Camel – Mirage

1974 (Deram)

1: Freefall (5:47)
2: Supertwister (3:20)
3: Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider (9:12)
4: Earthrise (6:42)
5: Lady Fantasy (12:46):
a. Encounter
b. Smiles For You
c. Lady Fantasy

The cover of “Mirage”, the second album of the then groundbreaking band Camel, is quite remarkable. It shows a mirage of the front of a cigarette pack which I won’t mention the brand of. The image is highly evocative with its stoic-looking desert creature. Nowadays creating something like that would be a piece of cake with a little photoshopping but the album dates back to 1974 implying the necessary craftsmanship to produce such an image. The true smoker can immediately see the drawing has been copied as Manneken Pis is not easily discernible in the camel’s forelegs.

The music is a pure showcase of craftsmanship. On “Mirage” it’s overflowing with guitar and keyboard solos even more so than on the subsequent albums “The Snow Goose” and “Moonmadness” which brought the band worldwide fame. However, “Mirage” is much more than just a precursor to that success as all the characteristic Camel ingredients are already present on the record. With great bravado and tons of determination the legendary quartet of Latimer, Bardens, Ferguson, and Ward consistently deliver beautiful melodies, mesmerizing chords and driven rhythms within a structure that deviates from the norm.

“Mirage” only lasts 37 minutes and consists of only five songs of which the first one, Freefall, written by Pete Bardens is considerably less impressive. In terms of bass and drums this staccato number is actually quite an energetic opener with a nice jazz piece in the middle but guitar and keyboards play only a minor role. It wasn’t the best choice to let Bardens, the keyboard wizard of the group, sing the song himself as his guitar-playing colleague Andy Latimer has a much more pleasant voice.

After that it’s basically all ‘Hosanna Hosanna’ for fans of melodic symphonic rock. Due to the high Red Bull level of the music you occasionally need some time to recover and the quartet allows you that time. It must be said that drummer Andy Ward is almost unstoppable but fortunatel the man’s playing also has delightful relaxed moments. Camel never lets you dry out and with “Mirage” they give you a solid set of wings. For years I’ve been soaring miles high on the beautiful sounds of Supertwister. Supported by Fender Rhodes tinkling, Latimer’s flute takes you on an enormous journey. Flute playing is often described with words like ‘dreamy’ and ‘heavenly’ but what Latimer demonstrates in this song is so different, so defining. At a certain moment he plays a trill and then tears open the sky with the right amount of reverb. What a magnificently beautiful moment and what an anchor point in the musical experience of many. At the end of the song, the band has a little trick up their sleeve. You can hear someone using an opener on a beer bottle and pouring it. So everyone can be fully replenished to fully enjoy the swirling triptych of Nimrodel, The Procession, and The White Rider.

You can hear a solemn guitar melody in The Procession. It unrelentingly demands attention and if you listen intently to the piece you will witness one of the most dazzling Moog solos ever by Camel. The lyrics, by the way, – it won’t surprise anyone anymore – are about The Lord of the Rings. The gentlemen of Camel excel at creating the appropriate atmospheric changes, both subtly and drastically. Not only this triptych but especially the awe-inspiring Lady Fantasy holds those welcome twists and turns in high regard. Before the band concludes with this fantastic classic, making the air tremble, there is first the instrumental Earthrise that truly leaves you breathless. Its beginning is beautifully melodic but then the band goes all out. Thumbs up for that delightful play on the Hammond organ.

Every time the intro of Lady Fantasy starts you can prepare yourself for twelve exhilarating minutes. It forms the closing that the album deserves. This is no illusion; it is an unparalleled reality. To illustrate how captivating this rarity is I’ll simply say that the wailing guitar tones in the serene middle section have been piercing straight through my heart for years. What a golden guitarist! The influence of Camel in general and of “Mirage” in particular, is immense.

I’ve become a heavy chain smoker and thanks to the ending of Supertwister I’ve become heavily reliant on alcohol. But above all, I am forever addicted to their beautiful symphonic rock.

Doug Ferguson: bass
Andy Ward: drums, percussion
Peter Bardens: keyboards, vocals
Andy Latimer: guitar, flute, vocals

© Dick van der Heijde 2022