Album Reviews

The Fast Camels – The Magic Optician

(Neon Tetra) UK release date: 12 February 2007


Imagine a retro-futuristic dome in between The Beatles‘ dreamy pastoral cottage and Oasis‘ graffiti’d urban den. The Fast Camels populate it with the delights and dangers of both sides wrestling like hell, and music emanates from every corner.

The Camels have some wondrous gadgetry in their haven’s armoury, but a slight habit for leaving the back door open sees it sometimes warped by uninvited cold. Entering through the front, there’s a sonic blast of taut ambition so that you can’t wait to investigate further. Drums beat with tempered anticipation, and The Hump, like a grotesque hall of mirrors, refracts shapes in kaleidoscopic shadows to make an alluring homage to resident heroes.

First impressions are quite grand, and there’s an allotment round the back growing magic fruit. The title track, Like A Magic Optician, has the psychedelic whiff of summer daisies and sunflowers, and takes you back through time on the Yellow Submarine, an enchanted concoction of melodies so retro they leave you with the precise bowl-haircut of George Harrison, circa A Hard Day’s Night.

What a treat the Camels are when they serve up fare like this. Can You See Me? smiles with the smile of a million suns and enervates like a solar system with its melancholy optimism. But, you know when you have some junk that you know you should throw out but can’t bring yourself to do so, and then it sort of haunts you? There’s items hanging about that taint the flavour, for one, an old music box called Comfortable Things, which holds onto the past with nails on a chalkboard.

The Two Day Week is a turd left by a long-gone ancestor after too many magic mushrooms, and The Nobgoblin is no less than a cardinal sin in the way it scrapes the dredges when it should fire to the stars.

Remember those dull Supergrass songs that started to pop up on their third or fourth albums? Well, Gone is one of them, with a slight reminder of past greatness in fading moments of inspiration. The Britpop shrine is propagated further with Big Daddy Smyth, which is more like one of those Ocean Colour Scene songs you were told you should hate but could never really bring yourself to do so. There’s another one called Privately Insane, which evokes that same smiling yet poignant nostalgia as an OCS nugget called The Circle, but instead of giving way while it’s up, it journeys in a lead balloon to an ungloried end.

The defining metaphor? Maybe. But there’s a starry optimism waiting to be unearthed in some kind of consistent manner by these Camels, and when it’s there’ll be more than just the odd blissful desert mirage. A dual intrigue of inspiration and complacency, The Camels’ cave is worth visiting for its delectable upsides.


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