Saxophones and honey in the sun for you

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura albums have an unfortunate tendency to run out of steam after the first track. It’s not because the subsequent songs are bad—it’s just that track one is so brilliant that everything after it seems like a letdown in comparison. The group’s 2006 breakthrough Let’s Get Out of This Country had plenty of good songs, but all of them paled in comparison to “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” which kicked off the album with an orchestral splendor that single-handedly eclipsed everything that followed.

The group’s latest, My Maudlin Career, suffers a similar fate with its gorgeous opener “French Navy.” Thematically, the song is pure Glaswegian twee, describing a failing relationship with bookish lyrical references to dusty libraries and dietary restrictions. But the arrangement is majestic chamber pop, with sweeping swings and triumphant horns that buoy up singer Tracyanne Campbell’s characteristically deadpan vocals.

Nothing else on My Maudlin Career even comes close to matching the glory of the first track, but that’s not to suggest that the album doesn’t have its share of good tunes. The orchestral instrumentation is even grander than on the band’s previous offerings, transforming the humble retro pop of “The Sweetest Thing” into a cinematic anthem. But despite the instrumental largesse, the tone is almost always melancholic; on the country-tinged “Forest and Sands,” Campbell poignantly signs “I pretend that my heart and my head are well / But if the blood pumping through my veins could freeze / Like a river into Toronto then I’d be pleased.”

The album ends with the joyous “Honey in the Sun,” its majestically rising horns set to a thundering drum beat. Lyrically, it’s the near opposite to the rest of the album—Campbell attempts to will herself into depression, but is ultimately unable deny her own happiness: “I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew / But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you.” The euphoria is impossible to deny, and its placement as the closer is perfect, almost making you forget that you spent most of the album fighting the urge to skip back to “French Navy.”

My Maudlin Career is out now via 4AD.
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  1. By A roundup of published works on November 27, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    [...] from the Scottish pop icons. It’s backed with “Swans,” from this year’s My Maudlin Career.   Posted in Tracks, Updates Tagged Camera Obscura Post a comment ← Washed Out [...]

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