Upon first gaze of British progressive rock band Camel’s second album Mirage, you may believe you are about to listen to a one-hour advertisement for Camel cigarettes. Surely the album cover, which is based upon the artwork of the company’s cigarette packs drew criticism all the way back in 1974, would likely draw even more disapproval today. However, it is imperative that you give this album a chance – Mirage is considered to be one of the seminal progressive rock albums released during the golden age of the 70’s.
Whether you have heard of Camel or not is irrelevant. Their 1973 eponymous debut was released to poor sales, and by 1974 they had switched record labels, going from MCA to Deram. The group’s sound was still developing, despite the album containing undisputedly memorable tracks such as “Never Let Go” or the instrumental “Arubaluba”. It was only a matter of time before the quartet, which consisted of Andrew Latimer (guitar), Peter Bardens (keyboards), Andy Ward (drums), and Doug Ferguson (bass), struck gold. 1974’s Mirage marks the emergence of Camel’s unique style, characterized by spacey and ethereal tones, exotic diction, and epic instrumentals. While the album commercially did not garner much attention outside of the American west coast, the band would eventually reach semi-stardom with the release of their next album The Snow Goose.
SONG #1 – “Freefall” We begin the album with a fast-paced, fleeting track fit with the smooth baritone vocal style which was been met with mixed response regarding the debut LP. However, on this album the focus is put towards instrumentalism, and lyrics are sparse. Immediately, we realize the maturation of guitarist Latimer’s style – his guitar wails in this spacious atmosphere, allowing for some solid soloing. As for the track as a whole, it is a semi-decent beginner to the album, establishing the tone well, but it doesn’t resonate as well as the rest of the material on Mirage.
SONG #2 – “Supertwister” The band slows it down for the next piece, the first true instrumental of the album. It is here that the band shows that they have mastered the musical element of setting. What captivates me the most is the inclusion of the flute, played by Latimer to perfection, which puts the song onto another level. Its solo is haunting, bringing the listener into the world of the album – reminiscent of standing alone amongst the rolling dunes of the Sahara.
SONG #3 – “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider” Our first mini-epic of the album, it starts off rather slow with a long-buildup featuring bells, crowd, and brass in order to build tension. The entrance of the band is extremely satisfying, characterized by a deep bass rhythm which backs the soaring guitar as it permeates throughout the song. Although there are lyrics on this track, they are sparse and are perfectly placed, with the band making the most of their collective low vocal ranges. In the middle, the band breaks out into a fast-paced instrumental where we begin to see the guitarist Latimer and keyboardist Bardens take turns with solos. Finally, the third and final part is more of a reprise of the first, as the lyrics are introduced and we are treated to a fantastic guitar outro. By the time this nine-minute song is finished, I was sold on this album; not only does it have a unique sound, but each of the tracks has offered something new. I would definitely recommend this song if you are any sort of fan of prog, because it is genuinely one of the greatest tracks to come out of the genre.
SONG #4 – “Earthrise” On the B-side, we begin similarly to how we started on the A-side, with a fast-paced musical barrage. Another instrumental, this piece serves as a piece where Bardens is taking center-stage with the keyboards. Both the keyboardist and the guitarist emerge, building up tension. Now at breakneck pace, Latimer tails off as Bardens hits the climax, and the cycle restarts. Various solos between the two are placed within the middle section, before the entire thing is book-ended. While this piece did not resonate with me as well as “Supertwister”, this one is enjoyable, and serves as a nice interlude between the two epics on the album.
SONG #5 – “Lady Fantasy” Finally, the second epic of the album closes it out. Initially we get another memorable . Latimer comes in to provide a cool, relaxing atmosphere similar to the one seen in “Supertwister.” The sole “love song” on the album, it features sporadic lyricism, mostly concentrated in this early first part. After this, we enter the first solo – cruising right out of the exact tempo, as Latimer is present in the back right hand corner for a brief guitar solo before a short bridge marks the beginning of the second solo, another for Latimer as he ups the pace for a moderately long piece before the tempo changes and we slow back down. Now on the plateau, amidst the hot desert sun, we are caught in the figurative “mirage” as the music calms, allowing for one final set of verse to be released before we reach the third and greatest guitar solo of the track. This one’s a masterpiece; bursting out of the quiet like a caged tiger, it encompasses the new sound the band had created – Bardens is present to once again duel with the guitarist