BETTER BY FAR (1977) / DE LEJOS LO MEJOR (1977) / EL MEJOR DE TODOS (1977)
BETTER BY FAR
1 Feelin' Alright (3:30)
2 Behind You (5:08)
3 Better By Far (3:30)
4 Silver Strings (4:05)
5 The Last Unicorn (5:50)
6 Give Me More (4:42)
7 Man In A Car (6:12)
8 Let It Shine (4:30)
9 Nightmare (6:26)
DE LEJOS LO MEJOR
1 Feelin' Alright - "Sintienicise Bien" (3:30)
2 Behind You - "Detras Tuyo" (5:08)
3 Better By Far - "De Lejos Lo Mejor" (3:30)
4 Silver Strings - "Cuerdas Plateadas" (4:05)
5 The Last Unicorn - "El Ultimo Unicornio" (5:50)
6 Give Me More - "Dame Màs" (4:42)
7 Man In A Car - "Hombre En Un Auto" (6:12)
8 Let It Shine - "Dejalo Brillar" (4:30)
9 Nightmare - "Pesadilla" (6:26)
EL MEJOR DE TODOS
1 Feelin' Alright - "Todo Va Bien" (3:30)
2 Behind You - "Después De Ti" (5:08)
3 Better By Far - "El Mejor De Todos" (3:30)
4 Silver Strings - "Hilos De Plata" (4:05)
5 The Last Unicorn - "El Ultimo Unicornio" (5:50)
6 Give Me More - "Dame Màs" (4:42)
7 Man In A Car - "Un Hombre En El Coche" (6:12)
8 Let It Shine - "Déjalo Brillar" (4:30)
9 Nightmare - "Pesadilla" (6:26)
Richard Coughlan (drums, percussion)
Pye Hastings (guitar, vocals)
Dek Messecar (bass, vocals)
Geoffrey Richardson (viola, flute, mandolin, guitar)
Jan Schelhaas (keyboards)
1977/LP/Arista/10C062-99089/Spain ("El Mejor de Todos")
1977/LP/Arista/8463/Argentina ("De Lejos Lo Mejor")
2004/CD/Eclectic Discs/ECLCD1018/UK /
REVIEWS FROM VARIOUS SOURCES
Not so bad, nice songs and instrumentals.
I´ve always liked the Caravan´s special sound and smooth music.
They haven´t made a bad album ever, it´s a very underrated band indeed.
Ol "Lake" Arwin 22.10.2016 (ALLMUSIC)
Okay, so if you want a proverbial example of what a «major drop in quality» truly means, look no further than the alarming gap that divides Blind Dog At St. Dunstan's, an energetic, inspired, and emotional pop album with progressive overtones, from Better By Far, a limp, mechanical, openly boring exercise in radio-friendly MOR music with no overtones whatsoever. It is always a puzzle to me how the exact same band can go from exciting to insipid in the short span separating one record from another, but yes, these things do happen. First, this record does not rock, not in the slightest. Where Blind Dog gave us some nifty funky grooves, nicely steeped in a sharp, sarcastic attitude, Better By Far is almost completely given over to quiet, inoffensive soft-rock workouts, with completely conventional musical skeletons, generic (and heavily synth-based) musical arrangements, and energy levels that often sound pitiful compared to The Eagles, let alone the new blood of the punk movement of 1977. The opening number, 'Feelin' Alright' (not a Traffic cover), should be getting me up on my feet, cheering and clapping and welcoming a brand new day — instead, despite all the formal upbeatness, it feels drab and colorless, most of the «excitement» provided by Schelhaas' ugly and boring synth tone, and Pye's vocals inexplicably drowning in the sea of lackluster instrumentation instead of soaring on top of them. And that chorus? Other than a slight, predictable, pitch rise on the "feeling alRIGHT" bit, it does not even try too hard to separate itself from the pedestrian march of the verses. Awfully disappointing. And it never gets better — all of these songs sound as if Pye and the others wrote them in about half an hour. The second song, 'Behind You', rests on the same melodic foundations as 'Feelin' Alright' and tries to produce the exact same mood, except that it also incorporates a funky mid-section, again, dominated by ugly keyboards. The title track leads us into balladeering territory and ends up sounding even more like contemporary Bee Gees than like contemporary Wings, Pye's sweet voice being pretty much the song's only saving grace as it finally manages to elevate itself above the MOR arrangement. But all of that is nothing compared to Richardson's 'Silver Strings', which actually seems to intentionally sound like modern Bee Gees — disco basslines, falsetto harmonies, and a silly artistic gimmick where the "let me hear the silver strings" refrain is followed by some lazy mandolin plucking. Some of the (usually just as bitterly disappointed) reviews of the album single out the last track, 'Nightmare', as the LP's high point — most likely because it is the longest, most complex, and most «progressively oriented» song of the lot (and also features the most enigmatic, introspective, and noticeably troubled lyrics on the album). My impression, however, is that it is just as boring and mushy as everything here — a slow trotter, all atmosphere and very little proper melody, not to mention zero energy: even the violin and guitar solos, though technically melodic, mostly just meander on the spot and never end up going anywhere. I mean, you'd think a song called 'Nightmare' should have something nightmarish about it, right? Well, there's hardly anything more «nightmarish» about it than there is about, say, an Elton John ballad from Blue Moves. Vainly do I try to find anything here that would even remotely repeat, for instance, the triumph of the chorus of 'All The Way' — now there, too, was a slow, sentimental, conventionally written epic ballad, but it did sound epic: it was an anthem, played out with a winning mix of tenderness and determination, gaining more and more strength and spirit as it went by. Strength and spirit are sorely lacking on this sucker, though — and, okay, if you don't have strength and spirit, give us bleakness, weakness, and chaos, show us a shining example of depression, but do not feed us with this gray blandness. Better By Far? «Better by far» than what, I wonder? The title alone is so irritating that I have no choice other than to give the record a thumbs down — the first truly bad record in Caravan history; yes, this is definitely one of those albums that may be counted as «one of the reasons punk had to happen», except the commercial fortunes of Caravan were so low at the time that most punks probably never heard it in the first place.
