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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Caravan: If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You

CARAVAN: IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I'D DO IT ALL OVER YOU (1970)

1) If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You; 2) And I Wish I Were Stoned / Don't Worry; 3) As I Feel I Die; 4) With An Ear To The Ground You Can Make It / Martinian / Only Cox / Reprise; 5) Hello Hello; 6) Asforteri 25; 7) Can't Be Long Now / Françoise / For Richard / Warlock; 8) Limits; 9*) A Day In The Life Of Maurice Haylett.

I would say this: Caravan's second album helps them pass, with flying colors and all, all the necessary qualifi­cations for a legitimate prog-rock outfit — however, it does not do an excellent job in establishing them as, you know, Caravan, a band with its own unique and unmistakeable brand of prog-rock. All the technical requirements are there, as they place severe restrictions on their pop instincts (only ʽHello Helloʼ, specially recorded to capture a small share of the singles' market and landing them a spot on Top of the Pops, qualifies as a bona fide pop song), stretch out song length by gluing together separate parts, Abbey Road-style, and combine folk, classical, and jazz influences like the good King Crimson textbook taught us. The result is an intelligent, perfectly enjoyable and energetic album that, nevertheless, still shows the band in the process of searching for a vibe that best agrees with their personalities, rather than saddling and riding that vibe like there was no tomorrow.

One thing that I sense very acutely is the major influence of Caravan's closest competition — The Soft Machine. It shows up not only in such minor things as the twisted, enigmatic song titles (ʽWith An Ear To The Ground You Can Make Itʼ almost sounds like a response to ʽDedicated To You But You Weren't Listeningʼ), but also in the band's frequent excursions into psychedelic-tinged jazz (title track; ʽAs I Feel I Dieʼ), and in the overall feel of (intentional) chaos and confu­sion that permeates the album. In some ways, If I Could Do It All Over Again is the most expe­rimental and risk-taking record that Caravan would ever produce — which would certainly make it the best Caravan album, period, in the eyes of those who think that taking risks and failing is always pre­ferable to not taking risks and succeeding. But on the other hand, for a risk-taking album If I Could Do It All Over Again is not very risk-taking: they never really go all the way, like the Wyatt-led Soft Machine, and the result is an album that does not quite understand itself if it wants to present an experimental challenge or an emotional experience.

That said, what could one expect from a record that begins with the mantraic chant of "Who do you think you are, do you think you are?" and answers "I really don't know"? It might indeed be all about a search for one's identity in a world with rapidly changing values, so that Pye Hastings' pleading request "gimme that stuff, enough to slow me down..." can be understood almost lite­rally (and agrees perfectly well with Pye's musical conservatism in the upcoming decades). The band has neither the chops nor the desire to go completely wild with their music-making, yet at the same time "slowing down" is really not an option, either — so most of the tracks are caught between two extremes, a slow, dreamy, balladeering section with Pye's vocals as the center of focus, and an energetic, often aggressive jam section where the lead is usually taken by Dave Sinclair and his frenetic organ work.

The best example is the suite ʽFor Richardʼ, which would go on to become a quintessential staple of the band's live repertoire — beginning as a slow, chilly, introspective mood piece, where Pye sings in tune with Dave's organ to produce the effect of a slightly ominous lullaby, and then crashing into a lengthy jam, where said organ begins to sound like Jon Lord at times (distortion ruling over all), but aggressive parts still alternate with relatively quiet moments, particularly when Pye's brother Jimmy takes over the saxophone and then the flute. The problem is that I do not feel much of an internal logic here — and although the same could be said about the Abbey Road medley, the individual constituents of ʽFor Richardʼ are not all that great on their own: a few good hard rock riffs here and there, a lot of pleasant, but unexceptional jazz-folk noodling in between, and a vicious finale that makes it seem as if we've just been on some cathartic Odyssey of sorts... but we haven't, really.

So I'm a bit torn about this, and the same feeling applies to everything else on the album, because mood-wise, everything is based on the same contrasts. Everything, that is, except for the Soft Machinian tracks and the ʽHello Helloʼ single — the latter, with its slightly childish and nonsen­sical lyrics, is a catchy folksy ditty that actually defines the general spirit of Caravan better than most of the long tracks (and could be qualified as a spiritual predecessor to ʽGolf Girlʼ). Oh, ac­tually, there's also ʽDon't Worryʼ, the second part of the second track, an optimistic-melancholic pop song that would be right at home on In The Land Of Grey And Pink — the problem is that the messy structure of the album makes me feel disoriented and get lost in these intricate multi-part mazes without a set plan or a good sharp system of contrasts.

In the end, it is still a thumbs up, and I can perfectly understand those who would see it not only as a tremendous musical leap from the level of the self-titled debut, but even as the band's finest hour in general. Personally, though, I do not think Caravan had really hit their stride until they learned properly how to put that «Canterbury» essence in their music — which wouldn't really occur until the next album.

8 comments:

  1. In before the comments get derailed/polluted by Uriah Heepers...

    GS is bang on here. I actually prefer the first album to this.

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    1. Uriah Heep is old news. What does everyone think of Styx?

      As for this album: "Hello Hello" is one of the greatest folk-pop numbers ever written, but I honestly can't remember a note of anything else. One should just plunge ahead to The Land of Grey and Pink...

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    2. Not that good, but some of their stuff is a guilty pleasure in the prog/hard rock realm. I don't have a burning hatred for "Come Sail Away" like some people.

      I gotta agree that I prefer their first album, but there's nothing wrong with this one -- the title track and "Hello Hello" are nice 'n' groovy, and I think "For Richard" works better than George says it does. Plus, there's something so precious about the way Pye sings "I wish I were stoned out of my mind."

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  2. Haha...the Uriah Heep comments really got under your skin didn't they. Take a deep breath and let it drop.

    As far as Caravan is concerned I have never heard them but have read enough to give them a go. Sounds like I might enjoy these two records.

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    1. These two are enjoyable, but the following three are a lot better

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    2. Cool,I will check them out!

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  3. The best song here is As I Feel I Die. For Richard is good, but the live versions are much better.

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  4. I Wish I Was Stoned sounds like a fussier, gloomier take on Something in the Air, and the climax of Richard sounds like Iommi '69, even down to the title (Warlock=Warning).

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