(All Album Reviews by Levgan)
One of the most innovative and unique rock bands to emerge in 1970s, Carmen amalgamated highly complex and inventive progressive rock and... pure Spanish flamenco!
The sound of the band was largely dominated by David Allen's (not to be confused with Gong's Daevid Allen) virtuoso guitar playing - from ultra-heavy leads to some unbelievably beautiful acoustic Spanish-flavored passages. There is also a very solid rhythmic base throughout the album (including future Jethro Tull member John Glascock on bass guitar) and some incidental tasty spacey keyboards (including mellotron) thrown here and there. But what makes the sound truly unique is the prominent use of castanets and other traditional latin percussives that augmented the rhythmic background. Plus, two of the band members are even credited for doing "footwork" - Carmen's onstage performance included a fair amount of flamenco dancing.
So even at the first glance on the line-up you begin understanding, that Carmen is something very special. And the music greatly proves it! Most of it is vocal-oriented (Roberto Amaral has a wonderful voice, ranging from high-pitched harmonies to deep roaring), but don't make this scare you. The hauntingly beautiful melodies neighbor upon the accomplished constantly changing rhythmic patterns - one time you hear a danceable beat, be sure it will turn into a syncopated complex rhyme in a split second. Opening three-part "Bulerias" can be a perfect example of such spellbinding diversity within one song - it starts with rocking riff (which will later reappear in album's second three-part suite "Looking Outside My Window"), but then turns into an excellent Spanish-tinged part, where the simple, but outsanding bass line is accompanied only by castanets, "footwork" and some background shouts. "Stepping Stone" is Carmen at their catchiest - a pure romantic poppy tune, but progressively arranged (where are you mellotron fans?) and of course showcasing the great instrumental abilities of both Allen and Glascock. "Por Tarantos" is a feast for acoustic guitar lovers, while "Tales Of Spain" sounds like the most mellow, beautiful and, dare I say, introspective piece on the album.
The title-track is a true masterpiece - starting with a complex vocal lines, sung along a highly unusual somewhat jazzy patterns, but then turning into an unexpected upbeat funky jam with guitar blasts galore. After this part comes to an end, the opening melody returns for a while only to be interrupted by fantastic choral coda with Amaral's specific timbre on the forefront. But the climax of this great album is saved for the very end - an incredibly energetic "Reprise Finale", which follows the three-part structure despite being less than 3 minutes long. This is maybe Carmen's ultimate track - the first part includes the breathtakingly intense flamenco-styled rhythm, the second shows the most rocking side of the band (actually it's a reprise of the main theme from "Looking Outside (My Window)"), while the third part, with Allen's beautiful acoustic guitar fingering, sounds like a great reprieve after 40 minutes of sheer energy. Overall, this track sums up all Carmen's distinctive features and its three minutes alone can be worth million side-long suites.
After this groundbreaking effort Carmen gained a certain popularity (hell, even Ian Anderson was fascinated, when the band played some shows with Jethro Tull) and released yet a couple of nice albums in 1974 and 1975. Neither of them could match the genius of the debut album, though.