Camel – Camel [MCA. 1973]

Camel - CamelThis album, the 1973 self-titled debut by English Progressive Rock band Camel, cannot really be described as representative of their trademark sound. It is also an unassuming and well-hidden release, even among Prog Rock aficionados. Despite being somewhat “held back” as a result, it can nonetheless provide a pleasurable and evocative listening experience.

Personally, I greatly enjoy listening to this, and have for years. There’s a certain vibrancy and warmth about it that really catches my ear and I can’t help but feel all fuzzy inside whenever I sit down and give it a spin. Sure, it’s not considered Camel’s best, by any means. This release might even be seen as too amateurish for many Camel fans, instead preferring the albums “Moonmadness” (1976) and “The Snow Goose” (1975) for their more polished and sophisticated constitutions. Admittedly, the material presented here is very different from the kind that Camel became known for. Every track contains generous helpings of Jazz-inspired funkiness and most tracks feature a decidedly upbeat tempo. Additionally, I do notice Camel’s lack of musical experience on this album and I believe that it would be obvious to most listeners who are familiar with their later recordings. I do, therefore, understand why people would write this off as being an inferior attempt. At the same time, though, I can’t help but think that Camel was onto something when they composed and recorded this stuff.

One major “brand” change I notice that Camel made (by the time they released “The Snow Goose” in 1975, more or less) was that they became more Classically-oriented and more serious (both in practice and in tone). This album, on the other hand, is energetic, groovy and cathartic, even verging on raucous at times. This liveliness sounds good to me. It’s something I can easily relate to.

Another big change I notice (again, by 1975 or so) is the development of a more futuristic demeanor and an increasing reliance on electronic instruments (continuing up into the ‘80s). The debut sounds unusually “natural” for the band, with much less of an emphasis on synthesizers and much more of an emphasis on guitar, drums and bass. This, in turn, results in a slightly primal texture to the material that is then emphasized by its emotional characteristics. For me, at least, these attributes factor into a much more exciting listening experience when compared to the majority of Camel’s later work.

As a whole, this album consists of 7 tracks and clocks in at about 40 minutes. The two stand-out songs are, in my opinion, “Slow Yourself Down” (number 1) and “Never Let Go” (number 5). The other tracks flesh out the “total spin” and deliver an overall impactful experience. Camel is known for their incredibly easy to listen to and delightfully thought-provoking work, and this album is no different. It’s as smooth a journey through sound and time as any of their more celebrated efforts, regardless of how boisterous it might be at times. The CD version, which was used to write this review, contains two bonus tracks: “Never Let Go” (single edit) and “Homage To The God Of Light” (originally released on Peter Bardens’ album “The Answer” [1970]). Relative to the full original album, these additional two are nothing particularly special, but I have no reason to resent the fact that they’re included.

All in all, this is an album that I greatly appreciate. Hopefully you’ll be willing to either give it a chance or give it another chance now that you’ve read what I have to say about it.

Joseph A. Bremson
The Exciting Sounds Project

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