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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Camel: Mirage


1) Freefall; 2) Supertwister; 3) Nimrodel; 4) Earthrise; 5) Lady Fantasy.

I have never really been satisfied with Camel's second album. Prog fans tend to praise it, but it seems to me that most of the praise is for reasons that are all too obvious — the songs get longer, the solo/jam passages more technically challenging, and there is at least one Tolkien-inspired tune (maybe more, because even though ʻLady Fantasyʼ does not drop any direct references, it works well in tandem with ʻNimrodelʼ).

The problem is that such an approach by itself could hardly surprise anybody in 1974 (not to mention today) — the question is not whether Mirage is more «complicated» than Camel, but whether it manages to preserve and develop the band's own identity, to have a face of its own that would distinguish it from all the other faces. And from that point of view, too much on Mirage sounds like rather unconvincing imitations of Yes, Genesis, ELP, and even some of their more ancient predecessors (for instance, the first keyboard solo on ʻLady Fantasyʼ is uncannily remi­niscent of the Doors' ʻLight My Fireʼ).

Most importantly, a crucial vibe is missing here — the melancholic mood, that quiet desperation which is so much the English way, has dissipated, as the band embark on a flight of colorful fan­tasy. There's nothing wrong with flights of colorful fantasy in general, of course, but for Camel, this is a somewhat uncomfortable detour: epic songs about wizards and love ballads to mystical fantasy ladies is not something for which they have any special knack. The two long suites sound tasteful enough, but there is not a single melodic line or twist there that would really capture my attention. Signature changes, polished guitar solos, pretty harmonies, alternations between loud and quiet; only the «magical», echoey slide solo at the end of ʻNimrodelʼ really sounds like no­thing we'd previously heard before — good find, that; not enough to grant masterpiece status to the entire song, though.

Of the shorter tracks, Bardens' ʻFreefallʼ is quite an energetic opener, but, again, just seems way too much like an inferior Yes tribute; the instrumental ʻSupertwisterʼ is a cute little waltz with some flute work from Latimer; and the other instrumental, ʻEarthriseʼ, exists somewhere on the border between classically influenced prog and jazz-fusion, without properly making its mind about which side of the border it wants to stake a real claim on. Honestly, I do not know what to say about them. They rock, but not too hard; they're pretty, but not beautiful; they have well thought out melodies, but they're not catchy. Generic second generation prog, in short.

Consequently, I am one of the few who feels tempted to dub this a «sophomore slump» — a half-decent, but misguided and forgettable attempt at aping the founding fathers of the progressive genre without adding even a drop of their own personality. Had they persisted in this direction, the world might have already forgotten all about Camel; fortunately, the mistake would not be repeated again, at least, not on the scale of an entire album.


  1. 2nd generation progsters keeping Deram Records alive through the second half of the 70's, after the Moodies had entered their long hibernation. I actually really like this record a lot, particularly as background music. Camel probably do work best as an instrumental act, although I suppose Goblin already had that angle covered. Anyhoo, this is most likely my favorite Camel album, as it's got a bit of muscular grit that later efforts tend to lack. And "Lady Fantasy" is a well layered, well executed bit of Yes pomp with Crimsonesque guitar tones that still works well after 40 plus years.

  2. Replies
    1. Hey you in the back! Wake up and smell the Nimrodel, dammit!

  3. Spooky: this review was posted on the 42nd anniversary of the album's release (March 1st, 1974)

    haven't listened recently, but Freefall is the only track I can recall any of at the moment. Mostly that unison rising part that seems to come out of nowhere.

  4. Not sure if I prefer it over Camel; but I absolutely dig this album ne'er the less. I suppose in the context of discussions of the albums possible inovations, justification of my appreciation is difficult. I'm limited in terms of possible bands to compare Camel too in this period of theirs--Focus maybe? There're touches of Yes, KC, Genesis, and perhaps Tull; but Camel truly strike me as having their own color. Andy's guitar is stylistically unique and as melodic as anything bending. I mightn't think so highly of the album if it weren't for Freefall; which grabs one's attention with its energy and tightness, but most of all with the beautiful solo. Does the Allman Bros come to anyone else's mind? The same principal touch carries me through the other tracks; though I admit the two longins do drag some. These two may conceivably spell the disc's inferiority to the more concise preceding album; but Mirage in my mind presents a clearer vision and pronounced maturity. Tight playing, a distinct tone/instrumental attack, and pretty consistent melodicism does it for me the whole way most times around. Andy's voice can be a bit bland; but surely it doesn't prate like J Anderson's, and some nice flute in its path is no disservice. Last but essential is Ferguson's understated, but superbly tasteful and professional bassment. I needn't justify the other players. Prog it all is, but with subtlety and majesty. This Doors harkening may be the mirage we hear about.:)

  5. Mirage is the defining album of Camel as masters of the mellow prog rock, though not their definitive album.

    Nothing spectacular, but a very nice mellow prog album, that works beautifully as a background music, as comrade Malx noted. Also it doesn't strain your brain cells as usual prog of this period, or make unsuspecting party guests run for their lives when played.

    My favorite part would be the pretty Supertwister, that has more in common with Focus than with Jethro Tull. And is an homage to another Dutch band, today forgotten Supersister.

    Another favorite would be the simple but haunting psychedelic finale of Nimrodel, a.k.a. The White Rider.