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Camel - Nude CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.63 | 735 ratings

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4 stars I like being pleasantly surprised. When I picked this up several weeks back I expected it to be fairly good like the majority of everything else I've heard by Camel but I didn't know it would be so consistently delightful. If you know anything about this group you know that they're anything but boisterous, relying on a softer approach to get their progressive point- of-view across. There are times when that's exactly what my anxious brain or troubled mood yearns for. I'm not saying that this is some kind of wishy-washy, meditative new age B.S. that can double as a generic alternative to counting sheep and popping two Tylenol PMs. Believe me, if that's what this was I wouldn't put up with it beyond the first minute. Get thee behind me, Yanni! No, this is quality prog from the early 80s that respectfully contains a healthy dose of what had allowed the mellower side of 70s progressive rock to ingratiate itself into contemporary/popular styles so discreetly. The malicious force known as MTV was still deceivingly benign; slithering about in its cute, incubatory phase when this record was released and, therefore, "Nude" is one of the last stragglers of that waning golden era to proudly wave its shiny prog banner as the legions of anti-creativity Blue Meanies gathered on the horizon.

Make no qualms about the band's history, though. The yellow brick road hadn't been a cake walk for this group. By 1981 Camel had reinvented and repopulated itself a few times over and was at this juncture head honcho Andrew Latimer's baby all the way as he wrote or co-wrote every note of this one. My sombrero's off to him, too, because there's not a runt in the litter (okay, maybe there's a mutt or two). While it's essentially a concept album built around the tale of a castaway WWII soldier (Nude) unintentionally quarantined from the rest of the world for 29 years before being rescued, the somewhat shallow plot takes a back seat to the music and never gets preachy or overly sentimental. This is respectable prog that won't scare anyone, even your pet Guinea Pig. I'm willing to bet your wife and/or mistress will not object. Everybody wins!

They begin meekly with a light sprinkle of pop on "City Life" in which Alan Parsons' influence is noticeable except that this is what his Project should've evolved into instead of becoming the soulless, plastic hit machine they became. The song has a silky smooth surface and is obviously radio-friendly yet it maintains a level of integrity. Mel Collins' spicy sax solo could have elevated it but his reedy blowing suffers from being kept too low in the mix to make a difference. The sparse lyrics describe a young urban boy confused about what to spend his life doing. "Wake up, wake up/signs tell the time you're wasting," Andrew croons. "Nude" is next and after a soothing piano and cello opening the tune flows as free as a mountain stream. Here our protagonist's existential dilemma is solved by a draft notice that makes his life-choice for him whether he cares to tote a loaded rifle or not. It's implied that he's a bit of a reluctant would-be killer who realizes that he has no alternative but to "live without remorse for the deeds I'm bound to do." The tune lolls a little until Andy Ward's drums' delayed entrance allows the number to pick up welcome steam. They then segue seamlessly into six consecutive, entertaining instrumental tracks, starting with "Drafted," a cut that has Latimer performing a stately slide guitar theme that's stirringly inspiring.

"Docks" is a Pink Floyd-styled song, well-constructed and festively decorated with firm dynamics. Andrew's understated guitar work is graceful throughout. "Beached" is even more up-tempo as Duncan Mackay's tasteful keyboard settings along with Ward's intricate drumming impress and the sudden appearance of a clean brass section is a nice touch. It's nothing spectacular, mind you, but there are enough varied elements involved to hold your interest until they get to the next (and best) number, "Landscapes." This gorgeous, ethereal piece alone is worth the price of admission. A deep, reverberating keyboard surrounds the soothing flute melody like a warm halo and my only complaint is that it's over way too soon. I could lounge in its luxury for another ten minutes. Easy.

Slightly world-beat, tribal-like drums characterize "Changing Places" as they rumble beneath harmonizing flute lines. The tune effectively summons a vivid visualization of Nude finding himself stranded on his lonely island paradise and Mel's flute flurries are colorful and uplifting. "Pomp & Circumstance" is another lovely composition that blends multiple synthesizers expertly, leading to a barely audible military snare and a single rifle shot at the end. Despite his isolation, our plucky infantryman has steadfastly enforced his loyalty to his sworn duty by staying vigilant, regularly discharging his firearm into the air. "Please Come Home" is a tiny song that brings to mind Supertramp and through which we are informed that our boy has, at long last, been found. "Reflections" follows and it's another well-executed soundscape that demonstrates explicitly how sublime subtlety can not only be heartwarming but highly admirable as prog art. Skeptical about the war being over, Mr. Survivor resists his rescue at first. "Captured" is a perky instrumental too reflective of the New Wave mannerisms prevalent at the time and it's the nadir of the proceedings because of that mundane flavoring. Kind of a cheesy soundtrack more befitting a modern jazz/ballet dance recital at the local high school, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

A hero's welcome greets the overwhelmed Nude in "The Homecoming," a Sousa-like snippet that's essential to the plot yet adroitly avoids being an embarrassment. "Lies" is another Alan Parsons Project protégé with Andrew's fluid guitars teeming, a funky breakdown in the middle that wisely employs a dense, growling Hammond organ (always a huge plus in my book) and a Latimer guitar ride towards the end that's exquisite. Far from being grateful, our star of the show is rather bitter. "Can you disguise/can you simplify/this change you put me through?/can you revive/and will I survive/this life you've brought me to?" he exclaims. The finale is "The Last Farewell." While Andrew reprises an earlier theme, Colin Bass' fretless bass adds a bounty of class before the band closes with a wistful musical aura reminiscent of Genesis during their awesome "Wind and Wuthering" days. The story's coda (spelled out in the liner notes) informs us that our man, disgusted with the phoniness of the requisite15-minutes-of-fame global community he's been brought back to, simply vanishes one day. We are left to surmise that he's returned to the peace and solitude of his south sea isolation. Good for him.

I have yet to find a truly poor Camel album. If you haven't waded into the dromedary waters as of yet I can only tell you that you're depriving yourself of a treat. While "Nude" isn't a masterpiece, it still deserves your consideration as an open-minded progger. If you take into account the "prog is for dweebs" mentality that the punk rockers bent on anarchy and the holier-than-thou New Wavers had forced upon the up-and-coming "videos rule" generation, it shines quite brightly. While Genesis was quickly turning into just another arena rock & roll band, while Yes was frantically looking for their lost Tibetan monk mojo and ELP's legacy was as dead as chivalry these guys were determined to hang on to their prog identity while adventurously incorporating ever-improving studio recording processes and techniques into their sound. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of overlooking these fellas. They were still prog when prog wasn't cool anymore. 3.9 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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