Glasgow might just be the indie pop capital of the world. Maybe there’s something in the water, industrial tailings in the Clyde that induce in the city’s inhabitants a preternatural talent for gently ironic lyrics and gorgeously melancholy melodies. It would account for how the Second City of the Empire produced not only Belle & Sebastian but also Camera Obscura, whose Desire Lines (2013), while not their strongest work, confirms their and their hometown’s reputation.
Despite their Scottish roots, Camera Obscura packed up and headed out to Portland, OR to record this latest album with Decemberists producer Tucker Martine. Much as I admire Martine’s previous work, however, I’m not sure he was the right choice to sit behind the console this time around, as Desire Lines lacks the sonic depth of both Colin Meloy & Co.’s The Hazards of Love as well as Camera Obscura’s own My Maudlin Career. So while “I Missed Your Party” features a rich horn arrangement and “Cri du Coeur” underscores its heartbreaking chorus with booming drums, everything ends up sounding rather flat. It’s especially problematic given that this is perhaps Camera Obscura’s subtlest set of songs yet, toning down the big, summery Phil Spector-isms in favor of a more wistful, autumnal vibe that requires a more sensitive treatment.
That said, Tracyanne Campbell’s songs—and her exquisite voice—are as achingly pretty as ever. Also as ever, her subject is love: physical, fading, and lost, her own and other people’s, always touched with a knowing sadness. You can almost see her smirking to herself as each new relationship begins, fully cognizant of the heartbreak that’s almost sure to follow. Take the following couplet from “Fifth in Line for the Throne”: “I have seen your deepest flaws/I’m ashamed to say they made me want you more.” Or “New Year’s Resolution”: “New year’s resolution – to kiss you like I mean it.” These and a dozen other lines throughout the course of Desire Lines demonstrate Campbell’s talent for articulating the myriad contradictions and disappointments of romance, both as a lyricist and as a vocalist.
One of those moments comes toward the beginning of the breezy “Every Weekday,” where Campbell sings: “We’re going to make a record/Then sail around the world/We might not storm the charts completely/but we’ll do our very best.” As it turns out, Desire Lines storms neither the charts nor the heights of Let’s Get Out of This Country, her band’s finest hour. But the sound of Camera Obscura doing their best is still pretty lovely.
- Music Video – Camera Obscura “Troublemaker” (thescenestar.typepad.com)
- Live: Camera Obscura At The Wiltern (thescenestar.typepad.com)
- Kieran’s Top 50 Tracks of 2013: 50 – 41 (enthusicast.com)
- The best albums of 2013: The critics’ choice (scotsman.com)
- 2013 Top Ten List Spotlight: Hans (kexp.org)
- World’s critics choose Top 20 Scottish albums (scotsman.com)
- 2013 Top Ten List Spotlight: Stevie Zoom (kexp.org)