Review Summary: A very unique, crafty experience.
Progressive rock, in itself, has always been one of the most creative outlets of music. Anything, in itself, is possible in the genre; basically, the companion obtrusive. However, that's still not a label that Caravan deserves. The four-piece rose from a ten-man 60's band, under the name 'the Wilde Flowers
'. Despite drinking a fair amount of tea, indulging in smokable substances, and maybe having a jolly good time with demos, it was clear the band was ready to call it quits; in 1967, they split. However, the remains became two rather well-known bands, both of whom defined music in their own way: Soft Machine
. The Caravan members that came out of WF were the Sinclair brothers, David and Richard Sinclair, former guitarist Pye Hastings and drummer Richard Coughlan.
And it's safe to say Caravan had plenty of potential. Their original, self-titled album was merely just a stepping stone, like Genesis when they released From Genesis to Revelation
was a decent album, containing some good tracks; but it felt incomplete and lightweighted. What followed next, If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You
(eww), was definitely an improvement; it was definitely their sophomore effort, but it was more accurately deserving of the label 'progressive rock'. It contained a good balance of quirk and sonic familiarity. But, like their debut, it was merely a stepping stone. It was at this point both Caravan and their sister band, Soft Machine, began to develop a peculiar sound. This particular genre was later defined as the Canterbury Scene
. Sound-wise, it was definitely unique. The genre was an imaginative blend of jazz structures and classic prog instrumentation. The crafty use of time signatures, extensive composition, and blend of instruments. The two bands would then fuse all of these elements together in their own form of driving, neo-psychedelic form of rock. Therefore, you have In the Land of Grey and Pink
Put simply, Caravan is taking their original style from their second release and setting it on a higher and more audacious scale. The album opener "Golf Girl
" is highly reminiscent of Genesis. Relying on merging acoustic passages and jazz rock (an oxymoron at the time), it tells the whimsical tale about a man who finds love on a golf field where it rains golf balls from the sky. The organs particularly shine on the album; "Winter Wine
" features a classic jam structure than soon follows into a cacophony of requisite keys, coupled with a rambling bass and building guitars. To follow on with the quaint storylines, "Love to Love You (And Pigs Will Fly
" features a particularly easy-to-follow world. Featuring a particular instrument highlight, the story involves creatures by the names of "Nasty Grumbly Grimblies", who crawl down smoky chimneys, and mindless boy scouts. The brilliance behind all of these songs, along with the title track, are nothing short of brilliant. It's all here - the jazz, the prog rock, everything that is appealing to Caravan. But it is all overshadowed by what happens next.
On the second side, is the audacious, theatrical, 22-minute classic "Nine Feet Underground
". The track follows eight divided sections, each illustrating various regions of technical prowess. Pye Hastings's soft, witty vocals divide up the first seven minutes of the song, mostly about the weather and about jigsaws in randomly placed trees. The middle eventually breaks, divided into haunting piano keys and eerie organ melodies. After what seems like a lifetime, the drums enter into the final minutes of the album. All of the instruments play off eachother in a furious cadenza of guitar, bass, sax, organs, and drums; it is an utterly charming, prog rock masterpiece. Quite a fitting epilogue for a great album - after listening to the twenty-two minutes in full, everything else just seems second rate.
However, it is far from the sole moment of brilliance; In the Land of Grey and Pink
is undoubtably the band's peak. The range and feel-good presence of the album is humbling, and their talent to explore regions of progressive rock and keep you entertained is undeniable. It makes them one of the best acts in underground music today. Although Caravan would fall a bit after this, it is a rewarding and quirky endeavour. I highly recommend it.