George Starostin 19.04.2017 (ONLY-SOLITAIRE.BLOGSPOT.COM)
After Cunning Stunts, If I Could, I think they made another one of their jokes with the album title here as this is certainly not so . Avoid. Even a die-hard fan such as me has no interest in this - I believe this has never been released on CD, until very recently, so don't waste time hunting it down although it is not very rare and should not be expensive. Last Unicorn and Nightmare would have been fillers on Blind Dog and unfortunately are the highlights on this album. This should give you a good idea of how this album is. While re-touching some other reviews, late 2004 saw the release of this album onto CD format on the Eclectic Label with a few bonus tracks. Still does not make it wortwhile, though.
Sean Trane 2/5 02.02.2004 (PROGARCHIVES)
I thought this was CARAVANn's worst album up to that point. After what I felt was the overproduced and over-orchestrated "Cunning Stunts", I felt the band was moving back on track with Blind Dog at St. Dunstans. But they didn't stay on track for long, as this 1977 followup, "Better By Far" clearly demonstrates. At this point, the band consisted of Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlin (of course), with Geoff Richardson and keyboardist Jan Schelhaas. Mike Wedgewood was now out of the picture, replaced by Dek Messecar. Unfortunately, with the exception of the excellent "Man in a Car", written by Schelhaas, most of the album simply consists of sappy ballads, of the kind I don't find particularly engaging. At least the orchestra, for the most part, was thrown in the trash, just like their previous offering, but this album just proves that CARAVAN's best days were behind them. Listen to "Better By Far", and listen to their acknowledged classic, "In the Land of Grey & Pink", there's just no comparing, it's quite obvious what one is the vastly superior album.
Proghead 2/5 01.05.2004 (PROGARCHIVES)
Well I have to disagree. This was a very good album released in 1977 and the majority of the songs are fine. What is equally enjoyable is the return to the smutty lyrics and inane humour on some of the tracks which always reminded you that for a lot of the time Caravan were just having a good few sessions! As I said most of the songs are great but the highlights on this album are the title track, Give me More, The Last Unicorn and the icing on the cake is the incredibly serene ' Nightmare'. it sound like something off their debut from 1969! Three and a half stars.
Chris S 3,5/5 08.06.2004 (PROGARCHIVES)
I perfectly understand why diehard Caravan fans find this album painful to listen to. 'Classic Caravan' this is not; just as DRAMA isn't 'Classic Yes', and yet I find both of these albums excellent in their own right. Having just listened to BETTER BY FAR for the first time in more than twenty years (a CD version was released only recently), I just can't believe how refreshing Pye Hastings' vocals and Jan Schelhaas' minimoog (among other things) still sound on such bright, simple but by no means negliglible pop songs as FEELIN' ALRIGHT and LET IT SHINE. I have always found the title tune a very seductive love song, probably because I was deeply in love when I first heard it! SILVER STRINGS is amusing (sort of Caravan- meet-10CC-meet-Johann Strauss) and MAN IN A CAR contains some ravishing harp interludes. But best of all: THE LAST UNICORN is one of the most succesful instrumentals in Caravan's career (wonderful viola playing from Geoff Richardson, followed by an inspired uptempo jam) and NIGHTMARE is one of their most ravishing songs altogether. (Thank you, Pye Hastings, for your lovely singing and for that climactic, yet restrained, guitar solo.) An additional fascination is the fact that this album was produced by Tony Visconti, who introduced some of the same experiments with phasers (whatever they are!) that he had perpetrated on David Bowie's LOW and 'HEROES'. I was a big Bowie fan when BETTER BY FAR came out, but only now, so many years later, did I notice how much this Caravan album has in common with LOW: virtually the same prominent drum sound, with a clearer bass guitar sound than on any other Caravan record. If you know LOW but haven't heard BETTER BY FAR, imagine, if you like, a warm, cosy, non-alienated twin brother to Bowie's famous album. Now who would have thought a band like Caravan could pull this off?
fuxi 4/5 05.03.2006 (PROGARCHIVES)
This album really rocks your socks off. It has great music, lyrics, and humor to boot like "Behind You" and "Give Me More." The classic sound of "The Last Unicorn" and "Nightmare" take you away with Geoff Richardson's violin. Pye's singing is unique but very strong in capturing the mood set by the instruments. "Better by Far" and "Let it Shine" are sweet love songs for couples. Get this album. It's a must.
jeff_the_poet. 5/5 24.03.2006 (PROGARCHIVES)
Better than the previous one.
