Review Summary: One of the greatest Progressive Rock albums of all time, if not the best. Mirage is essential to everyone who enjoys music.
The average life-span of a Camel varies from forty to fifty years. This doesn't apply in the case of this Camel, however, because Camel's second album Mirage will live inside of my heart until the day I die, and it will hopefully keep living in the hearts of many others for a long time. The fact that Mirage was written almost forty years ago, yet it manages to amaze and touch even young people like me proves that there is something special about it.
Mirage is considered by most Camel's best album. According to others, Moonmadness or The Snow Goose tops it. I strongly disagree with the latter, though, because even though these albums are amazing, there is something about Mirage that makes it the absolute top.
Camel is a quite diverse band. Unlike other bands of the genre, every Camel album is unique, containing its own personal signature. Camel's eponymous debut is full of youth charm and raw power, but it's also a complete mess, seeing as the band was trying to figure out their sound back then. Mirage is an improved version of it. The songs still have much energy and power, but the band is much more mature and the sound is more Progressive Rock definite. In Mirage the band has started writing the songs together, resulting in a much greater sound. Sadly and Happily, Camel has changed their sound again and again in the next two records as well. The Snow Goose is an instrumental album, needless to say unique. Moon Madness is much more quiet and calm than the early material, and while still having a Camel style it sounds nothing like Mirage. The band went downhill quality-wise from there, leaving us with four classic albums, each one almost entirely different from the other.
That leaves us with Mirage being a one-of-a-kind album; there will never be another album like it. Perhaps that’s why the album struck me so hard when I first listened to it. The music was very unusual, not similar to anything I've heard before. If you hadn’t until now, you must give this album a listen. It will make you re-appreciate music.
Mirage's opening track is perhaps its catchiest. I can still remember listening to it on You Tube, long back. It grabbed my attention and held me tight for its six minutes length. Unlike the rest of this album, Freefall is pure fun. This can be clearly seen by reading its incredibly silly lyrics. Peter Bardens, Camel's pianist, sung in Freefall, but he barely sings for the band. I wish it wasn’t this way, though. His voice sounds joyful and carefree, as he have smoked weed before the recordings. The mirth of Freefall comes to an extant three and a half minutes in, when a melody that can only be described as elevator music is being played. That’s the beauty of Mirage, it has it all. Take the second track for instance, in some parts it sounds like a ballad, and in some parts it sounds like a Scottish folk tune. Supertwister is also a showcase of Andrew Latimer's flute talent. Latimer didn’t play flute on the first record, but it will play an important part on Camel's next two albums.
Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider is the album's first epic, reaching over nine minutes. It starts with a beautiful guitar/flute intro, and then turns into a kind of carnival marching music. I will always remember these first two minutes, because when I first listened to them I was shocked. The randomness and the variety of the band startled me. The song reaches its climax after the first verse. Bardens plays a beautiful yet not showy two minute long solo over a stirring funky riff. This part is very strong and emotional, and Andrew later repeats the solo's main idea in a Hard Rock fashion to make it sound even more powerful. Another great part of the song would be the ending, when a fuzzy, spacy, Black Sabbath-like bass riff is being played. To emphasize the spacy sense the organ is playing with a spacy effect and the guitar solo is extremely random and weird. The lyrics in Nimrodel are about the wizard Gandalf from the book Lord of the Rings. Many bands write songs about Lord of the Rings, and I dig these songs very much, especially when they are written well, like in Nimrodel. They remind of my childhood, when I just discovered reading and experienced a whole new world of imagination, and they pay a fantastic tribute to one of the greatest books ever.
More funk and groove is represented well in Mirage's second instrumental, Earthrise. It begins with hopeful and happy music that can really describe a sunrise, but later unfolding to become a great demonstration of Latimer's and Barden's abilities. The song has a decent amount of solos in it, and the great melodies in between keep the thing interesting. But although Earthrise is amazing, the track that comes after it is the true big deal. Lady Fantasy, cutting off at almost thirteen minutes, is considered by many to be Camel's best song. The lyrics, for start, are great. There is nothing wrong with a love song, and even though the first part of the song is kind of cheesy, it suits the music perfectly. The intro of the song is epic. Bardens plays a dreamy organ riff that is later accompanied by a heavy guitar riff. The song shifts very well between the slower ballad parts and the fast funk ones, with pretty sharp yet enjoyable passages. Three minutes in the pace changes entirely, but after two more minutes the pace slows back down without any warning. Besides changing the paces many times, every part in Lady Fantasy is written superbly, and the solos are played with passion. The beautiful acoustic melody that was played in the start of the song repeats in the end as well, creating a story atmosphere with a beginning and an ending.
The track list in Mirage is well-thought of. It soothes you in with Freefall, the catchiest and most fun song of the album, and gives you instrumental breaks between the lyrical songs. The epics are in their right places, and the longest song is saved for last.
The production in Mirage is amazing, but it's even better in the Remastered version. The bass is very audible, as for most of the Progressive Rock records, and every instrument and effect sounds just right. In addition with the re-issued disc, you get a live recording of Supertwister and two other songs from Camel's debut. At the end of all this, comes the original version of Lady Fantasy, which is basically insignificant, but I find myself listening to Lady Fantasy again every time after I listen to Mirage as it is anyways.
The cover of Mirage intrigued me when I first saw it. I didn’t even realize it was the cigarette company's logo; it just seemed very familiar and inviting. This cover, apparently, was distributed only in Europe, because the band only made an agreement with the Europe brand. The American brand threatened with a lawsuit, and the management of the band freaked out. They immediately changed the artwork to some kind of camel-dragon, which looked good, but nowhere near the original. In stark contrast, the European cigarette brand even sold mini-packages with the albums cover to advertise the band.
Mirage is an essential Progressive Rock classic. With the releases of Genesis and King Crimson, 1974 rounds up to be an amazing year for the Progressive genre. Camel evolves from the insecure debut and becomes one of the greatest Rock bands to ever exist. Mirage is the perfect place to start with Camel, every Progressive Rock fan will like it right away from the first listen. It contains some of the bands catchiest material, like Freefall, and it also contains some of their best songs of all time, such as Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider and Lady Fantasy. If you like good music, do yourself a great favor and get Mirage as soon as possible.
Mirage was released in March 1, 1974. The record label is Gama and it is 37:06 minutes long.
- Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider
- Lady Fantasy
Andrew Latimer – guitars, flute, vocals on "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider" and "Lady Fantasy"
Peter Bardens – organ, piano, Minimoog, Mellotron, vocals on "Freefall", Fender piano, Clavinet
Doug Ferguson – bass
Andy Ward – drums, percussion
Produced by David Hitchcock
Engineered by Howard Kilgour and Bill Price