Friday, 4 May 2018

"Mirage" by CAMEL (June 2002 Universal/Decca 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Lady Fantasy..." 

Camel's self-titled debut album from February 1973 had clocked up modest sales of 5000 within its first year of UK release (MCA Records MUPS 473) and launched the band into a Prog Rock landscape dominated by giants like Yes, ELP and Genesis. But it was their third LP "(Music Inspired By) The Snow Goose" - an instrumental concept album with 'music inspired by' Paul Gallico's 1941 short story and presented in a classy laminate sleeve (with insert) that turned them into genuine Prog Rock stars and saw Camel finally make a chart presence in the UK (albeit at a modest No. 22).

The success of album number three also made fans and newcomers alike look back to their equally good second platter - "Mirage" from March 1974 on Decca/Gama SML 1107 with its striking artwork and lengthy Progtastic tracks. Sales wise "Mirage" did considerably better than the debut in the UK even if it hadn’t exactly stormed the citadel when it came to chart placing (it didn’t register). Now considered by fans as a bit of a classic (even if the public didn’t see it at the time) - "Mirage" did however dent the Top 200 in the USA at No. 149 in November of 1974 prompting a US tour and enough momentum for them to get to "The Snow Goose" where real success lay. Speaking of stepping stones and stepping on toes - the UK artwork for "Mirage" had to hastily withdrawn after the Camel Cigarette company complained about unauthorised use of their famous brand logo - so the Janus Records LP was released in the USA in different artwork - pictured on Page 6 of the booklet.

Always somehow in the shadow of its more famous follow ups "Music Inspired By The Snow Goose" in 1975 and "Moonmadness" in 1976 - "Mirage" is ripe for rediscovery. So let's get Shimmering in the Nimrodel (if you know what I mean)...

UK released June 2002 - "Mirage" by CAMEL on Universal/Decca 8829292 (Barcode 042288292920) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue and Remaster of the 1974 album with Four Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows (68:08 minutes):

1. Freefall [Side 1]
2. Supertwister
3. Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider
4. Earthrise [Side 2]
5. Lady Fantasy: Encounter/Smiles For You/Lady Fantasy
Tracks 1 to 5 are their second studio album "Mirage" - released March 1974 in the UK on Decca/Gama Records SML 1107 and November 1974 in the USA on Janus JXS 7009 in different artwork. It was reissued 1977 on Passport Records PB 9855 in the original UK artwork (the original US artwork is pictured on Page 6 of the booklet). Produced by DAVID HITCHCOCK - the album peaked at No. 149 in the USA (didn’t chart UK)

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
6. Supertwister (Recorded Live at The Marquee Club, London, 30 Oct 1974)
7. Mystic Queen (Recorded Live at The Marquee Club, London, 30 Oct 1974)
8. Arubaluba (Recorded Live at The Marquee Club, London, 30 Oct 1974)
9. Lady Fantasy: Encounter/Smile For You/Lady Fantasy (Original Basing Street Studios Mix)

CAMEL was:
ANDREW LATIMER - Guitars, Flute and Vocals
PETER BARDENS - Organ, Piano, Mini Moog Synthesiser and Vocals
ANDY WARD - Drums and Percussion

PASCHAL BYRNE - an Audio Engineer of serious experience - has done the tape transfer honours here and like the others in this 2002 series it's a sweetly warm and musical job done. The 8-page booklet has liner notes from MARK POWELL (later of Esoteric Recordings) that features the usual period photos of the boys in various long-haired serious-muso poses as well as the cartoon artwork for the US LP that seemed to depict a Gryphon type flying dragon perched for action on some moon landscape. The CD re-release is dedicated to Keyboardist Peter Bardens who had only just passed away in late January 2002 as the reissue was going to press. It's nicely done and the Bonus Tracks are just that - genuine Extras for Camel fans - the three live tracks from a 1974 Marquee gig and an alternate version of the 13-minute "Lady Fantasy" centrepiece on Side 2. Let's get to the music...

A swirling bank of keyboard drones introduces a pounding Bass line as the Side 1 opener "Freefall" unfolds whereupon a very Crimson-like guitar jab soon morphs into men with beards getting Prog Rock about snowflakes falling helplessly to the ground (Andy Latimer’s fretwork shines throughout). Things become very Focus with the three-minute instrumental "Supertwister" - Latimer giving it some flute flourishes as Bardens underpins his note warbles with smoochy keyboards - what you might call 'pretty' Prog. One of the album's centrepieces end's Side 1 - nine-minutes and sixteen seconds of "Nimrodel". It's first part "Procession" does exactly what it says on the tin - a marching rhythm - but that segues into a gorgeous combo of Mellotron and Guitar - Bardens warbling about a 'land beyond the night' (the lane at the back of The Clissold Arms in Finchley mate) only to hurtle towards its otherworldly finish with a heavy synth line and an echoed guitar solo.

Side 2 commences with the near seven-minute "Earthrise" - an instrumental that for me represents excess rather than success - soloing for the sake of it. Which brings us to the LPs big moment - all 12:43 minutes of "Lady Fantasy" - a band composition broken into three parts - its famous opening keyboard repeats and Crimson guitars virtually defining Prog in one minute flat. The monster soon settles into some bippity-boppity keyboards and a tune about a lady he can never hold (reminds me of you). The part I like most is the mellow guitar break at 5:17 - beautifully played and recorded. The 'Original Basing Street Studios Mix' Bonus Track has subtle differences and the live tracks are amazingly well recorded and played. 

"Mirage" isn't a masterpiece - but it's a quality album given an even better lease of life on this exceptional CD Reissue and Remaster - and it's only four squid into the bargain. Seeing double indeed...
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