Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Caravan – For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (Decca)
Caravan make the ultimate comfort music. Every album of theirs I have is like a blanket of the perfect weight that I can pull right up to my chin and start, to quote poet George Fetherling (in his new Anvil Press title Singer, An Elegy), “daydreaming with horrible urgency/of nostalgia never imagined or/needed until now.” The thing about Caravan is, for all their progressive accoutrements—the long songs and long hair, the pretty singing, and so on—they don’t come across like the stadium-scale art-rock giants of the ’70s. I can picture myself walking up Main and catching them in full swing, crammed onto the stage at the Cottage Bistro. They’ve got a strong pub-rock streak. For Girls… is the last album of theirs I bought, another of Decca’s spectacular reissue series. This one came out originally in 1973 and it’s their fifth album, I think. They’d endured some lineup changes, and the humble organ tones that lent a lot of charm to their early sound had been replaced by cutting-edge synthesizers and Geoffrey Richardson’s viola—they even bust out with a full orchestra on the final track—but that ordinary bloke appeal is still intact. They try out some new styles here too, like the uncharacteristically sinister “C’thlu Thlu,” a creepy crawly cave dweller that gets as heavy as Van der Graaf Generator at times. Elsewhere they maintain their knack for effortlessly epic medleys like “Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss,” an action-packed stormer that ranks right up there with If I Could Do It All Over Again’s “For Richard.” “Surprise, Surprise” and “The Dog, the Dog, He’s At It Again” are the requisite twee numbers, which is all right because criticizing Caravan for being twee is like faulting Judas Priest for being heavy metal. “Hoedown” lives up to its name as a fast-paced lightweight rocker in 7/8 with gang vocals that make it sound like the theme for a Caravan TV show (“We’ll get you when night-time comes along/We’ll get you, we’ll get you with our song”). The last song, “L’Auberge Du Sanglier/A Hunting We Shall Go/Pengola/Backwards/A Hunting We Shall Go (reprise),” comes on eventful and complex, then takes an orchestral detour through more lush surroundings, sounding like theme music to a movie starring Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset. Decca dug up five bonus tracks, consisting of an alternative mix, three early run-throughs, and the superb 11-minute “Derek’s Long Thing.” Longtime fans must have been beside themselves with these unearthed riches. As a relatively newcomer aboard the Caravan, they're enjoyable, but the album proper is intriguing enough for now.

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