I have always felt deep appreciation to CARAVAN – who can hate albums like “In the Land of Grey and Pink” after all? They’ve led me to Canterbury Scene and related bands, and this is still kinda matter to explore for me. Unfortunately, “Cunning Stunts” was probably their (CARAVAN I mean) last good album. “Better by Far” deserves these 3 stars only because of “The Last Unicorn” alone – one of the best instrumentals I ever heard, very CAMELesque and catchy. Other songs fall into “easy listening pop-rock” category (even with a touch of soul) and even have some self-plagiarism moments (“Give me more” sounds very much like “No backstage pass”). Nice album, but not for a CARAVAN/Canterbury newbie.
Prog-jester 3/5 06.06.2007 (PROGARCHIVES)
Try not to stare at the parts that are bare! "Better by far" falls outwith the classic Caravan Deram label years of "Land of grey and pink", "For girls who grow.." etc., which were indeed better by far than this album. That said, the music here is enjoyable if relatively unchallenging. Recorded in Spring 1977, the line up is essentially that which recorded the previous "Blind dog at St. Dunstans", with Dek Messecar replacing Mike Wedgwood on bass. The band moved labels once again for the album, this time to BTM/Arista, with the legendary Tony Visconti taking on the roll of producer. Pye Hastings is once again the dominant force throughout, writing all but three of the tracks. The album sets out in reassuringly traditional fashion with the upbeat "Feelin' alright" (no relation to other songs of the same name), which has the sound of the lighter Caravan songs of old. The song sets the mood for much of the album. The following "Behind you" tells a raunchy tale in the best traditions of "Golf girl": There could be no way I was going to stay with a man like that on my heel He was six foot four and could eat a door and his fists were like great blocks of steel But his wife was rude and it seemed so good to have fun while he was away While he lived in hope of the sale of soap, like the cat and the mouse we would play The title track is a slower ballad type song which finds Hastings in particularly melodic tone vocally. The dedication to the talents of the violinist ("Silver strings") is understandably a Geoff Richardson composition. It is not a great song either lyrically or melodically, the clever arrangement enhancing what is actually a pretty ordinary number. Richardson remains in the song writer's chair for "The last unicorn", a fine instrumental dedicated to Peter S Beagle, the author of a book by that name. The early part of the tracks which features strings is reminiscent of Stackridge, before a more familiar synth solo lifts the tempo. This track has distinct echoes of the great Caravan days, and shows the band still willing to work out instrumentally, at least on occasions. "Give me more" features some more of Caravan's wonderfully smutty lyrics. Who can resist smirking to lines such as "She's got ill repute, and an over-size foot, bad breath and drives a Mercedes" and "Though I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare, she said: "Would you like to touch?" (complete with female vocal), I said, "Very much"". The naive innocence of Hastings voice countered by the erotic screams of guest vocalist Vicki Brown only add to the fun. Keyboard player Jan Schelhaas sole compositional contribution to he album is "Man in a car", which he also appears to sing. The vocal sections are rather prosaic, but his bursts of synth are positively striking. The songs marks a change of lyrical style for this track and the remainder of the album, the nudge-nudge innuendoes being replaced by more obscure fantasy based poetry. "Let it shine" starts of with a slight country twinge before settling into a pretty orthodox Caravan pop song of the type the band would utilise more and more on subsequent albums. Guitar and keyboards duet effectively for the track's play-out. The album closes with "Nightmare", the longest track at around 6½ minutes. The lyrics here are particularly troubled and un-Caravan like, but at least have a positive ending. Richardson's swan-song on viola is superb, the track making a good case for its inclusion in any list of Caravan greats. In all, a surprisingly good offering from a less familiar Caravan line up. While some of the tracks point towards the pop direction the band would later pursue, those pop undercurrents were there even on their best albums; they are essentially one of the band's characteristics. There are enough reminders of the band's great albums here to make this a worthwhile acquisition for those who appreciate those releases. Despite a reasonable promotion effort by the band's new label, the album failed to find significant success. Geoff Richardson would leave within a year of its release to pursue a career in session work, and the band was once again in turmoil.
Easy Livin 3/5 04.09.2007 (PROGARCHIVES)
Caravan confirms their very good sense of humour, not only with the title of this album but with some other ones as well. "Feelin' Alright" is not really my state of mind when listening to this weak opening number and the poor and upbeat "Behind You" is not any better. Just a rock song with some funky rhythms. Not my cup of tea. The "Caravan" sound is back for the title track even if this song is more on the commercial side. Still the melody is fine and vocals are pleasant. One of the best numbers from this album (but there aren't that many). None of the tracks are dramatically bad but they are seriously lacking the freshness, the spontaneity of their earlier counterparts. I pretty much liked "Blind Dogs" so, it is not a question of era. More a problem of song writing IMO. I can't get thrilled with such a song as "Silver Strings". Things get better with "Unicorn", a dynamic instrumental track which starts sweetly and evolves into an upbeat jazzy part. The first half of this number is obviously the one I prefer. Most of the remaining songs won't be remembered for their creativity nor their brilliance. Average songs, no more. Some being really poor ("Let It Shine"). The highlight of this album IMO is "Nightmare". A lovely ballad with superb vocals, perfect harmony and a great violin section. "Caravan" as I like. But this won't avoid this album to be the weakest "Caravan" album so far. Two stars.
