Seeing Doubles in Camel's "Mirage": Prog Rock Countdown #21

Seeing Doubles in Camel's "Mirage": Prog Rock Countdown #21

Mirage

Mirage

Through the haze, the sound of Camel rings across the desert, distorted by all that it's not:

  • It's the jam band of classic prog, yet without the ponderous pretense of ELP.

  • A sound dominated by blues-based rock stretched to its creative limits, but without the idiosyncratic lyricism and histrionic virtuosity of Genesis.

  • Jazzy flute and rhythm sections that swing, but never stray into the folkish territory of Jethro Tull.

  • Tinged with touches of experimental production that are yet never themselves the focus, as in Pink Floyd's masterpieces.

  • Complex, technical drum work and basslines working overtime, yet without the hard edge of Rush.

  • Where King Crimson is sprawling and discordant, these airs are tight and melodic.

  • Sophisticated and challenging like Yes, but still warm and engaging.

Shimmering within the mirage, Camel evokes much of the more successful progressive bands of the 70s. Like the band's animal namesake, Camel drinks in and absorbs the water of music from all that was happening in prog and rock at the time - the synthesizer counterpoint on parts of Lady Fantasy evokes the Doors, and the many extended solos suggest more mainstream rock aspirations on top of the proggy arrangements.

If I had discovered Camel in my teens or early 20s, they would probably be one of my favourite bands right now. There was nothing more exciting about the first listen on a new alt rock album than a final track that faded out from a 5-minute instrumental. Mirage is all about long instrumental jams bound together with the bare minimum of verse-chorus structures. Yes, 3 of the 5 tracks have lyrics, but you could be forgiven for forgetting this while getting lost in the irresistible solos that seem to last forever.

The foundation of this album is in the unassuming rhythm section. The drums and bass are always busier than you realize, but it's the guitar, synthesizer, or flute that takes the spotlight most of the time. The combined force of each instrument is most obvious on "Earthrise," an epic, fast-tempo instrumental track full of showy noodling, complex synths, furious bass runs, and relentless drumwork.

Camel is another prog band that doesn't necessarily sound like prog. There's very little genre blending or odd structures: just extended instrumental sections and sudden mood shifts, like the one near the end of "Lady Fantasy" when the album reaches its climactic finish.

Mirage is a highly accessible and satisfying album that gets better with each listen. It's not groundbreaking or incredibly unique, but Camel loads up on its back a whole lot of what early prog rock had to offer, making for a wonderful trek, start to finish.

Rolling Stone Rankings                       

  1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  2. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  3. Rush - Moving Pictures

  4. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

  5. Yes – Close to the Edge

  6. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  7. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  8. Can - Future Days

  9. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  10. Yes - Fragile

  11. Rush - Hemispheres

  12. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  13. Pink Floyd - Animals

  14. Genesis - Foxtrot

  15. King Crimson - Red

  16. Gentle Giant - Octopus

  17. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

  18. Frank Zappa - One Size Fits All

  19. Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico

  20. King Crimson - Larks’ Tongue in Aspic

  21. Camel - Mirage

ASK Rankings

  1. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

  2. Genesis - Foxtrot

  3. Camel - Mirage

  4. Yes – Close to the Edge

  5. King Crimson - Red

  6. Gentle Giant - Octopus

  7. Genesis - Selling England by the Pound

  8. Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

  9. ELP - Brain Salad Surgery

  10. Rush - Moving Pictures

  11. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

  12. Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico

  13. King Crimson - Larks’ Tongue in Aspic

  14. Pink Floyd - Animals

  15. Frank Zappa - One Size Fits All

  16. Yes - Fragile

  17. Rush - Hemispheres

  18. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

  19. Can - Future Days

  20. Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

  21. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

A Great Discovery in Rush's "2112": Prog Rock Countdown #22

A Great Discovery in Rush's "2112": Prog Rock Countdown #22

Munsch Ado About Nothing: The Boy in the Drawer as an Allegory for Tantrums

Munsch Ado About Nothing: The Boy in the Drawer as an Allegory for Tantrums