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Renaissance - Camera Camera CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.48 | 123 ratings

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3 stars It's safe to say that this is the least favoured phase of Renaissance's long journey. In the album notes, the late Betty Thatcher was vocal in expressing her displeasure with the direction the band took on Camera Camera. She said and I quote, "I'd become disenchanted with the outlook of the group when I wrote this (Bonjour Swansong). They were looking for a follow up single and said things like, 'We should be more like Genesis.' I thought the whole motivation of classical rock had been abandoned." Annie Haslam too has disowned this album and its follow up, Time Line. She has said that had she been as strong a person as she is now, she wouldn't have stood for it. A pretty big hint, if you will, as to why Jon Camp isn't with the band anymore (though much of this album is still written by Michael Dunford). Nevertheless, at the time, Camera Camera at least fared better than its predecessor Azure D'Or (the album that nuked their Warner Bros contract). And Bonjour Swansong is one of its better tracks. That kind of sums up Camera Camera.

You THINK Renaissance attempting new wave is going to be an outright disaster. Instead, it works really well in patches with a few misses that aren't grotesque either. Just as the 80s outfits and hairstyle Annie sported in the Camera Camera tour weren't particularly gross though not as graceful as in the 70s (but certainly more adventurous). A band that hadn't taken risks for a long time was bound to misfire here and there. But when they get it right, the payoff is twice as awesome.

The album gets off to a flying start with the opener (and title track), reminding me of Michael Schumacher at the Sao Paulo GP back in 2000 when he jumped two places into the outright lead right at the start. Whatever you may have expected from Renaissance going New Wave, the title track isn't it. It starts off with a guitar riff interplaying with keyboard. Holy moly, is that even a Renaissance album at all? It gets into another proggy keyboard motif (which will make another appearance at the end of the first verse/chorus) before launching into the main keyboard/guitar new wave riff. It's a somewhat foreboding riff and doesn't prepare you for Annie chirping in an ultra thin tone high up in the fifth octave, flexing it in impossible ways, again like Schumacher redlining bends in jawdropping ways. This ultra thin tone is accompanied by a cool and almost cynical expression, not something you'd dream of hearing from Annie, again (and I used that word again!). In the chorus, she switches to a more chesty, bossy tone. But in the middle, "I am pleasant and kind..." reverts to a soft, faux-operatic tone, the expression continuing to be disdainful. She goes back to the chesty voice and finishes the chorus with a long sustained note. An even longer version of said note will appear in the second chorus. If that's not enough, she goes off into high vocalise. Did I mention the production yet? It's crisp in a way no Renaissance album has ever sounded. The sound isn't thin and compressed either the way Song for All Seasons was. It's also yet to be infected by the robotomania of the 80s. Early 80s truly saw some great productions like Mob Rules or Moving Pictures and Camera Camera, it has to be said, is one of them. And the title track is my joint favourite.

The other favourite couldn't be more different. Okichi San. Where Camera Camera is urgent and full of brash confidence, Okichi San is leisurely and languid and also calculated down to the last note. If Camera Camera rocks out, Okichi San is jazzy lounge. The similarity is both use Annie's versatility as well as her ability to do high vocalise beautifully, as if it were an instrument all by itself. This is one of their more progressive tracks in general (and not just on the album). It manages to borrow from New Wave without dumbing down the songwriting.

That, unfortunately, cannot be said for some of the other tracks like Fairies, Jigsaw or Running Away With You. Something about the playfulness of Fairies perhaps appealed to Annie and she runs with it but I don't find her delivery particularly convincing on Jigsaw (barring that shriek :P) or Running Away with You. particular is a jarring precursor to the terrible Missing Persons (both written by Camp, incidentally). If Dunford wanted to keep some prog going amidst the New Wave embrace, Camp was more eager to go all out New Wave and grab that hit (which never came, as it transpired).

As mentioned earlier, Bonjour Swansong has a lot of heart and works just because. There's nothing unusual or amazing about it, just a simple but nice melody sung really well (as usual). Also worth mentioning is Remember, one of Renaissance's most beautiful melodies. Again, where earlier their melodies were written so Annie would make them come alive, here at last they show the potential to write melodies that were truly interesting just standalone. Remember in particular has a beautiful progression. It is marred a little by whatever it is that Peter Gosling does at the end. Elsewhere, Gosling and Barron's considerable chops do give a much needed fillip to the band's energy levels, something also noticeable in their live set during this period. The stately sounding Tyrant Tula and Ukraine Ways don't work so well for me, but they also don't annoy me. Ukraine Ways in particular is an attempt to fit the symphonic approach of Renaissance in 80s sounds. But these tracks needed the light touch of Sullivan; Barron's energetic thumping combined with electric guitar and 80s keyboards makes it altogether a little oppressive (for me).

All in all, Camera Camera is very much a mixed bag. But to evoke the "life is a box of chocolates" metaphor from Forrest Grump ( I know, I heard you groan), why miss out on the ones that taste delicious just because some of the other chocolates suck? The parts of Camera Camera that work, work so well you will be amazed Renaissance could pull this off. For a long time, fans have been unhappy that these albums derailed the band into liquidation back in the 80s. But it's all water under the bridge. Annie has ably led the band into new frontiers since the 2009 reunion. So the time is ripe to relax and enjoy those tracks from Camera Camera that still hold up after all these years. For the intent to take risks and for pulling it off well at least in parts, I give this one three stars, placing it above Azure D'Or and Grandine Il Vento.

rogerthat | 3/5 |


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