ZowieZiggy 2/5 30.01.2008 (PROGARCHIVES)
Better By Far is the eigth studio album from Caravan. Mike Wedgwood has left the band and in comes new bassist Dek Messecar. Both Cunning Stunts from 1975 and Blind Dog at St. Dunstans from 1976 where albums with good moments, but unfortunately also with some really bad ones. I rated both albums 3 stars. Better By Far is unmistakably a Caravan album, but sadly it has more boring moments than good ones. The music is more or less soft rock´n´roll by now and all hints of progressive rock are gone except for the only good song here which is the instrumental The last unicorn. Allthough I said this is unmistakably a Caravan album it´s a really uninspired one. The musicianship is good, it´s just too bad the great musicians don´t use their abilities playing good music. The production is allright. It´s in the same soft rock vein as the two previous albums. The cover artwork displays the typical Caravan humour but it´s not that pretty. Better By Far has been a great disappointment for me and it´s not an album I will return to in the near future. This is only for fans of soft rock. Don´t expect anything progressive on this album ( except for The Last Unicorn). Consider yourself warned. I´ll rate this 2 stars which is only because the musicanship is good and the compositions are as such well done even though I don´t enjoy them.
UMUR 2/5 08.08.2008 (PROGARCHIVES)
I like this album very much. I have a weak spot for it. And it doesn't matter how many times I listen to it, it stays fantastic. Maybe it is a bit less canterbury style than a few years before this one, and a bit softer, but it sounds o so sweet to my ears. There are many highlights, like the sing-along feeling in Feeling Alright and Let It Shine, the bass in top-form in Behind You, the feel-good dreamy vocals and guitar in Better By Far, the swinging silver Strings, the superb violin start and the bass-solo after 2.30 min of The Last Unicorn, the sexy female vocal screems (like on Pink Floyd's Dark side of the Moon) in Give Me More, the catchy keyboards from fellow dutchman Jan Schelhaas in Man In A Car, and the dreamy vocals, superb violin play and fantastic guitar solo on Nightmare. Give it a try and listen to it a few times, than you hopefully know what I mean.
Sander. 5/5 30.11.2009 (PROGARCHIVES)
I guess that Canterbury musicians charting the well-worn waters of pop music could be a turn-off for "fans" of Caravan's earlier work, but pop when it's more than pop is great. This is one of my all time favorite Caravan releases and I believe that the first side of this album is smart pop par excellence despite the dirty scoundrel unworthy of "sophisticated" music it makes me. Why do I like such piffle, lovers of Dream Theater? I like to look at all of "Better By Far" as a string of great melodies - they just kept coming up with them - that, being much more inventive than the average, place them above the realm of mere pop music, as a term that has been used in protest against this evolution of Caravan. Saying that, there is also a great deal of effort from all the musicians and a superior production by the esteemed Tony Viscotti, hammered into this album. We open with two numbers set in the pop rocker vein, they are completely and utterly simple in song structure but compensate that "flaw" simply by being pop taken to a near Beatle-esque level of catchiness. (Not that Caravan really sounds like the Mop-top mods, but I digress) "Feelin' Alright" and "Behind You", unbelievably, have verse melodies that match their choruses, which are more hooky than a Massachusetts cod boat, in terms of infectiousness. "Behind You", a would-be crowd raising chant of a number and a particular favorite, has a wonderfully sharp contrast between the verses and the chorus. I adore how the song goes from a 'happy stomper' in the verses to something a little more menacing in the chorus. (How can you not feel a bit threatened by a song whose overall message is "Slow down, boy, or they'll carry you hooooooome") The title track, I'm sure, is a guilty pleasure for many of those who claim to be fans of Caravan's prog work only. However, it's merely a pleasure for me. This song is one of simple ambitions with a meaning that is discernible as soon as that alluring guitar riff opens up the piece, however, despite a lyrical theme that has reoccurred in songs since many a bard has pledged his troth to the fairest maiden in the land, "Better by Far" is one of Mr. Pye's most seductive and melodic ballads ever. It is his excellent vocal performance, most of allr, that gets me so enraptured in this song. Pye is at his most humble and gentle but sounds entirely infatuated by a certain woman who he would want nothing more than to lay down beside her tonight. It never gets anymore complicated than that but in a simple three minutes, he manages to sound more convincing than the legions of modern commercial singers and teen stars who dedicate their careers to writing about something as trivial as love. Now, nothing else on this album really reaches the pure intelligent pop perfection of the first three songs but everything else is immensely enjoyable as well. The lightweights on this album, the adorable nursery rhyming violin pop, "Silver Strings", the light midnight waltz, "Give Me More", (With bad Claire Tory-like backing vocals in the chorus) and the very optimistic "Let it Shine", must have been a bane to many a proghead but once again, someone who appreciates brilliant hooks (like this lush pop loving yuppie author) will really dig 'em. Of course, I will agree that it was tracks like these that