Thursday, 30 April 2009

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (4AD 2009)

This album begins: Spent a week in a dusty library / waiting for some words to jump in me / we met by a trick of fate / French navy my sailor mate before being glazed with handclaps and strings laden with walls of sound, just like Phil Spector would have wanted. ‘French Navy’ telling the charmingly naive tale of a girl trying to write but being distracted by love. I experienced this with my first listen of the album. Trying to write my own novel, I stopped typing, my fingers hovering over the eyes, and slowly I swooned and fell in love with Tracyanne Campbell’s dizzy head-in-the-clouds lovestruck voice as she guided me through eleven tales of love and woe and abject heartbreak. ‘French Navy’ should have been sung by Al Green, but it’s commanded beautifully by Campbell as the strings ache and swoon and swell around the nucleus of her voice. This album spans the length of a relationship (her career perhaps) as obsession and love and charming flirtation all mix to create a heady, literary attempt to document the wild rush and settling in of a strong relationship.

Campbell mixes childlike naivety with headstrong power and passion, innocent and eloquent in the same breathy stanza, poetic and earnest, almost like a confessional diary entry. ‘The Sweetest Thing’ is like the most joyous song McAlmont and Butler nearly nailed. Campbell's soft Glaswegian accent and delicate, nasal tones suit the fragility and naïveté of a he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not sentimentality. ‘Swans’ is rousing, stirring and almost country-ish in its execution, like ‘Away with Murder’, slide guitars duelling with strings. ‘James’ is quieter, acoustic, sadder, more direct and not like the dizzy swirls of sound that accompany other songs on the album. The centrepoint, it is both emotive and heart-wrenching. By the end, Campbell is nearly weeping, completely stricken. It’s aftermath comes in the filmic string-laden ‘Careless Love’, portentous about the end of an affair and its lingering memories: I've been really struggling / to think of you and I being friends / I blow hot and cold / yeah I'm like a yo-yo / so I don't think I should see you again.

‘My Maudlin Career’ is like a modern-day Ronnettes song, with twinkling pianos, crashing drums and the melodies that yearn and celebrate and pumps fists and thumps hearts all at once. Phil Spector, again, would be proud of this piano-twinkling display of complete powerhouse beauty. The soul that pervades this album is sometimes vintage Motown, and others vintage Spector but mostly a continuation of the elegaic music that Camera Obscura has regaled us with for four albums. ‘Forests and Sands’ marries a child-like travelling ethic with a stomping bus-rolling beat. It documents the distance between a traveller and their lover. Closer ‘Honey in the Sun’ finishes optimistically, hopeful for a brighter day, sunny and colour-drenched, despite the sadness that lingers in the cold dead lyrics. Though documenting the deepest depths of sadness, there is a joy throughout this album, a unifying rallying call of fist-pumping anthemic happiness beating in its epicentre. ‘My Maudlin Career’ is a bare-boned honest and startlingly well-put-together document of a relationship.


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