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Camel - Mirage CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.40 | 2778 ratings

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4 stars MIRAGE, the 1974 sophomore release from 2nd-tier prog rockers Camel, is a strong, if not brilliantly unique slice of English "symphonic" progressive rock. By this date, a working prog template had been established by earlier and bigger acts like Genesis, ELP, King Crimson and Yes, and Camel break little -- if any -- new ground on MIRAGE. It's almost prog by numbers; too early to be classified as "neo" prog, yet belated enough to be largely a case of following in the well-worn footsteps of giants.

Still, despite their lack of trail-blazing originality, my latter-day discovery of Camel was a welcome one. (I was introduced to them only a few years ago, via this site.) Camel made some worthy progressive rock in their heyday, and MIRAGE is a fine album. Produced by David Hitchcock (who'd already produced such prog landmarks as Genesis' FOXTROT and Caravan's IN THE LAND OF GREY AND PINK), the album is firmly ensconced in the prog milieu. After a short, spacey intro, "Freefall" gets the session off to a rocking start. The flowing lead guitar of Andy Latimer (who also handles lead vocals in a workmanlike fashion), and the keyboards of Peter Bardens establish the trademark Camel sound: that of a prog outfit able to convincingly rock out, while yet taking their music to more rarified, classy and complex heights. The second number, the instrumental "Supertwister," gives us some beauty, with some nice flute from Latimer coupled with some jazzy electric piano from Bardens. Delicate passages are followed by rocking sections where Bardens switches to the organ -- yep; this is prog rock, no mistake. Next up is the first of the album's two highlights, the multi-part, epic-feeling (and fantasy epic-themed) "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider," which tells of J. R. R. Tolkien's Gandalf, "the wizard of them all (who) came back from his fall, this time wearing white." As suits the subject, we get nine-plus minutes of mood-enhancing mellotron from the mythical mists of time, sorcerous synthesizers, delicate elfin acoustic, and evocative, escapist electric guitar -- better fire up the lava lamp! The fourth track, "Earthrise" is another instrumental workout. Like the gradual, deceptively peaceful appearance of our beautiful blue planet from the window of a lunar-orbiting Apollo spacecraft, this piece starts out small and slow, before building to a frantic pace -- as tired old mother Gaia presumably gets down to the business of another day with her milling multitudes of offspring. Finally, the album ends on another high, with the near-thirteen minute "Lady Fantasy," a tripartite epic which seems to be a favourite of many fans -- your reviewer being no exception. Keyboards and guitar feature strongly on this prog paean to the titular object of unrequited love (who seems to be some sort of feminine ideal, goddess, or dream girl). It's of little import whether the words are aimed at an ethereal or earthly woman: the music plain works, especially during an up- tempo movement where the Camel lads really get smokin!

Thus, MIRAGE is a very good album. I won't say that it's a masterpiece, or "essential," but it would make a solid addition to any thorough collection of vintage progressive rock. If you haven't tried Camel yet, give 'em a go. Unlike the famous "coffin nails" of the cover art, this stuff won't kill you. 3.5 stars, rounded to 4.

Peter | 4/5 |


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