My Maudlin Career

I sit at my desk tapping my toe and bobbing my head as Tracyanne Campbell lilting vocals coo out “How many times have you told me you want to die?/How many times have you told me now that you’ve tried?” At some point it sinks in that I’m smiling away at a tragic tale of woe. That sums up the experience of listening to this Glasgow band’s latest effort and it continues the band’s legacy as purveyors of melodic broken-hearted pop ballads.

Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet voice and bittersweet songs find the perfect vehicle for delivery thanks to retro production that reminds you of Petula Clark or Dusty Springfield in their prime. Other influences abound, most notably Phil Specter on the heavily layered opening track “French Navy.” From time to time you’ll catch a whiff of Motown and, heck, you can even hear a bit of country rhythm in “Away With Murder.” Dramatic string and horn orchestrations (by Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John fame) emphasize the ever-present turmoil of the heart in Campbell’s songs, and no one uses a glockenspiel to better effect. The album is produced by Jari Haapalainen who previously worked with Ed Harcourt, The Concretes, and Peter, Bjorn & John.

Camera Obscura’s last album, Lets Get Out of This Country, brought the band its greatest success and laid down the gauntlet for the follow-up. Campbell stated that she was ready to return her focus to sad songs and she’s certainly done that on My Maudlin Career, not that you’d notice if you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics. Like other artists who signed with the 4AD label, Camera Obscura marries shimmering pop melodies with mortally-wounded lyrics. The music is so sweet and hummable that it is easy to ignore those dark storylines. Ms. Campbell and company are not above irony as demonstrated in the CD title. Her lyrics are full of grand displays of tongue in cheek comments delivered with a straight-face. It’s up to you to decide just how seriously you want to buy into the sturm and drang.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)