previewed the band's imminent decline in the eighties. "Silver Strings" and "Give Me More", especially, frame what was so grossly wrong with "The Album": Half assed genre experimentation that Caravan had little or no talent, promise, or interest in trying out. However, both of these aforementioned songs have strong melodies to save them from being utterly despised by moi, unlike several songs on "The Album". To avoid enduring the wrath of the long hairs, Caravan also manage to prove they still have their musical prowess and pen three fully worthy prog numbers, "The Last Unicorn", "Man in a Car", and "Nightmare". "The Last Unicorn", (Despite having a title that is somehow more fruity than all of the pompous song titles by Kansas, Rush, Supertramp, and Renaissance) is quite possibly the stunning sequel to "A Hunting We Shall Go" but much more compact and filled with more flowing violin majesty and less wank. The six minute "Man in a Car" is more in a much poppier style but is filled with spontaneous bursts of minimoog soloing after every chorus repetition. I would also like to give an honorable mention to the darkly gorgeous ambient bridge sections that are undoubtedly made even more luscious by Tony Viscotti's atmospheric production. The closing epic "Nightmare", is a bit of a stumble, though, it starts off with Pye at his most solemn, singing a really melancholic and desperate melody but by the third minute, the excellent melody disappears and in it's place is something more in "Adult Contemporary" vein. For shame. "Better by Far" is Caravan's peak as a pop outfit. I find most of the melodies on this album to be among the band's most inspired and it's an absolute shame that this album has so many unjust haters. Ah well, their loss. If you love inventive, inoffensive, idiosyncratic pop and don't dismiss a song for it's simple structure, this album is a must.
LionRocker. 4/5 03.08.2010 (PROGARCHIVES)
Bitter by Bar...
It's clear that Caravan were trying to enter into the mainstream area, but it was not their pot so the result is just another brit-pop album with songs who could have been performed by the Abba. Effectively the lineup contains just half of the original one and the composing skills at this point seem to be decreasing at each new release. This album is good for a ride by bus with all thess easy things in the background covered by the motor's noise. Nothing to pay attention to. The songs are not so bad to be disturbing, but they are totally empty. Before listening to anything barely interesting we have to wait for the intro of "The Last Unicorn". However its only merit consists in not having the brit-pop flavour of the previous songs, but it's not so good to save the whole album from its mediocrity. Another song that sounds good enough is "Man In A Car", and in general the B side is really better than the A side as it happened with Cunning Stunts, but it's not enough and even in side B things like "Let It Shine" keep the level low. This album is no more than a collector's item.
octopus-4 2/5 04.04.2011 (PROGARCHIVES)
Something about even this perceived poorer album `Better By Far' from Caravan still brings a smile to my face. I love the cheeky lyrics, wonderfully upbeat sound and energetic playing. There's a real infectious quality to this album that makes me proudly place it alongside their classic discs. Although some listeners may be a little dismissive of the fact that a lot of the music on this album is full of pop arrangements, this has really been a classic Caravan trait from even their first album. Think about it - `Place Of My Own', `Hello, Hello', `Golf Girl', `Love To Love You', and so on are all very much pop songs, filled with great ideas and wonderful playing, and there's still a lot of that same vibe present on this album. The band also seem very happy and re-energized throughout. Pye Hastings vocals have never sounded so confident, distinctive and full of character, and he seemed to be really pushing his guitar playing on this one. Drummer Richard Coughlin is all over this album, constantly dropping in busy drum fills and really driving the energy of the record. Jan Schelhaas performs endless `crowd pleasing' keyboard/synth and minimoog runs, and large parts of the album feature his wonderfully subtle electric piano playing. Geoffrey Richardson on violin steals all the dramatic and serious moments, and Dek Messecar's bass is always loose and upfront. The album kicks off Richard's pummeling drumming, a minmoog intro and pumping bass before properly launching into a punchy and up-tempo poppy number, similar to `Memory Lain' and `Headlong' off `Plump'. Very upbeat and hand-clapping chorus. Listen to Coughlin really bash away on this one! The energy present on this track pretty much maintains throughout the whole album. Abrupt ending though! `Behind You' is a very perky and naughty track, with some morally suspect (but quite comical!) lyrics, great catchy chorus too, and it's full of the band's usual humour and positivity. Killer solo in the middle, pure Caravan. Keyboards solos all over this track! "Better to have tried than never...than never to have tried at all." How cheerfully naïve and innocent! Sweet vocals from Pye and heartfelt lyrics on the title track, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on `Cunning Stunts' alongside pieces like `Lover'. Lovely synths and electric piano all the way through, far more understated and effective than drowning it in orchestral strings. Has a nice melodic and low-key guitar solo in the middle too. OK, so the `wanna make love tonight' bit is a little cringe worthy, but you'd