Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

My Maudlin Career


Don’t let the title deceive you; Camera Obscura’s My Maudlin Career is as fresh and invigorating as a first intake of spring air after a long, cold winter. The sort of addictive album that reaffirms one’s love of music, this release — the first for 4AD and fifth overall — will be on a lot of “best of” lists at year’s end.

All one really needs to know about the new Camera Obscura disc can be found in the remarkable video for its first single, “French Navy.” Seemingly shot in 1966 or thereabouts, it captures a whirlwind relationship from start to finish. Two young lovers — one presumably a French sailor on leave — traipsing about Europe, hand in hand, until the inevitable. Breezy, romantic, a little fatalistic; this great look and greater sound coming from Scotland somehow manages to be simultaneously classic and ultramodern.

For those unfamiliar with Camera Obscura’s signature, imagine Burt Bacharach or Tony Hatch producing a 16 Lovers Lane-era Go-Betweens record — after hanging out with Owen Bradley for a weekend. For My Maudlin Career, the group once again turned to Sweden’s pop maestro, producer/Bear Quartet guitarist Jari Haapalainen (Peter, Bjorn & John).

Great ’60s reverb jazz-meets-’60s reverb country guitar, a versatile rhythm section, keyboards ranging from piano to organ — and, more often than not, a fantastic string section and/or horn trio appears at just the right moment in these brilliant arrangements. Oh, and there’s the vocalist/lyricist, whose dreamy, wistful voice is not dissimilar to Tracey Thorn’s. However, Thorn’s pop stylings are a bit more more modern; delightfully, Tracyanne Campbell sounds and writes as if her mother played her a lot of Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark records while in the womb.

One of this new album’s extraordinary aspects is the frequency in which the band crosses the Channel, and the pond. Tucked amongst all those touches of Euro-pop and Brit-pop are compelling tidbits of Americana, both of the musical and lyrical variety. “From Chicago to Cleveland, you made me pay,” Campbell claims in “The Sweetest Thing.” In the next offering, “You Told A Lie,” Italian-style strumming and shimmering strings are foisted upon a western swing rhythm. The melancholy “Careless” could almost be mistaken for a Patsy Cline cover, the even more lushly sorrowful “Forest and Sands” resembles an updated page from crossover legend Skeeter Davis’ songbook.

Eleven stops on a sonic rollercoaster that careens from sparse and brooding to majestic, merely introspective, and even exuberant. The finale, “Honey in the Sun,” is a rump-shaker of a send-off, and “French Navy,” the opener — it might be this year’s “1, 2, 3, 4,” — the kind of pop-perfection that ad campaigns are built around.

There are no real departures from previous works to be found here. What the Camera Obscura fan will find in My Maudlin Career is an enhanced version of the sonic candy that drew them into the fold in the first place. This CD is the most cohesive, inviting, and complete offering they’ve served up to date; their earlier discs were mere appetizers. The Glasgow wonders are in top form here, and this album should provide for the sort of world-conquering they’ve deserved. A maudlin career? Hardly.

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