Cunning Stunts

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Contrasting the clever spoonerism from which Cunning Stunts derives its name, Caravan are heard on what is arguably their most uninspired material to date. The effort is certainly far from a total loss, but nowhere nearly as creative as their former studio effort For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (1973) -- the likes of which sadly would not be equalled. Instead of commencing the affair with the aggression and spirit that informed previous LPs -- such as "Memory Lain, Hugh" or "Waterloo Lilly" -- which had christened their earlier albums, "The Show of Our Lives" comes off comparatively heavy and practically dirge-like. Caravan's trademark instrumental agility while perhaps temporarily mired, is not lost on Pye Hastings' uptempo rocker "Stuck in a Hole." Heavy-handed, superfluous orchestration -- possibly a residual effect of their New Symphonia project from late 1973 -- mars "No Backstage Pass" and the 18-minute "Dabsong Conshirtoe." There are a few trademark and at times edgier passages, especially during the "Ben Karratt Rides Again" movement of the epic "Conshirtoe." Still, the orchestration is too slick sounding, as if it were teetering on the aural wallpaper that is (gasp!) Muzak. Caravan enthusiasts intent on including Cunning Stunts in their collections should be aware that the 2001 CD reissue contains a few choice supplementary selections. Chief among these is an unissued take of "Keeping Back My Love" -- which would ultimately be reworked three years later on Better by Far (1977). Here the band definitely display signs and sounds of the Caravan of old. For that cut alone, the renovated offering can be sufficiently recommended. The other significant bonus track is a live "For Richard" recorded at Fairfield Hall in Croydon, England. Originally, it was included on the 1976 Canterbury Tales best-of, but makes its digital debut here.

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