Review Summary: Like David Gilmour? Like rich atmospheric music? Get this.
The late 70’s were a bad time for progressive rock music. After releasing a series of highly regarded prog albums (Mirage, The Snow Goose, Moonmadness), Camel suddenly found themselves struggling to evolve their suddenly outdated sound due to the punk movement. Moving between their prog style and a new more pop-influenced style Camel could never manage to reach the popularity or quality of their earlier albums, before breaking up in 1984.
The band would again resurface in 1991 with a different line-up, returning to their prog roots. However, by this time the damage had been done, and despite the consistently good quality of these later releases even many Camel fans ignore them and only listen to the 70’s albums. 1999’s Rajaz
is arguably the best of these later albums.
The title of the album comes from the name of an ancient type of Arabic poetry that was sung when caravans travelled across the desert, and designed on a metre to follow the footsteps of the camels. As the title and cover (and band name…) suggest, Rajaz
is heavily inspired by this and all of the songs are composed on the same metre. This gives the album a distinctive Eastern sound and atmosphere.
To help create this mood, most of the music has a slow pace and a loose structure that brings to mind images of vast desert landscapes. Most of the focus is placed on Andrew Latimer’s incredible David Gilmour-esque guitar playing which fit’s the desert theme perfectly, playing a perfect mixture of sweeping soundscapes and bluesy melodies. While Latimer could perhaps be dismissed as just a Gilmour rip-off, the guitar playing is so fantastic it really doesn’t matter at all, and could even be considered to be just as good. Latimer’s guitar work is always completely emotional, melodic and brilliantly composed. Some of the solos are incredibly beautiful and help create the epic feel needed. His acoustic guitar playing that appears in some of the songs, giving them a slightly folky feel, is also excellent.
Not only does Latimer play the guitar, he also adds to the Eastern atmosphere by occasionally playing flute and also plays keyboards that add another layer of depth to the sound, as well as adding extra melodies. The keyboards often stay in the background however and never sound at all cheesy or out of place, fitting in perfectly. Latimer also sings, but like much of Camel’s work a lot of the music is instrumental with little singing. Latimer has a good, if unspectacular, singing voice though and his melancholic vocals fit in with the music perfectly.
While being mainly instrumental allows the listener to focus on the atmosphere, it does mean that the album can drag at times and even get a bit boring if you don‘t get immersed in this atmosphere, especially as it’s quite a long album and played at quite a slow pace.
The other musicians are also excellent. Dave Stewart’s drumming is usually quite restrained and sparse but still effective in creating the vast desert effect and a cello also sometimes appears to add to the sombre acoustic folk songs. The bass playing is also good, balancing the soaring guitar perfectly.
is an excellent album if you have the time to get lost in its atmosphere, but definitely struggles to remain interesting it’s entire running time. Most of the tracks don’t really work as stand-alone songs, and it really needs to be listened to in it’s entirety. If soaring guitars are your thing and you have time to get lost in the album though, Rajaz
is highly recommended.