Encouraged by the success of their Lord of the Rings-inspired second album, prog-rockers Camel decided to again write an album as an interpretation of another novel in 1975, this time choosing Paul Gallico’s 1941 The Snow Goose. The story tells the tale of Rhayader, a lighthouse-inhabiting recluse who befriends a young girl called Fritha. Their friendship grows when they find an injured snow goose and together nurse it back to health. The tale, however, ends sadly as Rhayader is killed when rescuing British soldiers during the Dunkirk evacuation, but the snow goose returns to Fritha, interpreted by the girl as a symbol of Rhayader’s soul departing.
At a basic level, The Snow Goose is a remarkable album. Despite jumping from vigorous prog-rock numbers to beautifully delicate flute-led compositions, Camel manage to create one solid musical piece, maintaining its distinctive sound throughout. The album is lyricless, but the sophisticated snyth work and presence of such instruments as oboes and clarinets mean that the album is in no way dull. Unlike most prog-rock albums of the time, The Snow Goose breaks free from any temporal identification and is instead musically timeless, refusing to take on the recognisable sounds of its era.
When combined with Gallico’s novel, the album is awarded an extra level of depth and is no longer just simply a great record. Instead, The Snow Goose becomes a musical adventure, each song translating a powerful set of emotions to the listener. Tracks such as ‘Migration’ and ‘Dunkirk’ perfectly capture the sense of excitement and adventure intended, as the quick-paced drums and wailing guitar melodies drive the music hurtling at full speed only to dissolve into a far more calm song. ‘Rhayader Alone’, for example, provides a fragile take on the album’s opening track, evoking a bitter sense of sadness for the story’s protagonist, while ‘Fritha Alone’ similarly reworks an earlier track by stripping away its joyful optimism in its interpretation of the death of Rhayader.
Despite the fact The Snow Goose is an interpretation of a story, there is nothing concrete about its transformation of the tale to the listener, mostly because of the absence of lyrics. It is clear that a certain mood is being dealt with, but you are able to match that to your own images in your head, and this is perhaps where the magic of the album lies. Camel have made an exciting and beautiful record, translating a delightful story into music, but not at all in a forceful way which would take away the listener’s freedom of interpretation.