“Decent material, often trampled by shoehorning in flamenco motifs, fancy footwork and an over-the-top macho swagger”: Carmen’s The Albums collection

Three-disc retrospective illustrates the promise of a mid-70s band supported by David Bowie and Tony Visconti

Carmen – the Albums
(Image: © Esoteric)

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

If there’s ever going to be a movie biopic of 70s Anglo-American outfit Carmen, the pitch would be: ‘flamenco music and dancing meets progressive rock.’ Although viewed as a musical oddity, they were befriended by David Bowie; and their first two albums, Fandangos In Space (1973) and Dancing On A Cold Wind (1974) were created with the services of producer Tony Visconti.

While mixing different styles and genres was key to achieving their sound, Carmen don’t just rely on founder David Clark Allen’s fearsomely precise guitar to do the job, but also import flamenco’s signature hand-clapping, the percussive foot-stomping and numerous rousing cries of ‘Olé!’ into the mix.

Allen’s admiration for prog contemporaries including Yes and Genesis is detectable in the writing as Mellotrons, Moogs and a penchant for dramatic contrasts make their presence felt. While this gives his band many opportunities to showcase their obvious instrumental prowess, the vocals often come with an over-the-top macho swagger that feels somewhat anachronistic today.

With the chorus ‘She’s a shady lady and she make you cry... she’ll tell you lies,’ it’s as lame as it sounds

Having parted company with Visconti, their third album from 1975, The Gypsies, continues in much the same vein; though there are some shifts toward a more commercial mainstream direction. Come Back wilts under the weight of cheesy hooks while Shady Lady – with the chorus ‘She’s a shady lady and she make you cry... she’ll tell you lies’ – is as lame as it sounds.

Despite high-profile support slots with the likes of Jethro Tull (whom Carmen bassist John Glasscock would go on to join), the band hung up their castanets due to dodgy management and public indifference.

While there’s some decent material on those three albums – all contained within Esoteric’s traditional clamshell packaging – it’s often trampled by their insistence on shoehorning various flamenco motifs and thunderously fancy footwork into the songs whether they need it or not, making such inclusions overbearing, gratuitous and, ultimately, too much of a gimmick.

The Albums 1973-1975 is on sale now vie Esoteric.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.