Camera Obscura | My Maudlin Career
Most Likely To: cause one to stare out the window longingly.
It’s undeniably bad form for an older generation to grouse about the musical choices of a younger one. After all, it’s the way of the world for the damn kids to latch onto stuff their poor parents can’t begin to fathom. Still, it’s difficult not to declare that the current generation of whippersnappers–with their wholesale disdain for melody, instruments played by human beings and lyrics containing anything approaching insight and real emotion–is missing a boat the size of the Lusitania.
Why, back in this humble writer’s days in knee pants, people knew what to do when they were presented with a song containing those elements. They put the blasted thing on the radio, by cracky, and they made it a hit! Ah, to be a youngster again and unable to turn on the radio without hearing some sublimely heartbreaking slice of pop like “Walk Away, Renee” or “Happy Together.” Those were hits, junior! That’s what music was! Back then people didn’t settle for processed pop product like Hannah MonJonas, no sir! Hell, back then even the processed products were gems like The Archies and The Monkees! Back then, plaintive pop music with indelible hooks and singalong lyrics and heartstopping arrangements didn’t get consigned to a subgenre and tossed to a cult following to devour and be ignored by everyone else. Back then it didn’t get dismissed as “twee.”
On their previous album, the talented Scots in Camera Obscura graced the world with possibly the most magnificent non-hit of the young century, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken.” Granted, a response song to an obscure cult artist of two decades earlier probably would be a hard sell to any generation, but come on, you little brats! If that wasn’t a hit song, well, Dusty Springfield might as well have never been born and the Beatles shouldn’t even have bothered. It didn’t even break the top 100 in the U.K., where the cognoscenti are generally more perceptive about such things than their wayward offspring in the colonies.
Fortunately, heartbreak of every sort is the bread and butter of head Obscura Tracyanne Campbell. She eats failure for breakfast and loss for lunch and by afternoon tea has turned it into a sweet musical confection that sounds like the godparents of Scottish twee, Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame and Altered Images’ Claire Grogan, screwing in the backroom of a candy factory. Writing the best pop song one is likely to hear this side of Heaven’s gates and having it fall on a world’s deaf ears would cause a mope of lesser determination to give up and go work at Arby’s or something. Fortunately, for Campbell it’s just more inspirational fodder.
Campbell tweaks her image just a tad with the title track for My Maudlin Career, conceding the fact that yes, she does tend to wallow a bit in pathos. But from there on, it’s more glorious misery for the poor dear, and hurray for that. Ridiculously beguiling pop music flows out of her as she pines away in her fine, strong voice (reminiscent of Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorne), backed by swelling string sections and Kenny McKeeve’s guitars and Carey Lander’s keys.
At times, the proceedings veer a little too close to preciousness, most notably on the melody of “Swans,” which sounds like a children’s song that even Barney the dinosaur would find a bit cloying. Mostly, though, the album alternates between rousing and ornate pop songs like “French Navy,” the very lovely “The Sweetest Thing,” and “Honey in the Sun,” and slow laments like “Away With Murder” and the vaguely countryish “Forest and Sands.” Nearly anything on the album would have been an AM radio staple had it been released anytime between 1966 and 1973.
However, it’s the aught decade now, which means My Maudlin Career will be consumed by a smallish cult following and disregarded by everyone else. But what the hell, it’s their loss. And thank God, it’s also Tracyanne Campbell’s loss, which means she’ll continue to be hard at work turning it into pop bliss.
Listen to “My Maudlin Career” from Camera Obscura: