Caravan – 1975 – Cunning Stunts


Cunning stunts

(Decca 1975)

  1. The Show of Our Lives
  2. Stuck in a Hole
  3. Lover
  4. No Backstage Pass
  5. Welcome the Day
  6. The Dabsong Conshirtoe
    • The mad dabsong
    • Ben Karratt rides again
    • Pro’s and con’s
    • Wraiks and ladders
    • Sneaking out the Bare Square
    • All sorts of unmemorable things
  7. The Fear and Loathing in Tollington Park

I’m well aware that this is where a lot of fans lose interest in Caravan but I really don’t see how that could be explained judged strictly from the music on “Cunning stunts” (allegedly a wordplay on “stunning c u n t s”, something they had proved themselves rather fond of. Wordplays, I mean. What did you think?). You see, I’m gonna skip ahead here and state that I really dig this album and claim that it’s not an iota worse than, say, their debut or “If I could screw you all over again, I would”. (Hey, don’t blame me! They started it!). Maybe it has something to do with prog starting to decline or maybe it’s their overall turn towards lush pop, but I don’t buy that. See, the structuring of this record doesn’t really differ from any previous Caravan album and they still manage to deliver a lengthy epic towards the end, and as for the decline of prog, well, that doesn’t explain the popularity of such records as “Going for the one”. No, allow me to speculate that it’s basically ignorance that keeps even fans away from this, and it was indeed released in the shadows of both the marvellous predecessor two years earlier, as well as their concerto performance that followed so it’s understandable that it couldn’t live up to the expectations. But it deserves a chance and you should grant it, or else I’ll be forced to dock off a point from my rating of you and we’ll see how fun that is!

It opens on a really grand note with “The show of our lives” that almost manages to out-Queen Queen. That ascending chorus is really something, and newcomer Mike Wedgewood does an outstanding job in contributing the vocals. Yes, forgot to tell you; Since the last time he replaced John G. Perry on bass guitar and occasional vocals, as on this one. The grand piano and all those ethereal gospel stunts (cunning stunts indeed!) make for an almost celestial atmosphere. I can picture the song ascending and spreading out like a giant feathery cloud in the sky, can you? It’s followed by the bouncy pop-rocker “Stuck in a hole” which isn’t brilliant but a good McCartney-like relief in the process. “Lover” however, is a duffer and this is all Wedgewood’s fault. He seized his chance to slip in some stuff himself, one of which is this sugary soul ballad. It’s not suitable for Caravan at all, and I’d even say that it’s not suitable for anyone. It sounds like something Glenn Hughes would sneak onto a contemporary Purple record. (This is the second time I’m forced to mention him in a Caravan review! Why won’t he leave me alone? Get that bastard out of here! He’s a criminal! He kills good bands for no reason!)

Anyway, it’s followed by another highlight in “No backstage pass” in which Pye shows off just about everything; His ever-growing songwriting skills, likewise growing singing abilities and tasteful guitarworks. This is probably one of his best guitar solos, reminding of both Steve Hackett and Andy Latimer, the latter especially thanks to the scat singing that joins in halfway through. And the main melody is top-notch, soothed by his tender vocals. Then it’s time for another Wedgewood-penned thingie, this time better though, being a chugging funk sendup (and yes, I know what I’ve said about funk but this one at least has a decent melody) named “Welcome the day”. Nothing special but a nice breather before the main course is served.

Yeah, you guessed it. They were still not through with side-long multipart epics, although they would be after this one. “The dabsong conshirtoe” ends that grandiose tradition on a really high note, I say. Basically it’s a bunch of half-baked songs stitched together, but then again, what Caravan epic isn’t? No part overstays its welcome which means the song never has the chance of becoming boring. It begins as a lightweight, almost Hollywoodish, ballad that soon gets mixed up with a rocking brass-driven section during which Pye really shines as a singer. It kinda reminds me of late-period Beatles (which is one of the finest awards you can get), and we all know how the second half of “Abbey Road” was put together, right? Half-baked songs hastily glued together, and if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for anyone else? Because everyone else are inferior, that’s why. But Caravan proved to be talented enough to pull it off. After a brief orchestral break it then finds its way into the obligatory flute passage, probably one of their absolute best and most melodic ever. And the good thing is that it returns after the jazzy solo passage, which by the way is really nicely executed too. It all comes to a conclusion with a lengthy riff-fest dissolving into a total cacaphony of snippets taken from just about everywhere. Kinda like the coda of “I am the walrus” or something. Do you think Beatles would have made a good Canterbury band? Man, this is my number one bet for the best Caravan epic ever, and this alone is a reason not to disregard the album. Oh yeah, the album ends with a minute of instrumental country-rag which is nice and all, but not terribly worthy of being written about more than this.

So, you see, the race wasn’t run for the band even in the steadily darkening mid-70’s, not yet. The tendency to streamline the sound to the more accessible genres of the time was starting to make itself visible, and I’m not talking about the orchestrated lush pop here, rather the sugary ballads and soul/funk/disco/whatever influences. But they were still brave enough to hang on to their own standards and besides, Pye’s songwriting was definitely on a roll, and anyone who can apply to the formula of generic pop and still come out with winners, is definitely worthy of praise.

3 thoughts on “Caravan – 1975 – Cunning Stunts”

  1. Yep, Caravan’s still got it as far as I’m concerned. I like music which I find beautiful and this is something Caravan manage just fine on Stu… oops, I mean Cunning Stunts. Aside from the epic, No Backstage Pass is a current favourite with me :)

  2. I think when I gave this album a listen several years ago, I didn’t like it much at all, apart from maybe Dabshirt and that closing John Fahey-esque ditty. It seemed that Caravan had changed considerably. They weren’t as exciting to me anymore when Richard Sinclair was gone (and many would also write Caravan off after David’s initial departure, as one Rate Your Music reviewer disparaged the material following the First Great Three as “progressively more disappointing output” as well as “disappointing succession of subsequent codicils”).

    That review itself is here: http://rateyourmusic.com/collection/Softman/rating2450019 Obviously too elitist, but I can relate to his disappointment, as per why the rest of the discography does not seem to match up with the overall quality apparent on the original lineup albums. I’m clearly a fan of first three-or-four records. These, as well as Wyatt era Softs, along with Egg, Hatfield & The North and National Health, embody to me Canterbury rock at its finest. I guess it depends what qualities are you expecting from Canterbury rock: just a decent tune or something more edgy/challenging?

  3. It’s true that they did shift towards a more accessible sound, particularly from the mid-70s, in order to reach a wider audience. I understand how that can throw some people off, particularly those who up till then liked Caravan for their proggier output.

    For me personally, I like progressive rock, but I’m not exclusively a prog lover. Basically, I love a good tune and sometimes, they come in the shape of pop songs. Good tunes is something Caravan still does well on Stunnin… I mean Cunning Stunts, so I like it!

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