have to be made of stone not to smile at the loved-up sentiment of a line like "I got a love, and I just wanna let it grow, a gift from above, telling me to let it show!" If anyone could sell that kind of sweet romantic ideal, it's Caravan! OK, so perhaps I'm just a wimp... Nice upfront bass on `Silver Strings' and some pleasant group harmonies, even if the song itself is a little schmaltzy and tacky. Even if it's trying to be more of a pop song, it's really kind of loopy and a little bent! Pye's "do-bee-do!" bits are amusing, but the middle chant out call bit of "yay!" is just hideous. Effective violin from Geoff Richardson in the middle, and it ends with a very quirky synth solo that gives it that very typical Caravan identity. Of course the absolute highlight of the album is the wonderfully atmospheric and stirring instrumental `The Last Unicorn'. It's a vivid title that conjures up all sorts of wondrous imagery, and all the band gets to shine on this. Geoff Richardson's grand violin playing sets a reflective and thoughtful mood during the first half, and then out out nowhere, the bass kicks in and it really takes off! Richard Coughlin's drumming is absolutely furious on this, and Pye lets rip with a wailing guitar solo. Proof that Caravan still had what it takes at this point in their career, and it's one of their greatest moments ever committed to vinyl. Bit of a classic. Despite wonderfully absurd lyrics ("I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare"!) and trademark Caravan naughtiness, `Give Me More' is a little sickly-sweet and let down by a hideous wailing female vocal in the chorus. There was similar problem with this on the previous `Blind Dog' album, shame to hear it again. Disappointing, because Pye's singing is actually really rather good, and the lyrics are frequently highly amusing. `Man In A Car' has a very slight country feel with smooth harmonies. A number of really quick minimoog solos throughout, with two very brief dreamy and atmospheric sections that make for a very pleasant track. The slight country sound remains for the start of `Let It shine', which has yet another catchy and well sung chorus, is well played and still recognizable as Caravan, but it's probably one of the most commercial and straight-forward tracks on the album. Perfectly lovely and forgettable at the same time. `Nightmare' is a little bit darker for Caravan, and probably the most serious moment of the album. Very restrained vocals from Pye through the whole track, and his guitar solo at the end is a real example of subtlety and precision without show-boating. There's a very moving violin solo about two minutes in with some nice upfront bass really heightens the drama. Despite the lazy fade out at the end, and the fact that the track still feels too short, it's finishes off the album in a grand way. So it's not going to ever be considered a classic along the lines of their first few albums, but I think it's still got more than enough interesting ideas, great playing and classic Caravan charm to justify grabbing a copy. It's the sort of album that makes me smile if I'm a little down or had a bad day at work, and Caravan is a band that has provided my friends and I with so many wonderful musical moments. Three and a half stars really!
Aussie-Byrd-Brother 3/5 18.08.2012 (PROGARCHIVES)
I have had hard to find this record. All songs don't exist on internet, neither on Spotify or Youtube. Yesterday, though I found the vinyl at a record store on Sankt Eriksgatan and I was of course happy. Another Caravan freak had expressed his love for this record and now I have also heard Caravan's eight studio record "Better by far" from 1977. The cover picture isn't very artistic but yet funny. The band seems to be enjoying a glorious meal in a castle hall on the front and on the back side the band has vanished. Caravan 1977 was Pye Hastings(vocals, guitars), Geoffrey Richardson(viola, guitars, flute, sitar, mandolin, vocals), Richard Coughlan(drums and percussion), Jan Schelhaas(keyboards and vocals) and Dek Messecar(bass and vocals). I really liked this record like I have been loving almost everything I have heard from Caravan. There is very much Pye Hastings here but you also hear other vocalists in "Silver strings" for examples. The albums doesn't contain so much prog glory but it doesn't make the music bad in any way. Mostly this record is lovely. The first two songs "Feelin' alright"(7/10) and "Behind you"(7/10) are intelligent pop songs, they're nice and not lame att all. The title track "Better by far" though is quite pale(6/10) even if I think Pye does an appreciated input. "Silver strings" then is original, has almost a disco beat, but also contains weird folk stuff(8/10) and the instrumental "The last unicorn" is the albums real pearl(10/10) with beautiful flute and a magic musical landscape. Then come two more intelligent pop songs in "Give me more"(8/10) and "Man in a car"(8/10). "Let it shine" cunfluses me when it partially sounds like a German schlager tune, but it also contains great instrumentation(7/10). "Nightmare" is a lovely closer where you are allowed to enjoy the viola, as always when it takes place(8/10). Don't listen to "Better by far" if you long for progressive music. In 1977 Caravan had been gone through a change to a less complicated music. Though I don't think that was a bad development, because Caravan still had a grand charm which I appreciate. So my rating for this record will be four stars, and I am thankful there's still a lot to exlore in the world of Caravan, and of course it's getting better for every time you listen.
