"Camel" may have entered the progressive scene with a slight delay, but they certainly quickly bridged over that with "Mirage" - their second studio album, released on March 1, 1974.
Such an amazing album. Undoubtedly one of the greatest progressive albums of all time. An album that deserves to be in line with the masterpiece albums - the pillars of the genre.
The band, which started in 1971, got its first chance in August 1972, after being signed by MCA Records, which also produced the band's debut album - "Camel", released a year earlier on February 28, 1973.
Although the first album showcased the amazing abilities of the band members, it did not manage to show a significant breakthrough, even though it included one of the band's greatest songs - "Never Let Go". This album sold a few thousand individual copies and the record company decided to dump "Camel". The band had to hire a management team which, after efforts, managed to obtain a contract with "Gama Records" - a subsidiary of "Decca".
The band came to the recording of this album with two significant reinforcements: first, producer David Hitchcock who is in charge of producing big Prog albums like: "Foxtrot" by "Genesis" as well as "In the Land of Gray and Pink" and "Waterloo Lily" by "Caravan". The second, is the flute playing of Andrew Latimer who was absent from the debut album and will be a very important factor in the band's subsequent albums, as he contributes, diversifies, and enriches its sound. Latimer was probably more influenced by Tijs van Leer from "Focus" or Peter Gabriel from "Genesis" and their melodic flute playing, than by Ian Anderson from "Jethro Tull" and his bursting flute playing, but what does it matter? The result was wonderful and magical and became an integral part of the band's DNA in all of her subsequent albums.
In November 1973, the band entered the "Air" studios of George Martin, the Beatles' producer, in London, to record the album. "Camel" arrives at the studio polished and experienced, with finished materials that have already been played at the band's performances.
The album opens with "Freefall" and what sounds like a wind effect that mimics a "Freefall". The effect blends in with Peter Bardens' organ sound, which simply collides powerfully on the solid ground of Doug Ferguson's beating bass, synchronized like a Swiss clock with Andy Ward's bass drum. And how beautiful the syncopation in this song - the rhythm breaks, which are undoubtedly among the best in Progressive Rock. They lead us to Andrew Latimer's solo only to meet again with the beating bass and the syncopations. At 2:07 we are picking up the rhythm towards Latimer's crazy solo that proves what a great guitarist he is. Amazing opening to a perfect Prog Rock album, breaks, rhythm changes, virtuosity, melody, and dynamism are here all the staples of the genre. This song was written by Peter Bradens who also sang it in his slightly cheerful and robotic style, which for sure, you hear in his voice that the band members had a lot of fun there in the studio.
"Supertwister" is a short instrumental section in which Latimer demonstrates, for the first time, his amazing playing abilities on the flute, which he learned to play on his own. While the flute playing here was influenced by the Dutch band "Focus", the name of the song abounds from another Dutch band from the Prog genre - "Supersister". And how delicate and beautiful Latimar's playing is here. It blends so nicely with Bradens' keyboards and the soft but yet powerful drumming of Andy Ward. A musical piece that is a kind of "tropical storm", just like its name, for a moment we whirl to the sound of the flute in the eye of the storm and at another moment we hover over it, Watching it unharmed from a distance.
Then we stop for a short break to the sounds of English tea pouring into the glass and move on to the epic medley - "Nimrodel /The Procession/The White Rider" written by Latimer, inspired by Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books, whose words are reminiscent of the magician Gandalf and his friends. An epic track of over 9 minutes, that opens with the sounds of Latimer's arpeggio chords and Bardans' synthesizer solo, which after about a minute leads us to the sounds of the noisy crowd for a kind of medieval carnival with Latimer's cheerful flute sound. Then in 1:50 minute, as if we are moving in a time tunnel to another place and time, a soft and melodic guitar playing and singing by Latimer then a short flute solo in 3:10 minutes, that merges into the melodic guitar solo, just melting!!! no other words to describe it. Then again, the song takes a turn at 3:45 and reaches its first climax with Bardens' keyboard solo on Latimer's Funky chords, and then, boom!!! The sudden pull of the "handbrake" at 5:36 is just genius!!! How clever Ferguson's bass work is in the segment that comes right after. And if you thought for a moment that this is it and it's not going to change again, then you are wrong. Because "Camel" has arranged a psychedelic ending, with vague to the heavy bass sounds, Bardens space effects, and Latimer's wild and scattered solo. "Camel" proves to us without a shadow of a doubt that even though they arrived on the Prog scene a little late, they do not in any way fall short of the founding bands of the genre and deserve every superlative.
The other side of the vinyl opens up with another instrumental piece - "Earthrise", which really makes us "shine". A "live", rhythmic, and "happy" track, with lots of groove and funk with frequent rhythm changes and alternating solo sections of Latimer and Bardens and even a short one by Ward at about 1:50, which demonstrate their virtuosic playing abilities. How sweeping the entry at about 2:20 and Latimer's bouncing chords that serve as a fertile basis for Bardans' solo.
Then we come to the highlight of the album - the three-part epic track "Lady Fantasy" written by all the band members and considered by many to be its best track. Just one big "fantasy" lasting almost 13 minutes. The piece opens to the sounds of Bardens' keyboards in a kind of "build-up" led by Latimer's guitar solo and Ward's amazing drumming. A simple and perfect intro for an immortal track. Then we move on to a melodic section and Latimer's delicate singing that reminds us that this is a kind of love song after all. The song moves smoothly between the slow ballad parts to the Funk, tough, and fast Hard Rock. The sharp breaks somehow manage to blend in just perfectly and delight the listener, despite the frequent changes. Minutes of galloping at a fast pace change completely abruptly, and again the pace slows down without any warning. Apart from the frequent and dynamic change of rhythm, every part of this epic is written fluently and accurately and connects to a whole fabric of perfect creation. The solos are played with great passion and virtuosity and manage to sweep us, listeners, into this wonderful world of Camel's "fantasy" woman. And so, towards the end, the acoustic and beautiful melody that was played at the beginning of the song, returns at the end to close a circle and create a whole and perfect story with a beginning and an end.
Before we finish, just a few words about the album cover, that must have seemed familiar to you. So, the cover was inspired by the cigarette pack of the "Camel" brand. During the band's tour of the United States, the American branch of the cigarette company threatened to sue the band for copyright infringement. Under these circumstances, the U.S. album distribution company began selling the album in an alternative wrapper to avoid a lawsuit. As for overseas sales, the band agreed to the cigarette company's European branch requirement, that the album cover and song list will be printed on a special edition of the brand's pack of cigarettes and that the band distributes these packs of cigarettes with 5 cigarettes in each pack, during their live performances.
"Mirage" is a masterpiece that has placed "Camel" at the forefront of Progressive Rock. This album received good reviews and even sold well. After its release, the band went on tour in Europe and the US. The idea of developing an entire concept album, around one overall story already, was beginning to form in the minds of the band members ....