CAMEL: NUDE (1981)
1) City Life; 2) Nude; 3) Drafted; 4) Docks; 5) Beached; 6) Landscapes; 7) Changing Places; 8) Pomp & Circumstance; 9) Please Come Home; 10) Reflections; 11) Captured; 12) The Homecoming; 13) Lies; 14) The Birthday Cake; 15) Nude's Return.
A curious and almost brave move here: just as Camel's transformation into a «pop» band was nearly complete, Latimer suddenly rebounded and came out with his second «tone poem» (I'd hesitate to use the term «rock opera»: unlike Snow Goose, Nude does have several sung parts, but there's certainly not enough of them to qualify) — and, once again, the subject is loneliness and seclusion in the face of war, the whole thing being a musical retelling of the story of Hiroo Onoda, stranded in the Philippine jungle for thirty years after the end of World War II, refusing to believe that the fighting has ended.
Admittedly, the suite never gets the same kind of respect from fans as Snow Goose, largely for the reason that it shares quite a few simplified pop values with its two predecessors, and is on the whole far less adventurous and «progressive». This may be true, but it's not as if Snow Goose was a genuine prog monster, either — except for occasional heavier emphasis on jazz-fusion elements, it seems that its main advantage was the lack of vocals, which always makes any musical work seem superficially more «serious». Nude, on the contrary, opens with ʻCity Lifeʼ, a bona fide soft-pop song bordering on adult contemporary — and even if its tone and message fits in very well with the rest of the album, by way of a happy-sad introspective look back at one's «odd» past from the point of view of the «normal» present, it can certainly warp the general perspective, because, you know, first impressions do matter.
However, on the whole Nude is a success, because for the first time in years Latimer finds himself fully immersed in his most natural state — melancholic introspection. Most of the tracks, bar story-demanded interludes like the triumphant-martial ʻHomecomingʼ, set the same autumnal mood that, as some listeners have cleverly stated, sounds like post-Waters era Floyd before post-Waters Floyd was even invented — but without the same kind of emphatic wallowing in one's own misery that often irks people away from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. Besides, some of the mood-shifting interludes are actually quite good, like the «action-packed» ʻDocks/Beachedʼ, illustrating Nude's arrival and combat action in the Philippines — the former with its scary, echo-laden thunder-and-lightning slide guitar lines, and the latter being the only trace on the album of the band's former jazzy glories.
More typically, the instrumental pieces shift between minimalistic New Agey ambience (ʻLandscapesʼ, ʻReflectionsʼ), obligatory tribal beats representing Nude's «exotic» surroundings (ʻChanging Placesʼ), and occasional outbursts of retro-progressive activity to illustrate shifts of circumstances (ʻCapturedʼ, whose melodic shifts might remind you of Gabriel-era Genesis). No individual piece is remarkable on its own, but in between all of them they certainly tell a coherent and interesting story, albeit probably not the kind of story that Onoda himself would have told (and, for that matter, even though Latimer is credited for playing koto on at least a few of the tracks, I did not specifically notice any Japanese motifs — not that it's a crime or anything).
Only one track in particular has always stood out for me, and struck a far more aching chord than just about any other Camel song in existence — ʻLiesʼ, representing Onoda's initial exhausted and heartbroken reaction to his return to society ("Tell me no lies, has peace arrived, or is this some kind of joke?"). It's not too complex, and its main active weapon, Latimer's angry-depressed Gilmour-style guitar work, may seem all too predictable, but there is still something special about its bluesy ambience. It just sums up so well everything that must be going on in the soul of somebody whose whole world has just crashed and crumbled around him and who has to gather all his remaining strength to start anew, yet is unsure if he can make it. It's honestly one of the most depressed tracks I've ever heard — and I've heard quite a few — although it probably works better in the context of the album than all by itself.
The record still cops out with a «Hollywoodish» happy ending — ʻNude's Returnʼ, where sadness and exhaustion are ultimately shown as trumped by optimism and hope in the future, a quietly rejoicing finale that may be true to real life (seeing as how the real Onoda did not commit suicide or anything, but lived to the ripe age of 91) but is less loyal to great art; my response to this is that I usually stop the album right at the abrupt ending of ʻLiesʼ and imagine that the protagonist takes his own life at this precise moment. That way, Nude becomes a slow-paced, quietly-intensifying atmospheric masterpiece for me, and even if many of its individual ingredients may suffer from limping, there's no other Camel album that would steadily and inevitably lead the way to such a snappy coda.
Although the record was recorded in 1981, this is the one that truly puts a stop to «Seventies' Camel» — not only would The Single Factor herald the departure of the last original member of the band, bar Latimer, but it would also signify Camel's transition into the new reality of the new decade. And, oddly enough, if there is one other album in the band's catalog that could be seen as a spiritual companion to Nude, it is the first one, the self-titled one — they have really gone full circle with their brooding, starting out with almost a manifesto of lonerism and eventually ending up with Hiroo Onoda as an even more authentic mascot for lonerism than Philip Rhayader (who at least had Fritha and the goose to keep him company). And no matter how much criticism people may fling at the «softness», «simplicity», or «boredom» of these individual bits and pieces, on the whole I really enjoy the way Nude reaches out to the sad loner in all (or at least most) of us, if you're ready to connect, so — thumbs up, most definitely.