1981 (Gamma) (CD release 1983 Decca)
If you want to create a concept album, first listen closely to “Nude,” the eighth studio masterpiece by the English prog band Camel. This work can rightfully be considered the pinnacle within the genre of progressive rock and it was released in 1981.
“Nude” features an incredibly strong concept. It is based on a true story of a Japanese soldier who, after World War II, remained on a Filipino island for 29 years, believing the war was still ongoing. Susan Hoover, the partner of frontman Andy Latimer, added her own twist to this event and also wrote the lyrics for the album. It’s remarkable how you get absorbed into the story, becoming a partaker in his triumphant welcome back home. Hoover’s writing also makes it clear that the main character cannot adjust to civilized society and ultimately returns to his island in a small boat. Truly vivid storytelling, Mrs. Hoover; now, let’s see the interpretations of your husband and his bandmates.
The strength of “Nude” lies in its outstanding musical arrangements, occasionally showcasing Camel at its best. Latimer’s melodic guitar playing sparkles like the most beautiful flames and Colin Bass’s bass guitar hums and growls delightfully. Andy Ward’s drums create vibrant splashes, and the various keyboard parts sound tasteful and atmospheric. Additionally, instruments like the flute, saxophone, koto, and even tuba add beautiful hues to the music, while the warm, somewhat languid vocals of Latimer and Bass create that typical Camel feeling.
An intriguing aspect of “Nude” is its immense variation. The album consists of fifteen tracks that thankfully do not portray a band dabbling aimlessly in different styles. “Nude” is an album with a vision that immediately captivates you from the opening track City Life, immersing you in an elusive atmosphere. Following the mid-tempo pop-prog song, where Mel Collins delivers a spirited sax solo, is the ultra-short title track that transitions into the beautiful ballad Drafted, showcasing an awe-inspiring guitar moment. After these song-oriented tracks, Camel delves deep into a compelling instrumental duet composed of the tracks Docks and Beached. The band presents a richly progressive sound with occasional jazz-rock allure that is simply delightful. Special mention should be given to the delightful drum breaks that Andy Ward conjured from his drum kit. The duet is followed by the contemplative Landscapes, which serves as a mindfulness therapy of sorts, bringing a calm and beautiful end to side A of the LP.
Side B opens with the percussive Changing Places, a track with a world music vibe, a style that we encounter more frequently on this side. Cleverly, this dreamy atmosphere is interrupted by other tracks such as the fanfare-like The Homecoming, the exhilarating Captured, which wouldn’t have been out of place as part of the aforementioned duet, and the bluesy guitar-infused Lies. To conclude, there’s the melodious The Last Farewell consisting of two parts. Firstly, there’s the new-age-like The Birthday Cake, but soon Latimer elevates it to monumental proportions in Nude’s Return and the rolling drums bring an open ending to the whole experience.
With “Nude,” Camel has delivered the ultimate proof that a strong concept adds significant value to an album. Not that we didn’t know this already, but it cannot be emphasized enough.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023