Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career

[4AD; 2009]

Styles:  pop
Others: Phil Spector, The Crystals, The Sundays, The Smiths

At the beginning of their career, Camera Obscura garnered numerous comparisons to fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian. The comparison was well-warranted on Underachievers Please Try Harder, the band’s debut full-length, but with 2006’s Let’s Get Out Of This Country, they side-stepped any assumptions of what a follow-up album should be by fleshing out its sound with a swimming pool of reverbed guitars and Phil Spector-esque arrangements. Even if every song on that album wasn’t a winner, it was clear that tracks like “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” “Tears For Affairs,” and “I Need All the Friends I Can Get” were, for all intents and purposes, blueprints of a new direction.

On the latest Camera Obscura album, My Maudlin Career, the band assumes full control over that new sound by cramming it with winning songs and arrangements, front to back. It’s the stuff of indie pop dreams, the kind built on the backs of Rough Trade stalwarts such as The Smiths and The Sundays, only with more emphasis on the booming percussion and deft strings of Spector’s classic Wall of Sound production.

My Maudlin Career begins with one of the strongest points in Camera Obscura’s career to date, “French Navy,” a song about unsuccessfully trying to control a love with a sailor. The arrangement is lush with strings, cruising along at a faster pace than most Camera Obscura tracks (“Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” being an exception). The album’s title track is also a highlight, with painfully awkward romantic sentiments set to tinkling piano and a backing track that veers toward waltz territory.

As on Let’s Get Out Of This Country, Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals have again been rightly placed at the forefront of the songs, coming off as more beguilingly confident than ever before. It's the reason why tracks like “Other Towns and Cities,” which features Campbell accompanied solely on an electric guitar, work so wonderfully. She's proven herself as an especially intriguing lyricist with naught more than a little of the spark that makes Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch so appealing to this day by combining humor with a dose of the macabre.

My Maudlin Career may not be the kind of album that breaks new ground or does anything particularly forward-looking musically, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for with intelligent pop hooks and some of the loveliest string arrangements of recent memory. Besides, I’m not looking to Camera Obscura for the most out-pop experience anyway: in the way of modern pop -- and especially indie pop -- it’s hard enough to come by an album as solid and as worthy of praise as My Maudlin Career.

1. French Navy
2. The Sweetest Thing
3. You Told A Lie
4. Away With Murder
5. Swans
6. James
7. Careless Love
8. My Maudlin Career
9. Forest And Sands
10. Other Towns And Cities
11. Honey In The Sun

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