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Camel - The Snow Goose CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.30 | 2479 ratings

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5 stars Jenny Agutter Broke My Heart

Camel's 3rd album is arguably their best and probably richly deserving of all the plaudits heaped on it during the intervening years. It seems that the success of the Tolkien sourced White Rider on the previous Mirage album provided sufficient encouragement for Bardens and Latimer to expand their canvas to encompass a fully fledged conceptual work. Various literary sources were considered including Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, but Camel mercifully abandoned an adaptation of this grovelling apology for western wickedness (after just a casual glance at the lyric sheet provided with Close to the Edge presumably)

Paul Gallico's short novel The Snow Goose from 1940 seems an odd source for the muse to be sure. I mean it's a nice little heart-tugger and all but inhabits a world so soft and fluffy that Barbara Cartland could conceivably be summoned as the defendant in one of its obscenity trials. Enough already, I know that all male proggers of a certain vintage would have fallen hopelessly and madly in love with Jenny Agutter courtesy of the 1971 film version starring Richard Harris.

Given the particular historical events that the story rests upon (the Dunkirk evacuation during World war Two) it's hardly surprising that the accompanying music has a markedly English/Northern European flavour, shorn of all habitual rawk artifices and without a trace of blues anywhere to be found. Personally I find this refreshing as you can get a bit jaded with pale white boys from Solihull paying their dues to a Delta most of whom think is an Italian rally-car.

The Great Marsh - Seems to take an eternity for this little teaser to finally uncloak itself but a suitably atmospheric intro that sets the gentle and wistful mood appropriately enough.

Rhayader - Glorious and indelible theme that represents an amalgam of English folk music and the European classical canon. Think of Focus sparring with Jethro Tull and you might just be in the ball park/soccer stadium. When the core quartet embark on the central improvisation section they inhabit a sound world not a million miles away from Greenslade.

Rhayader Goes to Town - Clever use of disorienting electronica via the synth ostinato which punningly alludes to the protagonist's alienation from and reluctance to engage with the modern world (Rhayader is a hermit artist who lives alone in a lighthouse, although I can't recall too many reported instances of overcrowding in the lighthouse industry) Rips along like a high speed train containing one very uncomfortable commuter who clearly believes himself to be in a state of the art slave galley. Several of the melodic themes used on Snow Goose can be viewed as a Prog twist on Wagner's classical leitmotif idea i.e. the personality and mood of the characters is mirrored by the musical materials. That twee, clumsy but still loveable synth motif that lurches unannounced onto centre-stage, perfectly captures Rhayader's risibility in the eyes of a dismissive urbanity. The slower guitar solo section always reminds me of Gilmour in Floyd.

Sanctuary - Given the title, a fitting contrast to the disruptive urgency and frisson of the previous track. Gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar provides a soft bedding for a haunting flute stated melody which segues into a achingly beautiful electric guitar passage right up there on a par with any of Focus's finest contributions to instrumental rock. (Praise indeed)

Fritha - Were you to pan all the concealing mud, debris and rock out of many a celebrated prog epic, what remains would still be outshone by this humble little jewel.

Friendship - Jauntier than an epidemic of terminal jauntiness, this short classically inspired tune scored for reeds and wind just bounces joyfully around like a toddler on a bouncy castle. At less than two minutes such bonhomie is not requiring of any deflating pin from your reviewer.

Migration - A rare instance of vocals on this album, albeit wordless Hatfield & the North style critters. Migration always conjures up unrelated imagery of Carnaby Street, mini-skirts and the swinging 60's as envisioned by Ealing Studios for this rodent. (Dunno...Straight Edge Psychedelia?) Despite that, yet more very strong musical ideas that like so many on this record, prove resilient to the stylistic garb they are clad in.

Rhayader Alone - Introspective and moody electric piano that captures our hero's inevitable but still mourned isolation perfectly.

Flight of the Snow Goose - Crackling synth arpeggio that prefaces such use as implied harmony on what passes for sophistication in the dance fraternity. Another addictive guitar theme that is hard to dislodge once entry is permitted into the listener's head.

Preparation - Restive guitar picking wedded to some fondant flute which transitions into a foreboding drone based groove over which a cherubic female/prepubescent choirboy cast cloistered whispers. Those of you familiar with Rick Wakeman's No Earthly Connection will discern similarities between the former's The Reaper and this number.

Dunkirk - Possibly my favourite Camel track ever and a salutary lesson in how to gradually build and pace an arrangement that allows all the constituent parts to have their own little window from which to cast the sunlight. Camel also manage the very ticklish feat of combining orchestral sources with the electric band on Dunkirk which is often an elusive mixture even for the more celebrated Olympians in the prog pantheon. This would be the audible results of thematic ideas being allowed to organise and arrange themselves without an ego in the vicinity. Music would be this democratic but for musicians alas.

Epitaph - A short reprise of the Preparation materials.

Fritha Alone - Very plaintive and moving solo piano piece (although I detect an overdubbed part in the higher registers?) What proof is required for its beauty is that on ceasing, you just want it to start over again.

La Princesse Perdue - Emerging dancing village strings a la Bartok which preface a tremulous and exhilarating synth lead before Latimer's guitar, for all intents and purposes, practically defines noble, stately and borderline aristocratic in equal measure. I hear many textural similarities on this tune with that of Wakeman's more enduring work for electric band and orchestral forces.

The Great Marsh II - The sequel. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the swamp. Let's face it and forgive it: Prog concept albums have had these little tail-enders linking back to opening material since God was in short pants. (No I don't mean Jon Anderson, even short pants look like long un's on that elfin warbler)

If you were to recommend a starter pack for a prog newbie then you could do a lot worse than suggest The Snow Goose. It just might represent the perfect stepping stone for an inquisitive listener to venture into the wonderful world of Progressive Rock. The fact that it is almost entirely instrumental would certainly prepare an initiate for the abiding thrust of the genre's style.

Yes, the music is relatively gentle and accessible but never bland and as I alluded to in my review, musical ideas this strong are sufficiently 'well hard' to withstand any stylistic interpretation.

PS Jenny Agutter, we forgive you.

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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