DrömmarenAdrian. 4/5 05.10.2013 (PROGARCHIVES)
Would you believe me if I told you that our supposedly washed-out heroes from Canterbury actually managed to squeeze out one of the best pop records of 1977, of all years? Well, maybe you would and you should too, because despite what the critics or the chart statistics or the nerds at Progarchives will tell you, “Better by far” surely is better by far. Just like on “Blind dog”, all of the tracks are relatively short but I dare say that this time around they are also diverse and built upon simple but catchy melodies which will stay with you a long time after you turn it off. If anyone’s interested I can start with telling you that Mike Wedgewood was replaced by Dek Messecar on bass guitar, which may or may not have a part in the fact that the funk’n soul elements present on here are nowhere near as obnoxious or good-for-nothing as on “Blind dog” or “Gunning c u n t s”. No wait, get outta here, Ted Nugent! Because essentially, the word of the day is power pop of the kind Big Star and Badfinger popularized (and that Beatles, Kinks and Byrds originated) and it kicks you right between the eyes from the very beginning. “Feelin’ alright” sounds like a bona fide McCartney-penned Beatles tune circa 1965 and drags you with it in its truly uplifting catchiness and sets the tone for the whole record which rarely lets down this magnificent opening even a single bit on its way. “Behind you” showcases Caravan as fully capable of adopting a barroom rocker to their own harmful setting, and I can’t help but sense a striking resemblance to whatever hard rock bands like UFO or Whitesnake did around this time. Of course, Caravan wouldn’t touch metal with a ten foot stick but the vibe is there, man! The vibe is there! Not a highlight though, but essentially they pull it off. The lighter side of things are represented by the title track with a really pretty guitar line and the song itself could be seen as succeeding where “Lover” failed. Not overblown by some uncalled for soul gymnastics, just a mellow and humble ballad distinguished by said guitar melody. Even better in that respect is the folksy Kinks-like “Give me more”, greeting us with a neat whistling synth melody setting the scene in which Pye encounters a whore and proceeds to abuse her with certain bondage devices. Oh yes, you thought he had reached the limits of decency with that dog that was at it again four years ago? Forget that! His eagerness to show off his gigolo skills has only increased over time. I wonder if we’re supposed to draw any conclusions from the album cover? Or the orgasmic wailings of Vicki Brown in the chorus? Whatever may be, it’s still a nice song. As is the closing epic “Nightmare” that somewhat presages the lush symphonic indierock sound that Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips successfully would adopt in the 90's. I could easily see those fragile vocal deliveries performed by Wayne Coyne. And “Let it shine” which precedes it is yet another Beatlish pop tune, spiced with a Harrison-like guitar line that enhances its already sunshiny atmosphere. In the midst of it all we also have the strange funk sendup “Silver strings” that is done completely Bowie-style, which may be a result of the record being produced by Tony Visconti. The drums sound almost pre-programmed in the trademark ‘Berlin’ kind of way and the bass line is weirdly deconstructed, and over it all we have a minimalistic guitar pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Heroes” or “Low”. And what about the Traffic-meets-Supertramp, although less bloated, “Man in a car”, with its crawling pace and hazy psychedelic vocals? Man, this is one mixed bag! But I consciously saved the best for last in this review. Apparently, Caravan felt they had to reconnect with their roots somehow and decided to throw in an instrumental and slightly updated Canterbury tribute, and to pay their respect to the queer community, dub it “The last unicorn” (ok, that last part may be subject for speculation). And might I say, it ends up being their best instrumental number ever, as well as one of their best songs altogether! It’s simply breathtaking from beginning to end, starting with some gently strummed chords and Richardson’s contemplating viola (he is the author of the piece, by the way), leading into a beautiful synth/recorder break that out-Camels Camel in just a few seconds. And then it throws itself headfirst into a rapid jazz-rock fiesta a’la National Health/Hatfield & The North, where Pye fires off what must be his finest guitar solo ever. Then everything settles down into the opening chords over which a tear-jerking flute waves goodbye. I dare say that this is the single best song of 1977, even with albums like “Going for the one” being in the competition, and that says a lot! Its only flaw is that it’s too short. I would want it to go on for ten minutes or so, but then again, maybe not. The best songs always leave you craving for more, right? A prog masterpiece in pocket format, hands down! So it turns out that Caravan really was a force to reckon with after all, even in the darkest depths of prog degeneration towards the end of the decade, which some of the other giants couldn’t even handle. That speaks tons of their endurance and creativity, and not least of how they successfully managed to transform into a pop act instead of trying to force upon themselves some prog formula just for the sake of it. But on the other hand, they always had it in them, didn’t they?
dotoar 07.05.2011 (POLITEFORCE)
It's been a long wait for this album on CD - but worth it.
I've always had a soft spot for this album as it was the first Caravan album that I bought; back in 1977 on cassette. Since then we've seen several re-issues of the classic Decca albums but it has taken until now (2005) for this album to make it onto compact disc. This album is considered by some Caravan fans as too 'commercial' laying the blame for this on its producer, Tony Visconti. This is a little unfair. It perhaps doesn't break new ground but it still contains some great tunes, I find the title track is difficult to stop humming once you've heard it. It got somewhat lost back in the late 70s, as I'm sure some other good albums did, under the tide of punk and new wave music which was sweeping the music scene, so I hope that it will now get the attention and listeners it deserves. The overall sound is not as good as the classic Decca albums, but then Decca recordings from the late 60s and early 70s tend to surpass those from other recording companies, not just those of Caravan but also Camel and the Moody Blues to name just two; but it's pretty good. So well done Eclectic for this re-release, along with the two earlier re-releases of the Kingdom albums.
