CAMEL: THE SINGLE FACTOR (1982)
1) No Easy Answer; 2) You Are The One; 3) Heroes; 4) Selva; 5) Lullabye; 6) Sasquatch; 7) Manic; 8) Camelogue; 9) Today's Goodbye; 10) Heart's Desire; 11) End Peace.
Existence of this record is often attributed to pure contractual obligation: by 1982, Camel were pretty much defunct as a band, with the next-to-last remaining founding member, Andy Ward, leaving Latimer's company due to personal problems, yet Decca still expected Andrew to fulfill the contract and hand them another LP — and, moreover, a «commercial» one, rather than yet another morose semi-instrumental suite about some crazy Japanese soldier. With no place left to run, Latimer concurred, and, allegedly unwillingly, produced the next «Camel» album all on his own, deserted, disillusioned, and dissatisfied.
Actually, not nearly on his own — as a matter of fact, The Single Factor «boasts» the single largest number of guest musicians on a Camel album so far. Out of the old friends, Bardens makes a brief appearance on the instrumental ʽSasquatchʼ, and keyboardist Duncan Mackay, who played on Nude, reprises his duties on another instrumental, ʽSelvaʼ. Elsewhere, you get to feel the vibe of such diverse talents as former Genesis member Anthony Phillips (here mostly playing keyboards rather than guitar, despite being much better known as a guitarist), Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks (one track), Pilot's and Alan Parsons' bass player David Paton, and about half a dozen other less well-known musicians.
With a chaotic soup like this replacing a virtually defunct band, and with industry demands spiling the joy of artistic creation, and the overall times not being particularly auspicious for old school progressive rock, it is, in fact, amazing that The Single Factor is not such a complete disaster as could be predicted. It is fairly bland, unadventurous, unfocused, and self-plagiarizing, yes, but things could be much worse — it would be all too easy to see Latimer plunge into synth-pop or electrofunk, for instance, conforming to popular demand and embarrassing himself to no ends. This he does not do, even if the songs are mostly «pop», and there's quite a few synthesizers on them. Nor does he go all cheerful and life-asserting on our asses, betraying his natural melancholy — which ends up showing even on the «positive» songs like ʽYou Are The Oneʼ.
The problem with Single Factor is that, despite all the various guests, it sounds very monotonous and mono-mood-like. Layers of acoustic and electronic keyboards, sometimes merging into one with Latimer's guitar parts, all give a constant feel of something very smooth, pretty, sad, and utterly uneventful, no matter how involved the rhythm section is or at what tempo they play the song. ʽSasquatchʼ is a rare exception, distinguished by a well-composed Latimer lead melody and benefiting very much from Phillips' 12-string guitar part and Bardens' mini-Moog solo — and some of the guitar overdubs give a really weird psychedelic effect, too. But stuff like ʽSelvaʼ and ʽEnd Peaceʼ has little to distinguish it from a thousand contemporary or later New Age instrumentals, unless you find yourself specifically moved by Latimer's minimalistic bluesy solo on the former (I cannot say that I am, because he is trying to hit us in the soft spot that's already been occupied by the likes of Santana).
Of the superficially catchy pop songs, there is not one that actively irritates me (although the fast tempo and overall tempest-in-a-teacup attitude of ʽManicʼ comes close), but not a single one that would beg for replay value, either. It is bizarre that the verse melody of ʽCamelogueʼ begins exactly the same way as AC/DC's ʽLet Me Put My Love Into Youʼ (should that be interpreted as proof of Latimer being a closet fan of Back In Black?), but that's about the most profound observation I could make about this bunch, alternating between odes of admiration and nostalgic laments but never reaching any solid musical heights. There's even a song called ʽHeroesʼ, but David Bowie has nothing to be afraid of — it's slow, instrumentally hookless, and completely dependent on its whiny plea of "heroes, I call for you!" that no hero could take seriously, unless it would be to promptly arrive on the scene and put the pleader out of his misery.
In short, I am quite tempted to give the record a thumbs down — it is truly the first Camel album that has nothing new or interesting to say — but as long as Latimer maintains that low profile and that humble façade and does not pretend to be a master of musical forms that he does not understand or love, there's nothing discretely «bad» about this music, and it can work okay as a background mood setter. However, in terms of the overall trajectory, it is a fairly mean blow to be presented with something like this right after the relative artistic triumph of Nude.