The British band Caravan have one of those names that's been around for so long that we almost inherently expect that they must have split up years ago. Well, they've split up three times to my counting since their founding in 1968, but they're still going and their most recent inactive period was in the mid nineties. However, I remember them as a jazz-infused prog rock outfit, mostly from their albums of the early seventies, from If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You to Cunning Stunts, and that's not what they are today.
While there are three members who date back to those years, it appears that the sound changed considerably when original bassist Richard Sinclair left in 1992. The dominant force since then has been Pye Hastings, who has been the band's vocalist and guitarist since day one, and that means that Caravan has shifted away from jazz and prog to the pop rock that they play today. Given that I don't believe I've heard anything they've done in the last few decades, that was a bit of a surprise for me. Depending on when you last heard them, it may be for you too.
The difference is as strong as between Genesis albums like Foxtrot and Invisible Touch. Going from Supper's Ready to Land of Confusion is quite the journey and so is going from For Richard to Down from London, the opener here, which is a perky and accessible pop rock song, even with the initial lead instrument a violin. It's quirky stuff, not whimsical the way the band used to be, but quirky in a humorous sense, the lyrics a cautionary tale of a "DFL" visiting the country and literally shooting himself in the foot, so giving the locals a story to talk about for years.
According to their PR, the lyrics to every song here were inspired by the COVID pandemic and how it and the associated restrictions that it's prompted have affected society. It's not overtly political and that theme is not always obvious at all, but it's obvious in some songs, especially the touching Spare a Thought, which remembers those we've left behind, in part because some people denied the very existence of a problem. It opens gently with flute and violin and we know immediately it's going to be emotional. There is You is even more so.
While much of the album is enjoyable, much of it is also light and not likely to stay with us unless a melody gets under our skin, like that of If I Was to Fly, and it turns into an earworm. And that's not a bad thing. If COVID taught us anything, it's that we need to enjoy what's around us and that has extra meaning for music. It doesn't have to be clever, intricate and technically impressive. It only has to be enjoyable and this is enjoyable, even if we tend to expect clever, intricate and technically impressive from Caravan. For that, we need to travel back through the years.
It's not all vanilla pop music though. Wishing You Were Here has some darkness to it, even though it remains accessible. There's some continental sass to Ready or Not that makes the song notably sway. There's some depth to instrumental sections on longer songs like It's None of Your Business and I'll Reach Out for You. Geoffrey Richardson provides some neat flute in the latter but I loved it more on Spare a Thought; it starts the song out well but is even better later on.
So,to go back to that Genesis parallel, as long as you're expecting Invisible Touch, this is a decent album. If you're expecting Foxtrot, then it's not what you think it is, except perhaps on the three minute closing instrumental, Luna's Tuna, with some stellar violin from Richardson. That's it.