it's even split into sections, so you can't complain that you have to fast-forward to your favorite part!

If there are any interior instrumental bits worth listening for, it's in here. They're usually cleverly arranged, like the recorders in "She's Changed," a quieter, bittersweet number. "Gypsy Girl (Caravan)" is somewhat faster and harder. Angela Allen's vocals are stirring.

"The City" is beautiful, but where have I heard that melody before? Oh yeah, "Lonely House." No wonder it's so beautiful. Couple that with a real cool intro with a cool guitar solo, it might just be the best movement of the "Remembrances" suite. "Time (She's No Lady)" is catchy, if repetitive. I wish the piano didn't fade so fast in the beginning.

"People Dressed in Black" is the number that probably should have been the ending. It's sufficiently powerful enough, with a driving chorus, and, if you have actually been paying attention to the story, a suitable enough ending. Of course, once again, it sounds very familiar. Honestly, every time there was a pause in that thing, I kept expecting someone to yell "DANCING FANDANGOS IN SPACE, AND WEARING A GARMENT OF LACE!!!"

"Dancing on a Cold Wind" has a touching acoustic intro, and it's a decent piece of atmosphere unto itself. "The Horseman" is a little weaker, but the chorus is nice. It's good when it's soft, but I'm not sure I need some of the more "power" parts of the song.

The reprise of "She's Changed" goes on for just a tad too long. Pity. All in all, it had its moments. Sometimes it was just a little too much for its own good (especially near the end, after "Dressed in Black," where the idea machine starts to run down a bit).

This album really shows the limitations of Carmen. For one thing, there's the lack of original material. This is a case where, when you've heard the first record, you actually sort of have heard the second (Fandangos is The Yes Album, Dancing is Close to the Edge, you get the picture).

The second, and more pressing (since re-doing an album as awesome as Fandangos isn't a sin in itself), is Carmen's inability to keep up the whole spacey instrumental thing. When they try to do an instrumental midsection, unless they keep the energy up (or use some tricky instrumentation), it falls flat. They don't have the right musical chops in the band; Glascock and Fenton are capable of keeping up with Allen's guitarwork, but the keyboards are never there to provide us with any kind of variety, and it's rarely memorable.

(I just noticed that the job of keyboardist has been switched over to Allen's sister Angela. I guess they figured she could handle it better than Roberto Amaral, who has been dropped to "percussion" (whatever that means). The girl's got a good voice, as this album demonstrates, but methinks the 'boards were not her instrument. Not that Amaral ever stunned me on the first album, of course.)

But, other than that, Carmen IS able to keep it up. I mean, they sort of did clone the first album; several themes are repeated, the instruments are the same (I know, there's a violin listed in the credits, but YOU tell me that it's prominently featured), the vocal harmonies are the same, the style is identical (which is done on purpose, one should think), and the mood is largely the same. Downbeat. Not dark, no; Carmen aren't dark. The songs are always too inviting to be dark. But, listen to the lyrics for goshsakes, these things are sad!

However, if you're a diehard Carmen fan, you will need this album. If you're not, well, you probably don't. However, I think that the better parts of the "Remembrances" suite, and certainly "Viva Mi Sevilla" are certainly worth it either way.

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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