CAMEL: HARBOUR OF TEARS (1996)
1) Irish Air; 2) Irish Air (instrumental reprise); 3) Harbour Of Tears; 4) Cybh; 5) Send Home The Slates; 6) Under The Moon; 7) Watching The Bobbins; 8) Generations; 9) Eyes Of Ireland; 10) Running From Paradise; 11) End Of The Day; 12) Coming Of Age; 13) The Hour Candle.
Honestly, there's not much to say about Harbour Of Tears after what has been said about Dust And Dreams. Here is another concept album about people going out West — this time, not from the Dust Bowl to California, though, but from the coasts of Ireland to the American shores: a voyage more remote in time and more extensive in space, and thus, liable for a bit more graveness and epicness. Expectedly, we add some Celtic overtones here, most noticeable on the opening ʽIrish Airʼ — a theme first sung accappella by Mae McKenna, then performed by Andy on the flute, and finally, with a mighty opening howl, reproduced by him on electric guitar. It's a nice gradual transition from tender prettiness to wailing desperation, but it doesn't seem to have much of an original melody, and so, from the very start, you have everything that is right and everything that is wrong about this record in its first three minutes.
Right: the whole thing is permeated with quintessential Camel gloom, expressed in guitar tones, keyboard tones, chord sequences, build-ups, guitar solos, and vocals that sing about little other than toil, trouble, and grief caused by family separation rather than joy at the perspective of finding better life in a faraway country. Particularly good is that the sound is dominated by Latimer's acoustic/electric guitar and flute rather than keyboards (although Andy's new keyboardist, Mickey Simmonds, is not much of a step up from Scherpenzeel).
Wrong: the overall level of energy seems just as low as on the previous few albums, and the monotonous mood leaves little space for surprises. The Celtic flavour is a nice touch, but you will hardly surprise anyone with a traditional Irish air in 1996, and besides, the flavour itself is really limited to only a few tracks — in addition to ʽIrish Airʼ, there's ʽEyes Of Irelandʼ, a stereotypical waltz that could just as well have been Lennon's ʽWorking Class Heroʼ, and a few brief instrumentals that are really more New Age than Celtic folk. The rest is standard fare late Camel dirge-rock. The most «progressive» of the tracks is arguably ʽComing Of Ageʼ, a multi-section composition with some tricky time signatures, but even that one culminates in a «Camel wail», with a howling two-chord riff as its culmination.
The biggest problem is that the album presents itself as a gut-wrenching emotional journey, but by that time, it had become such a typical routine for Latimer that you'd have to forget everything you ever knew about Camel to have your guts truly wrenched out. Burn down all context, and you might actually want to shed some tears in the harbour. Put all the context back, and you might feel yourself too jaded and weathered to spare even a single drop of salt water, because everything here is so strictly formulaic and predictable — predictable to the point that even after three listens, I cannot single out a single song in my memory. Okay, I guess ʽWatching The Bobbinsʼ has that suspenseful pause before the final line in each verse, that sort of makes it a little special. What else is new? Nothing.
Granted, if you are a big fan of Latimer's guitar playing, ʽThe Hour Candleʼ and a few other instrumentals here are a must-have. I'm not sure how many chord sequences he uses that have not appeared on earlier Camel songs, but the blues soloing on ʽHour Candleʼ is tasteful and wonderfully showcases his skill with sustained notes. Still not a match for ʽLiesʼ, though: too anthemic and pompous to really cut to the bone, if you ask me.