Review Summary: Wading through a myriad of concept records from the 70’s and 80’s may reveal more garbage than treasure, but the search won’t be in vein.
The concept album can be a dangerous thing: it could either yield an utterly mind-blowing experience that forever alters the listeners’ sonic palette, or be a pretentious, drawn-out waste of recording time. Since the dawn of the concept record musicians have consciously and subconsciously walked the fine line between a fantastic piece of art and a craptastic piece of…well, you see where I’m heading. Some of the 20th century’s favourite records have either been concepts or loosely based on a unifying theme. With some talent, a creative plot line, cohesive instrumentation, and some experience there lies the potential for an extraordinary musical marvel.
Progressive rock employs the concept record style possibly the most frequently, and the genre possesses more than its fair share of over the top nonsense. Wading through the heaps of poorly executed offerings does warrant its fair share of gems though. Take Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon
and Wish You Were Here
or Jethro Tull’s Aqualung
album for a very few examples. Often compared to Floyd themselves, progressive rock underground darlings Camel
are no strangers to the concept record, finding themselves on both sides of the good idea/bad idea pool. Snow Goose
saw ideas wandering around a little too much, resulting in a record that would polarize fans. It would take the band a few records and a couple different line-ups, but eventually 1981’s Nude
was conjured up as the basis for the group’s 8th studio offering. Nude tells the story of a Japanese soldier of World War II who becomes marooned on an isolated island for several decades. Throughout his time on the island, the soldier is oblivious to the war’s end, all the while slowly battling his own internal demons and desperately trying to survive. Upon his rescue and realization of the world around him, the soldier is culture-shocked and once again experiences a sense of isolation.
Based on a true story, the idea behind Nude can be a bit exhausting with all the little touches thrown upon the album’s central theme. It’s interesting to say the least, with lead guitarist/lead vocalist (and Camel founder) Andy Latimer’s delicate music building a fitting atmosphere to accompany it. The tracks are best if not separated, but rather left to fade into each other and let the story flow freely. This isn’t to say that the entire album consists of key moments though, as there are definitely some standouts and some not so special tracks. Opening with one of it’s high-notes, Nude begins with City Life
, which lyrically appears as sort of an epilogue for the album’s story. Here we find the main character speaking of adjustment to the New World around him and how he is different from those around him. This one’s nice because it’s packed with a lot of vocal harmonies and a lush arrangement of keyboards, saxophones, and multi-tracked guitar lines; given these qualities, the song retains a rather upbeat sound throughout. Nude uses smaller tracks (ranging from 22 seconds to 2 and a half minutes) to bridge spaces between tracks, much in the tradition of the concept album. After the aforementioned 22 second Nude
, the story switches to the past, with Drafted
and the feelings of “Nude” (the characters name) about his upcoming experiences and what he’ll be leaving behind when going to war. A track by track would get pretty ridiculous given the 15 that the disc possesses, so to avoid boredom on both ends I’ll stop. The story continues from this point to “Nude’s” rescue from the island. The first couple tracks on the album really set the tone musically for the rest of the record, though not all songs have the same quality and replay value. Still, the general musical theme remains ever present and much of the guitar, keyboard, bass and drum tones stay their respective courses. The 80’s sound plays a role here, but it’s not strong enough to become over the top or annoyingly synthed-out. There’s almost an ethereal feeling to the record, though the sound is still forceful enough to make a statement. It’s almost as if Andy Latimer has tried to synch the album’s story with the instrumentation put forth to support it.
Despite the album’s rather heavy predominant themes of isolation/loneliness, longing, confusion and survival, Andy Latimer and company are always able to maintain an upbeat signature with the accompanying instrumentation. The instruments really play the staring role here, especially considering the barrage of instrumental tracks that include Docks
, Changing Places
, and Pomp & Circumstance
. With little lyrical content for the first half of the record, the listener should pay close attention to the shifts in the instrumental moods as well as viewing the lyrics that would come later on to completely digest the story. Like I said, this one does feel like a lot to take in upon first glance, and perhaps even first listen. The truth is that even here we find another rather…ambitious project by a progressive rock band that is just going to be too much for some. The music, however, is more than accessible, and is actually quite a tranquil listen. There is little doubt that Nude
holds a special place in Camel’s discography, at least amongst its fanbase.
(Note: I highly recommend playing this one out in it's entirety, but if you really need a taste try City Life
, or Changing Places
. Any of these should give a nice presentation of Nudes overall sound.)