An excellent and worthy primer for newcomers to the prog-rockers.
Sid Smith 2010
Largely the vision of keyboard player Peter Bardens and gifted guitarist Andrew Latimer, when Camel arrived on the scene in 1973 they kept things relatively straight with a progged-up West Coast rock, breezy guitar and keyboard solos over relatively untroubled but usually quite detailed backing.
Like others of their ilk, in concert they were up for showboating on an epic scale as evidenced by Homage to the God of Light. Doors-like organ extrapolation and what sounds like the more accessible parts of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma are stretched across a 19-minute flight of fancy.
Their real breakthrough was their 1975 concept album Music Inspired by The Snow Goose – a suite of tunes as English as a clotted cream tea and in places just as sweet. The truly cohesive nature of the work is slightly undermined here, being sliced and diced in a compilation. Best to check out the album’s most recent reissue to get the full effect.
Perhaps the obvious weakness in some of their early albums is the lack of a convincing vocal that’s the equal of their instrumental technique. Whilst Latimer’s vocals have an agreeable wistfulness, Bardens handles task with all the grace of a bloke who’s been pushed in front of a microphone because nobody else wanted the job. From 1977‘s Rain Dances (where Brian Eno makes a surprise cameo appearance) through to 1978‘s Breathless, this problem is solved to some extent with the recruitment of ex-Caravan/Hatfield and the North bassist and singer, Richard Sinclair.
With ex-King Crimson sax player Mel Collins also along for the ride the sparks really fly; Collins and Latimer were quite a force to be reckoned with. The examples here, culled from the expanded reissue of 1978’s A Live Record, have Camel sounding closer to the knotted jazz-rock musculature of Bundles-era Soft Machine than their whimsical reveries of yore.
Personnel difficulties and record company demands for commercial product eventually hobbled a group whose principal strengths lay in melodic anthems, romantic flourishes and good old-fashioned musicianship. Aside from a few previously unreleased tracks from BBC sessions, long-term fans will know all this anyway. Those new to Camel, though, will find Rainbow’s End to be an excellent and worthy primer.