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Camel - Mirage CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.40 | 2778 ratings

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3 stars "Mirage" most definitely has that unmistakable Camel aura about it but I consider it to be less sophisticated than their two excellent albums that came right after, "Snow Goose" and "Moonmadness." Here the band comes off as a kind of poor man's Pink Floyd and I don't say that in a disparaging way. Whereas that talented group was so polished and so gifted that they could construct their songs piece by piece as they recorded, the tunes on this album have the earmarks of being cooperatively crafted during days and weeks of intense rehearsal long before they walked through the studio doors. They have an "organic" texture that only comes from an open, all-ideas- considered, creative commune of musicians that understand the concept of the whole being much greater than the individual components. In other words, these guys were a band in every sense of the definition.

I like to think of them as an instrumental progressive rock group that reluctantly agreed to put vocals on some of their tunes in order to appease their record label. What I'm saying is that they weren't exactly fighting over microphone time, yet that's the weakest part of their sound, unfortunately. The opener, "Freefall," is a fine example. It has a spacey beginning, then powerful accents draw you into a throbbing rock beat that's promising but the second they timidly start singing the indistinct lyrics the momentum drags. This situation doesn't last long, however, and soon they're buzzing off into a jazzy interlude with Andrew Latimer's bluesy guitar wailing and Peter Bardens' organ flowing freely. Harmonized, intertwining melodies between the guitar and keyboard is one of their trademarks and this number has plenty of that going on to keep things interesting. "Supertwister" is an instrumental piece that allows Andrew to showcase his fluent flute skills and he's no slouch on the silver stick. It's a light jazz ditty that starts out at a scampering gait before the tight rhythm section of Andy Ward's drums and Doug Ferguson's bass carefully slows the tempo for a smoother, more serene segment. After a return to the initial feel the song ends with the sound of a champagne bottle being uncorked. (Don't ask me why, though.)

The Tolkien-inspired "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider" is next. A slice of psychedelia featuring synthesizer and tremolo guitar at the beginning leads to some crowd noise stirring underneath marching drums, bugles and fifes. They segue from that into a Genesis-like section where they make another weak stab at crooning some words before they suddenly burst into a hyper-paced movement with Bardens turning in a decent performance on his synth. It ends with a strong bass/synthesizer line rumbling through as Latimer provides some cosmic but very predictable guitar runs. On "Earthrise" they once again back away from the mikes and lay down a steady rock groove as the organ and guitar provide the basic melody both together and in harmony. They then shift gears for a jazzy little deal that further evolves into another high-energy, frenetic rock motif. The backwards guitar lead is way too 60s for me but Peter's gutsy organ solo more than makes up for it.

The epic "Lady Fantasy" provides a large-scale, big-time proggy charge out of the gate before they settle down into an easy-going trot where pleasant melody lines take over. Then they sing some brief lines again with the same disappointing results. Bardens' fiery Hammond organ break comes to the rescue in the nick of time, however, and Andrew gets to stretch out on guitar during the somewhat pedestrian jam that follows. A slower section with fat 12-string acoustic guitars ringing underneath is enjoyable but the rudely distorted, heavy clavinet/bass riff roaring beside Latimer's over-the-top guitar spasms at the end really puts me off. I might have dug it more in '74 but not now. No way.

In this case the bonus tracks add to the value of the CD package. The live recording of "Supertwister" is pretty much a note-for-note rendition but the two in-concert versions of "Mystic Queen" and "Arubaluba" will save me from having to buy the group's debut album. Not that they're inferior tunes. Not at all. They just tell me all I need to know about where Camel was at during that stage of their development. The former has a cool Traffic-style atmosphere that's appealing and the latter is a controlled, mapped out jam that has some interesting characteristics. All three are well-performed and remarkable in their high fidelity. Alas, the alternate studio mix of "Lady Fantasy" contributes little to the original.

"Mirage" is a snapshot of four dedicated musicians feeling their way in the competitive world of 20th century rock and roll, drawing on each other's specialized talents to build a unique group identity. Their intuitive arrangement skills and their propensity to come up with excellent melodic patterns were evident and would only get better with experience. It wasn't their fault that among them they lacked that essential vocal personality the public demanded for instant recognition. These four artists were obviously content with the band's makeup the way it was. But, nonetheless, it was the missing piece of the puzzle that kept them out of the upper echelons of 70s prog rock. And this album, despite its undeniable qualities and charms, displays the critical nature of that drawback to a tee. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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