MCA, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Camel is a group that never achieved the level of success in the world of progressive rock that such acts as Yes, Wishbone Ash or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, even though the musicianship and the songwriting skill was there; this much is evident in their self-titled debut release from 1973.

So why didn’t Camel excite listeners? The problem is that the music itself is not exciting; it’s technical enough and performed well, but there’s nothing about these seven songs that absolutely grabs the listener and makes them want to listen more.

Believe me, I want to shout from the rooftops about how talented a guitarist and vocalist Andrew Latimer is on this disc. I want to sing the praises of keyboardist Peter Bardens, as well as the solid rhythmic backbone of bassist Doug Ferguson and drummer Andy Ward. I want to be able to tell you, the reader, that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Camel is an underrated masterpiece.

But the sad fact is this: these performances are simply musically proficient. They don’t inspire the listener or suggest that they are listening to greatness. And it’s the overall mediocrity of the performances that sinks this one.

Oh, there are times of excitement—specifically in the two instrumentals, “Six Ate” and “Arubaluba.” It suggests to me, then, that although the shared vocals of Latimer, Bardens and Ferguson are solid enough, they tend to lull the listener into a sense of comfort—so much so, in fact, that they take away from the music being presented.

It’s not that the vocals are bad. The opening track “Slow Yourself Down” suggests there is greatness to be heard on this disc. If only the remaining tracks featuring vocals lived up to that early promise; the follow-up track “Mystic Queen” sounds a lot like a King Crimson leftover from the In The Wake Of Poseidon era, and is akin to a musical lullabye in its delivery.

So what would have made Camel a better release? The thing is, I can’t put my finger on it. Obviously stronger vocals would have helped, but on later releases, this style of delivery became expected (the obvious exception being the instrumental release The Snow Goose). And I don’t want to come off sounding like I hated this album; indeed, I still dust it off from time to time, and there is material on it well worth the listener’s money, time and attention.

As it sits, though, Camel seems to be a disc of unfulfilled ambition, with the occasional flares of greatness shining through. It’s still worth a listen, but approach it with a bit of caution.

Rating: C+

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