Mike of Alsager 4/5 13.06.2005 (AMAZON)
one of their best.
This review is from: Better By Far (Audio CD) It's easy to imagine this might possibly be their best album, but that's only because it came after a couple of duff servings (Cunning Stunts and Blind Dog), after which quite frankly the only way was up - the title does provide a reasonably apt description here. There's the usual line-up juggle, seems we can hardly tell Caravan, Camel and Dutch progsters Kayak apart as they swap members about continually - definitely a Caravan collection of songs, mostly from Pye Hastings with his usual whimsical sideways look at difficult love affairs with difficult members of the opposite sex, and some extra input from Richardson (viola player, later to join Penguin Cafe). A very well rehearsed and played album, none of the rush-recorded slapdash tosh from the previous 2 albums. A real shame they couldn't have filled the CD out with some live recordings from this album's line-up - their concerts from this era were an evolution - or included the BBC sessions recorded at the time of its release. Otherwise, great that it's out on CD again. Now we just have to wait for "The Album" and the final tour-de-force from the original era, and returning original line-up, "Back to Front" - another couple of excellent Caravan albums that rarely appear on CD.
F. M. Havicon (Brighton, East Sussex United Kingdom) 4/5 14.12.2011 (AMAZON)
This album bristles with exactly the same songwriting brilliance and instrumental dexterity that made 'Plump in the Night' such a tour-de-force. 'The Last Unicorn' is the band's finest instrumental track, bar none. 'Behind You' will stick in your head forever once you've heard it. The title track is a corking ballad. But it's the beautiful 'Nightmare' that crowns this album. Possibly Pye's best song ever, it is played sinuously and sung with a rare delicacy and emotion. Totally recommended!
Spencer Jones "Todd Bulky" (Exeter, UK) 5/5 10.08.2008 (AMAZON)
Not bad at all.
This one tends to get some unfavourable reviews - there are already a couple on here - but I think it's been sadly misjudged. Alright it may not be Grey & Pink but it still has a lot to offer and although very much of it's time the material is strong enough to survive the passage of time. Some of Pye's lyrics may be a little bit of a pastiche of former Caravan glories but the melodies are all in place and the playing as expected is off a very high standard And any album that includes The Last Unicorn can't be all bad - one of my favourite all time instrumental pieces it's filled with glorious melodic flair and twists and turns - there's enough in it's 5 minute plus duration for a certain Mr Oldfield to get an album's worth out of
Phantom Reviewer (UK) 4/5 13.06.2005 (AMAZON)
Caravan - the one and only.
Original British band playing their individual style of prog. Rock. The better side of a much maligned style of music which modern bands just can't seem to replicate. . .as hard as they try!
O.B.Have of Harlow. "Chaz" (Harlow Essex U.K.) 4/5 18.03.2014 (AMAZON)
look at it this way.....
....this isn't land of grey and pink. If (as i did) you buy this thinking your going to get more of the early 70's Caravan... you'd listen to this once and then never again. I bought this originally in 1989... listened to it once. Thought it was rubbish. Then....dug it out again 20 years later... and decided to try again. And it hasn't changed - so I must have. I now say "It is a good record". These days I listen to it regularly. Bits of it stick in my head and I find I have to put it on. It was always criticised for being more commercial...but there is a great deal of complex playing in what at first appear to be simple songs. If you like cunning stunts then there is nothing on this record that strays far from that mid 70's feel. Excellent use of the electric viola. Richard C is such an inventive yet no nonsense drummer. I'd happily recommend it. it took 20 years...but eventually I think I can say.... it was worth buying.
theconductor71 4/5 12.10.2011 (AMAZON)
x 5/5 28.07.2014 (AMAZON)
Another joke title.
I love Caravan's music but I'm not a fan of fandom so I know next to nothing about them. Consequently it's always a joy to come across a new album that I've not heard before. So, when this popped out a few years ago I snapped a copy up and awaited it eagerly. What a disappointment it was tho'. The vast majority of the tracks on this album should never have got past the humming stage of composition and some appear to have decomposed since the '70's. They range from the vaguely acceptable 'Better By Far' to the unlistenable (the rest of the album). You some how get the feeling that Pye & the band lost interest after the first 5 minutes and churned this out as a contractual obligation. This is truely an album with no merit and nothing to say. I'd give it 0 stars but you can't ... I now honestly believe that the title of this album is either deeply ironic or another joke like 'Cunning Stunts' - a far superior album BTW.
Fat Boy Fat "Gimme Pie" (Who cares?) 1/5 08.02.2009 (AMAZON)
This isnt classic Caravan, its not even reasonable Caravan. Its an insipid piece of dross. I`m not unhappy that I bought it as I own most of their other albums, but a little like Camel, Caravan have a couple of turkeys in their back catalogue that you really should only buy if you want to complete your collecton
MichaeJ 1/5 21.03.2013 (AMAZON)