album reviews

Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career
4AD (2009)

Careless Love: Camera Obscura, 'My Maudlin Career'

Call it truth in advertising: Camera Obscura's fourth album, "My Maudlin Career" (4AD), is so chock-full of lovelorn breakup tunes that it totally earns the 'maudlin' in its title.

It's not too much of a leap from this Scottish quintet's previous releases, but there's nothing wrong with more of the same: why change a formula that works so well — especially when singer Tracyanne Campbell can find so many charming ways to bemoan her heartbreak?

Campbell sounds as though she sure is trying to turn her luck around; on opener "French Navy", she seems downright optimistic as she describes a chance meeting with a dreamy fellow ("You make me go 'ooooh!' with the things that you do"). Campbell still ends up alone in the end, of course, but the bouncy rhythms and swaying strings imply that the journey was worth the eventual heartbreak.

Campbell doesn't let herself get nearly so swept away on the rest of "Maudlin." It takes a more somber tone than earlier releases, a tone that is filled with a sinking feeling that there might not be someone else better waiting up around the bend.

Instead of the peppy sass that permeated 2006's "Let's Get Out of This Country" (Merge), these songs are laced with bitterness. "How many times will I let you get away with murder?" she sings on "Away With Murder" with a tone that's part coo, part hiss. (Campbell will never lose the brightness in her voice, but it's mixed with a weary dejection here.)

Part of why these songs sound so grown up is Campbell's shift from dumpee to dumper. She seems more in control of her own destiny, and the melancholy she feels is not just sadness at being newly single: it's the maturity in the realization that the relationship isn't going anywhere.

In "James," she describes an ex wanting to know where her love has gone, and she sighs, "I'm sorry, but it had no place to grow." Nowhere has she sounded more dejected than on "Careless Love": her realization that "I don't think that we can really be friends" is paired with the somber instrumentation of her fantastic bandmates and a heart-wrenching string arrangement.

"Maudlin" has a few more cheerful moments: the '60s-style pop "ooh-ooh" singalongs on "The Sweetest Thing" capture her anticipation of a date, while the horn accents on album-closer "Honey in the Sun" spice up her tongue-in-cheek longing for an unfeeling heart so she won't miss her beau so much. But even those moments don't offset the disc's overwhelming glumness.

Like all Camera Obscura albums, that melancholy is masked by Campbell's lilting voice, which makes the album all the more heartbreaking: if someone who sounds as sweet and innocent as Campbell can't find love, is there any hope for the rest of us?

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis

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.: Originally published: 20 April 2009.
.: My Maudlin Career on