“Mirage” by Camel (1974)
Release Date: March 1, 1974
Produced by David Hitchcock
Genre: Progressive Rock
Label: Deram, Gamma, Janus
Chart Positions: #149 (US)
Singles: No single releases
“Mirage” is the second studio album for the British progressive rock band Camel and was their first to make it on the charts anywhere in the world. The album made it to #149 in the US. Oddly enough the album did not chart in the UK. Despite it’s low charting in the US and lack of chart action in any other part of the world “Mirage” has gone on to be a Camel classic.
With the album “Mirage,” Camel begin to develop their own distinctive sound, highlighted by the group's liquid, intricate rhythms and the wonderful, unpredictable instrumental exchanges by keyboardist Pete Bardens and guitarist Andy Latimer. Camel also distinguish themselves from their prog rock peers with the multi-part suite "Lady Fantasy," which suggests the more complex directions they would take a few albums down the line. Also, Latimer's graceful flute playing distinguishes several songs on the record, including "Supertwister," and it's clear that he has a more supple technique than such contemporaries as Ian Anderson.
"Mirage" established Bardens and Latimer as the band's main songwriters, showing off their solid musicianship with a leaning toward a tricky and complex time signature.
The classic Camel lineup occupied a unique niche in progressive rock, specializing in fluid, spacey ensemble workouts – rarely as flashy as Genesis, never as bombastic as Emerson Lake and Palmer. "We're considered a progressive band, by default, really," guitarist-flautist Andy Latimer told Will Romano for his 2010 book Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. "I always thought that people like Yes and King Crimson and ELP were much more obscure than Camel. They were probably better players and consequently got into much more complicated material, which made it even. . . less accessible." The quartet's second album, Mirage, fulfills their debut’s scattered promise, with Latimer and keyboardist Pete Bardens leading the rhythm section through breezy instrumentals (the contemplative "Supertwister") and expansive multi-part suites (the Lord of the Rings–themed "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider").
Mirage is a well rounded, jazz, folk, metal fantasy-themed progressive rock album of the highest order yet it failed to enter the UK album charts and only just crawled into the US billboard 200. Perhaps its to do with the bands endorsements of cigarettes that had something to do with its lack of publicity and therefore lack of sales?
Right from the start the album was problematic. You see the band didn’t get their name from the humped, spitting creature that roams the deserts but from the cigarettes they smoked and there lies the problem because not everyone shared their love of the cancerous weed, particularly the American music industry. The bands website has the full details but from a marketing point of view, cigarette endorsements, even in the 70s were a disaster. What was even worse was the iconic camel cigarette logo cover on the USA version of album had to be scrapped and replaced with a ridiculous cover of a muscle flexing camel with wings.
Side one opens with Freefall (5mins 55sec) featuring Andy Latimer's stunning guitar and some super fast drumming from Andy Ward. The lyrics and the vocals are a little tame in this track but it’s all backed up with an ensemble of rock/jazz guitar and organ work creating a genuinely bright and interesting start to the album. The quality of Latimer's playing is a significant strength to the album either on flute or guitar. His skills were recognized at the prog rock music awards in 2014 when he was awarded for his lifetime achievement.
Up next is one of the highlights of prog rock "Supertwister "(3mins 20 sec)
This kicks off with Latimer on flute and an exciting percussion back drop with ground breaking use of bottles and aerosols providing the rhythm and ends with probably the greatest ending to a record in the world (I should have used a Carlsberg for this picture but we only had Tetley)
We’re now into the last track, three part 9 mins 18sec of Nimrodel, Procession and The White Rider which all combine to form one song. A slow intro leads onto church bells ringing and crowds cheering before leading to the JR Tolkien Lord of the Rings inspired “White Rider” , featuring echoing guitar solos similar or better than Dire Straits Mark Knopfler coupled with Peter Bardens mini moog, organ, and celeste . There’s even sections where the mini moog takes centre stage very similar to Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and also sections where the Mellotron gets an airing. Don’t know what a Mellotron is? "It’s the instrument used in the introduction of Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever," Paul McCartney has explained.
Earthrise (6mins 50secs) starts with some howling wind sound effects to set the scene and the mini moog is providing the “vocals” for an instrumental that just doesn’t need lyrics to tell the story. A real belter of a rock song for you to let your hair down to, Doug Ferguson laying a base with his bass (what else!)
Track two side two is Lady Fantasy at a very healthy 12mins and 59 seconds – not quite 13 minutes (which would be unlucky I guess) “Listen very carefully my words are about to unfold”
This is pure prog, all over the place, up and down, varied and magical with a large helping of full heavy metal mixed with elegant guitar, organ and Celeste solos (a Celeste is a small keyboard instrument). The track builds and builds before finally heading for a mellow “Dire Straits” finale.
Mirage is pure poetry, I can play it again and again and never get bored of it.