CARAVAN: WATERLOO LILY (1972)
1) Waterloo Lily; 2) Nothing At All; 3) Songs And Signs; 4) Aristocracy; 5) The Love In Your Eye; 6) The World Is Yours.
For some reason, this album tends to receive a colder welcome than its neighbors on both sides of the chronology, and I still can't quite figure out why. I can certainly see where a pop lover would dismiss it — what with the album taking such an odd turn for jazz-rockish jamming and all — but surely prog fans should be overjoyed seeing the group, if not exactly return to the style of If I Could Do It All Over Again..., then at least capitalize on the more challenging aspects of In The Land Of Grey And Pink. But apparently, no, Waterloo Lily finds relatively few defenders on both sides of the fence, so go figure.
The first of the major lineup changes happens here, as Dave Sinclair (temporarily) leaves the band and is replaced by Steve Miller, a former session player with a good taste for jazz, blues, and folk. Occasionally, one might encounter the opinion that it was Miller who steered the band in a jazzier direction, but the only pieces on the album that are explicitly credited to him are the folksy-bluesy ʽIt's Coming Soonʼ movement within the ʽNothing At Allʼ suite and the sentimental ballad ʽSongs And Signsʼ, delivered by Pye in his sweetest falsetto — it does feature some jazz chords in its base melody, but does not really feel like a significant departure from the band's overall sound of the past. Nevertheless, it is true that he has a bluesier side to his piano playing than Sinclair had — in fact, his extended solo passages on the electric piano are often eerily similar to Ray Manzarek: I have no idea if he was a fan or not, but there's a dark, murky passage in the middle of ʽWaterloo Lilyʼ that seriously reminds me of the "Mr. Mojo Rising" part of ʽL. A. Womanʼ, while the solo on ʽThe Love In Your Eyeʼ is reminiscent of ʽRiders On The Stormʼ.
Still, the significant shift in style must have been a collective undertaking of the band, and one for which they really should be praised — refusing to repeat the formula of Grey And Pink, they tried their hand at something slightly grittier and darker, in all respects. Where the previous album began with the soft, simple innocence of ʽGolf Girlʼ, here the title track apparently begins with an invitation to a friendly brothel, and the music, a mid-tempo blues-rocker with some magnificent bass work from Richard, is suitably bawdy and menacing, with both Pye and Miller choosing some thick-heavy tones for their instruments — before turning down the shades, bringing down the volume, and feeding us a bunch of sleazy wah-wah insinuations. Sinclair takes the vocals, too, and it's almost as if he is atoning for the angelic exuberance of ʽGolf Girlʼ, playing the devil's advocate here instead. With relative success, if you really put your mind to it.
Most of the rest of the album is given over, once again, to two extended suites, one of which (ʽNothing At Allʼ) is completely instrumental, and the other (ʽLove In Your Eyeʼ) went on to become a stage favorite and arguably the only track from here to survive for a long time in the repertoire. It is not difficult to see why the former was forgotten and the latter became revered: ʽThe Love In Your Eyeʼ is pure Pye Hastings, all friendly humility and sweet melancholy, whereas ʽNothing At Allʼ, theoretically at least, is a jazz-rock jam the likes of which could be produced by dozens of British and American bands at the time. But issues of originality aside, it is a fine jazz-rock jam — Sinclair gives an unusual variation on the boogie bass line, Hastings gets a chance to show how versatile he can be with the wah-wah (or, perhaps, that is guest player Phil Miller, Steve's brother and a future member of Hatfield & The North, too), and there's a fine soprano sax solo by another guest player, Lol Coxhill, to complete the picture. On the whole, it might seem less challenging than the more avantgarde jazz experiments in 1970, but it works better: they concoct a thicker, darker, sicker mood with this approach, which also contrasts nicely with the unexpected break into Steve Miller's melancholic piano interlude.
As for ʽThe Love In Your Eyeʼ, it is essentially a lush pop song (replete with an extremely clumsy set of lyrics — "drink it down and do yourself"?, "mind in hand you'll find a way"?, "in dreams of you I wish a song on everyone"?, you'd think these weren't really written by a native speaker; if this was on purpose, I cannot for the life of me figure out what that purpose was), eventually turning into another lengthy blues-rock jam. The first section is great; the second one might seem superfluous after an already similar passage on the first suite, but yes, that's Caravan for you — the same accusation is valid for their masterpiece as well. Here, though, the benevolent and loving spirit of the «pop» part is in sharp contrast with the darker instrumental movements, and the composition fades out on an aggressive, turbulent jamming part, as if to suggest that Pye's post-Lennon "all you need is love in your eye" advice is not really working. Or, more likely, they just didn't have the strength to give the tune a proper finale (which is why you will probably find the best version of the tune on the live album with the New Symphonia, where it is obligatorily given a grand ending).
As usual, in between the lengthy pieces we find shorter, more «commercial» chunks that were, for some reason, not released as singles — Pye's ʽAristocracyʼ could have made a good one, with its energetic tempo, catchy chorus, and, uh, Englishness; surely just as good as any contemporary Bowie hit, even if Hastings has never been able to make himself noticeable as a vocalist, unlike David. ʽThe World Is Yoursʼ is another nice folk-pop tune, a simple and bright conclusion to the album after all the anger and darkness in the longer suites.
All in all, I don't really see how this record «interrupts» Caravan's classic run with a weaker link. It was an attempt to try something a little different, and if, in the process, it neutralized the band's identity for a little bit, all the searching and diversification more than make up for it. Unless you really hate long instrumental jams, Waterloo Lily remains totally accessible and paints the band as a highly competent outfit that could have easily competed with the heavy rock scene of the time, had it wanted to; it just didn't want to. Perhaps it is not as focused as Grey And Pink on weaving a fantasy land enchantment spell, but these guys knew how to sound earthy, too, and if they felt the need to outbalance their Golf Girls with their Waterloo Lilies — hey, I can totally understand them. Subsequently, a solid thumbs up here, and disregard the naysayers.