Review Summary: Old as the hills, Young just like the rising sun.
Caravan’s transformation with Richard Sinclair did not last long, at all – the gloomy bassist’s rather stark appearance in the events preceding Rain Dances’s history and the vague burst of pop that came with it did not seem to last long, for Breathless was the last album that Sinclair did, and yet to this day the reasons for his departure are vague and confusing. It is possible that through power struggles and arguments over which direction to take Camel that led to his prompt departure, though some sources believe the band was under a lot of pressure from the record company to head in a more commercial direction, and Sinclair was not happy with what was proposed. Excluding Sinclair, Breathless is all the more important because it was the last album that original keyboardist Peter Bardens was involved with, due to creative differences with Andrew Latimer; despite this, the two mutually agreed that he should depart, and from thence Bardens left.
So here we have an album that ultimately led to one key member’s departure, and one outlander’s departure, but even after all this time Breathless isn’t that bad. It featured many signs of a band preparing to depart from their progressive roots, but it enjoys a quite robust sound because it is full of life. The opening title track kicks the album off well, injecting energy-filled guitar work next to some very uplifting and pretty lyrics, and this track is adjacent to the great “Echoes”, an obvious slice of old, Mirage-esque Camel: the crafty and complex use of its jazzy rhythms, driven by a 4/4 keyboard and power chords that make it something of a storm of music – something undeniably sophisticated but colorful at the same time.
The primary drawback here, though, is that the album will climb to greatness but will spend the same amount of time drolling through bland and monotonous pop songs or buildups. “Summer Lightning”, while pleasant enough, contains far too much of a near-80’s groove that contains a significant lack of variation up until Latimer’s solo. That same tedium comes back with “You Make Me Smile” directly afterwards, easily the least impressive track on the entire LP because of its mediocre bass line and very generic melody that would become a problem in some Camel albums to follow. Which is unfortunate considering the sincerity put forth in songs such as the elegant “Starlight Ride” and the tumultuous collision of instruments that is “The Sleeper”.
Breathless is an album that suffers the exactly same problems as many of the great 70’s progressive rock bands – they began going forward into mainstream music, and the departure of Peter Bardens and Richard Sinclair because of creative differences really emphasized this point. This is unfair to Breathless, though, because the whole thing is actually very good.