REVIEW: Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Zach Hart Friday, April 24, 2009
maudlin (adj.)--tearfully or weakfully emotional; foolishly sentimental
Forgive me for the definition. I know this isn't school time here. And believe me, I've only opened with a definition once before on anything. Whether or not you know the meaning of the word it's helpful to glare at it a few times…just to get it to stick. In the context of Camera Obscura, maudlin is quite a perfect word both telling of the band itself and their newest album: My Maudlin Career.
Camera Obscura consistently goes for the tear ducts and heart strings with their songs but the album titles have just as much of an impact. Let's Get Out of This Country, Underachievers Please Try Harder, and Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi are all titles that give off some sort of air of sadness and mediocrity--one that the band seems to want to escape but never manages to get out of. Hell, if you've even seen them live you will have noticed that Tracyanne Campbell never really looks that cheerful. Thematically My Maudlin Career is a perfect title. There is no trying harder and no getting out. This is Camera Obscura doing what they do--and, happily enough, at their best.
Opener “French Navy” is a fantastic track. At first it may seem like an awkward step with its talk of sailors and dietary restrictions but becomes a love song--one that perfectly fits the old fashioned styling of Camera Obscura. Something the band should be continuously praised for is their sound. You can listen to every song and get the feel like you are taken back to the fifties or sixties. Slow jams that would be played at your mother's prom. “French Navy” feels like a refreshing day at the beach in a striped swimming costume. Camera Obscura's sound transcends it's vintage feel into the realm of new and fresh.
I'm sure many people caught onto the band's charm with Let's Get Out of This Country. The album is incredible and contains what are easily some of the band's most “single-worthy” songs. There is nothing wrong with digging the bubblier, happier side but strip away the pop charm of those songs and you have some real heartbreak. My Maudlin Career doesn't bullshit around with that kind of stuff. The problem with Let's Get Out… was that the pacing. You would go from a dizzying, cheerful song into a slower ballad making song transitions harder and inspiring a lot of track skipping. Here you have one hit after another. My Maudlin Career crafts the perfect balance between the band's signature pop sounds into their delicately crafted ballads of the heart. Songs beat, gush, and pulse with emotion. Even in its most maudlin of tracks like “James” and “Careless Love” the feelings weigh you down; yet they never take a toll on the impact and enjoyment of the song itself.
Catharsis is something that people experience from various types of songs and artists. My Maudlin Career is one of those albums that you can connect with if you have experienced the highs and lows of love. Yeah, it may seem somewhat cliché but as you listen it becomes clear. This album is tightly packed with songs that want to be held and loved and cherished. Camera Obscura presents you with eleven three to six minute slices of the heart. My Maudlin Career is an album of strengths, not weaknesses. The weaknesses here are ones that everyone has felt at some point in their life and set to beautifully crafted music.
It is hard for me to really fault this album at any point. One of its strongest points is that it is paced out so damn well. The album doesn't hit a snag the entire time. One might think with the lack of a “Llyod, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken” or “If Looks Could Kill” time of track things would get boring but that just isn't the case. Even on the slower songs you soak up the lyrics and tap your feet to the slow beat. If I was to complain about something it might be that the album doesn't show a definite straying from what Camera Obscura has established through this sentimental career of theirs. This is not to say that I am begging for a hard rock song or a synthesized romp--it would just be interested to see what they could do outside of their comfort zone.
As for my favorite hits from the album? The top spot goes to “The Sweetest Thing”. Everything that makes Camera Obscura a great band is packed into here: their vintage sound, sweeping music, beautiful vocals and overall enjoyment. “James” is a tear-jerker. The line “Oh James, you broke me, I thought I knew you well” gets me every time. It is powerful stuff. “French Navy” and “Honey in the Sun” aren't my favorites but they are fantastic bookends to the album. They deliver the hooks and pop that made up the best hits from the band's previous album. When it comes to having the title track in their album for the second time, Camera Obscura does not disappoint. “My Maudlin Career” is a great track with all the sadness and plinking of piano keys you could want delivering the lines “This maudlin career has come to an end/I don't want to be sad again”. And from what My Maudlin Career has given, one can only hope that sad or not, Camera Obscura will keep putting out fine works likes this with no end in sight, I love them too much to let them go so soon.