Review of Camera Obscura's album 'My Maudlin Career' released through 4AD.
When Glaswegian folk-poppers Camera Obscura signed to independent stalwarts 4AD earlier this year, a few eyebrows were raised, possibly in shock, but also as a sign of anticipation as to where their future recorded output would take them. Although revered by the 'twee' community, Camera Obscura's folkier side has always set them apart from the likes of fellow compatriots Belle And Sebastian and The Delgados, despite the obvious comparisons, while their less than prolific release rate - 'My Maudlin Career' is only their fourth album in a career that spans over a decade - suggests they're not necessarily the easiest of bands to please, either from their own near perfectionist work ethic or record label's financial points of view.
Indeed, three years have passed since the release of their last long player and most commercially successful record to date, 'Let's Get Out Of This Country', and although last August's set at Leicester's Summer Sundae Festival hinted at a more pop-tinged direction, anyone expecting a whole album's worth of 'If Looks Could Kill' style Spector-esque romps would have been disproportionately misled too.
As it happens, 'My Maudlin Career' is possibly their most bittersweet record to date in that while there is a definite upbeat quality about many of the songs from a musical angle, lyrically Tracyanne Campbell seems to be at her most poignant. From the title track's self-effacing lament that 'My maudlin career must come to an end/I don't want to be sad again' to the various reference points to an ex-lover, mostly culminating in lines such as 'He said we can still be friends' on the charmingly disconsolate 'James' to 'Careless Love' and its erroneous refrain of 'I don't think I should see you again.' In the record's sleeve notes, Ms Campbell talks about the latter being about the end of an affair, and although no one is exactly favouring the idea of a messy break-up, the results are astonishingly heartfelt as far as the song goes at any rate.
It isn't all sadness and regret though; if anything, the album starts off on a similar vibe to the girl groups of yesteryear Camera Obscura obviously subscribe to in their panoramic vision of using the past to create the future. 'French Navy' is a shimmying exercise in how to make a wall-of-sound dancefloor friendly, while 'The Sweetest Thing', which features Swedish singer/songwriter Nicolai Dungen on backing vocals is the most obvious successor to past glories such as the aforementioned 'If Looks.' or grandiose sweeping statements like 'Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken'. On hearing these two incendiary cuts coupled with the dramatic urgency of 'Swans', which seems to have been built around a traditional Scottish folk lilt of a riff, it comes as no surprise to learn that Camera Obscura have once again employed the talents of Jari Haapalainen behind the controls, his vivacious approach to filling out simple melodies with expansive arrays of opulent sound having a distinguished effect.
The haunting string-led 'You Told A Lie', heavily influenced by Lou Reed's 'Coney Island Baby', is perhaps the most polished piece of solemn pop these ears will hear all year, Campbell's mellow strains just about to break as she delivers the parting shot 'I'm stuck with them, and they're stuck in you' as a final, disparate broadside.
All in all, 'My Maudlin Career' is possibly Camera Obscura's most accomplished album to date, and although there is a resonant air of melancholy throughout its eleven individual pieces, the exquisite mood swings and simplistic deliveries make for a quite enchanting collection that should enhance the band's reputation further, whilst continuing the mysterious cloud of enigma surrounding their somewhat sporadic existence.
A welcome return, that makes that Indietracks headlining appearance in June even more of a mouth-watering prospect.