Release Date: Apr 21, 2009
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
My Maudlin Career begins in a decidedly non-maudlin fashion. 'French Navy's upbeat Phil Spector-esque echoey snares and strings accompany Tracyanne Campbell's excited introduction: "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." Like a hormonally-charged student trying but failing to concentrate on a dissertation, so the new love in Campbell's life is undermining her attempts to put pen to paper. However, she needn't have worried: her beau acts as the inspiration for a number of songs on the album - an album purely and simply about love.
Glasgow’s indie-pop geniuses paint another masterpieceFew bands can imbue a line like, “You make me go ‘oooh’ with the things that you do,” with much feeling and subtle emotion, but Camera Obscura could sing stereo instructions and it’d still make your skin tighten and tingle. My Maudlin Career is 45 minutes-plus of blissed-out orchestral indie pop, enlivened with classic Motownisms and overflowing with silvery tones as singer/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell unspools her lazy, entrancing croon and clever-cute rhymes across a night of innocence regained. Liquid-soul surf guitar and dreamy organ work are punctuated by tiny, chiming glockenspiel hits, wrapped snugly in a blanket of twee, placed gently in a Belle & Sebastianet and set afloat on the River Reverb, waiting for some pharaoh’s daughter to fish the precious little bundle out of the cattails.
On the title track of Camera Obscura's fourth album, My Maudlin Career, Tracyanne Campbell sings, "This maudlin career has come to an end/ I don't want to be sad again." As usual, she's being sincerely ironic. Camera Obscura fans will be pleased to know that she's still turning out maudlin torch songs with apparent ease. It is a record of the most immoderate sentiment: Thirty seconds in, on "French Navy", you've already got a dusty library, a French sailor, and the moon on the silvery lake.
If Camera Obscura's jump from Merge (and Elefant) to 4AD had you worried, or if you had a nagging suspicion that the switch was some kind of cynical career move and that they might change from being a small band with a knack for creating small moments of transcendent beauty and emotion to bland major-label-styled product (not that 4AD is any more "major label" than Merge in 2009, but they do seem more like big business somehow), well, you can relax now. The only thing that's changed is that the band appears to have hired fancier stylists for their photo shoots. My Maudlin Career is almost an exact copy of their previous album Let's Get Out of This Country, from Jari Haapalainen's echo-ey, layered production to the mix of ballads and uptempo songs to the preponderance of strings and the unflinchingly honest lyrics.
Twee Glaswegian indie rockers, distinguished from neighbours Belle and Sebastian by prioritising the romantic over the clever. Cue lavish strings and a little more bite to their songs of heartache. This, their fourth album, feels like a breakthrough, more polished and poised to build on cult 2006 single Lloyd, Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? .
2009 is shaping up to be the year of pop/rock parsimony. Many of the creative departures one might have anticipated in this time of sociopolitical uncertainty have failed to appear. This lack of adventure is not necessarily a barrier to greatness, though it might add up to frustrated expectations surrounding much of the year’s strongest work so far.
There’s an awful lot of music out there; too much music in fact. Seeing as albums are currently released at a rate roughly equivalent to three a day, it’s impossible to listen to and digest them all. This is clearly a shame as it means that the album that could change your life will never reach you or what you would deem an absolute, undisputed masterpiece will forever be consigned to the bargain bin.
On their past three albums, Camera Obscura could be called a lot of things, but “happy,” “chipper,” and “sunny” weren’t any of them. Musically they might sound upbeat, but the Glasgow band is pre-eminently concerned with love lost, disappointment and opportunities for love being missed, and about always being prepared for a broken heart. The group’s sublime fourth album, My Maudlin Career, is their darkest.
“I wanted to control it, oh love I couldn’t hold it” are the words that Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell sings to kick off the Glasgow band’s fourth album, My Maudlin Career. With such romantics in place and expanding on the right balance of lush pop and sweeping strings, it’s hard not to hold back. These traits carry a precocious talent in the fact that they’re never off-putting but in reality, strikingly wonderful.