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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Caravan: Paradise Filter


1) All This Could Be Yours; 2) I'm On My Way; 3) Fingers In The Till; 4) This Is What We Are; 5) Dead Man Walking; 6) Farewell My Old Friend; 7) Pain In The Arse; 8) Trust Me I Am A Doctor; 9) I'll Be There For You; 10) The Paradise Filter.

Ten more years and another attempt to get back in the saddle. The funds for this, apparently, were raised through crowdfunding, and the recordings took place at the same time that Richard Cough­lan was fighting his last battle — his passing and the release of Paradise Filter both happened in December 2013. And whether it was Coughlan's state of health or just the usual aging process for everybody, Paradise Filter is quite obsessed with issues of health and dying. In 1975, a song with the title ʽTrust Me I Am Your Doctorʼ could have only had one meaning, and quite a sala­cious one at that. But considering that all of the band's members are well in their sixties now, who knows, maybe it is a song about how you should trust your doctor. (Well, not really, but then again, the album comes without a lyric sheet, and I'm too lazy to make it out on my own).

The lineup for Paradise Filter is the same as for the previous album, with the obvious exception of Coughlan, replaced by newcomer Mark Walker; Jimmy Hastings is not involved, either, nor is Dave Sinclair, so most of the extra instrumentation is provided by Richardson (viola, cello, flute, mandolin, you name it), while the bulk of the material is written by Pye. Fortunately, there is no attempt to repeat the «limp-prog» formula of Breakfast Item — once again, this is a straight­forward pop-rock album, with a bit more emphasis on rock this time around: after a brief organ introduction, ʽAll This Could Be Yoursʼ kicks in with a colorfully distorted guitar that immedi­ately makes it more likable, if no less stereotypical, in a power-pop mode, than ʽSmoking Gunʼ. Do these guys show renewed energy? Probably not, but at least the upbeat melodic fun is back, and Richardson's viola solo gives the song a nice lightweight classical edge in addition.

Not that the whole album is amusing: like I said, there is a clear fixation on death and all sorts of problems that usually lead to it — apparently, Pye is not growing happy as time goes by, and from a musical standpoint, I actually welcome the fact that he is becoming more grumbly and leads the band in a darker direction, that is, back to the disposition he showed on Battle Of Has­tings. This is not to say that blues-rocky songs like ʽI'm On My Wayʼ and ʽPain In The Arseʼ have any staying potential: their riffs are dusted off from fifty-year old stock or so, their atmo­spheric effect is undermined by excessive restraint, and even a thoroughly pissed-off Pye Has­tings is never quite as convincing as a sunshine-radiating happy Pye Hastings. But it all feels sincere — enough to make me vaguely interested in hearing what a sixty-year old Pye Hastings has to say about the state of the world, or, rather, how he is saying that.

The darkest songs are in the middle: ʽDead Man Walkingʼ and ʽFarewell My Old Friendʼ need no special explanation and trigger no special endorsement — a dark acoustic folk-rocker and a mournful piano ballad with predictable effects, although Richardson's viola always makes things a tad more exquisite than they could be. As things roll by, the mood eventually lightens up and Pye starts throwing some of his stock sugar around (ʽI'll Be There For Youʼ — the song sounds exactly as its title could suggest), before winding things down with a yawn, on a completely adult contemporary note with the title track (ironically, this is the only non-Pye song on the album).

As of 2017, it is quite possible that this is going to be the last new Caravan record: the guys are not getting any younger, there has been very little activity from them since 2014, and Paradise Filter gives off an even stronger impression of a musical testament than Battle Of Hastings did (come to think of it, these guys seemed really old in 1995, and there's almost twenty years lying in between these two albums!). If it is, at least it is definitely a better bet than Breakfast Item: it feels more true to Hastings' real state of mind and less bent on trying to «recapture the magic» that can no longer be recaptured by any means. With a modest thumbs up, I can recommend the record to any major fan of Caravan — its mix of elderly grimness and cheerfulness is a useful last brushstroke to the life picture of Pye Hastings. And if it happens not to be the last, well, I'd be happy to be proven wrong in my predictions.

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