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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Camera Obscura: Desire Lines


1) Intro; 2) This Is Love (Feels Alright); 3) Troublemaker; 4) William's Heart; 5) New Year's Resolution; 6) Do It Again; 7) Cri Du Coeur; 8) Every Weekday; 9) Fifth In Line To The Throne; 10) I Missed Your Party; 11) Break It To You Gently; 12) Desire Lines.

Color me crazy, but I think that Desire Lines is the best album that Camera Obscura have re­leased so far, and, judging by the average weight of other people's judgements (fans rather than critics — some positive reviews did slip out), I seem to be alone on this. Apparently, people are getting mighty tired of Tracyanne Campbell and her schtick, and they have every reason to, but all this time, it has seemed to me that the band had been on a steady «learning spree» — starting out with pure atmosphere and then slowly, taking as much time as they need, studying the essence of songwriting and how to make your vocal and instru­mental melodies go not only in smoothed curves, but also in jagged hook-angles.

Some of the weirdest criticisms of this album that I have seen accused Desire Lines of «playing it safe» and being too «commercial» and «mainstream». Personally, I have yet to see «twee pop» moving into the mainstream and replacing Taylor Swift and Katy Perry — and for what it's worth, Campbell and friends have always «played it safe» from the very beginning. If what those criti­cisms really mean is that the album sounds too overproduced, or too reliant on upbeat pop rhyth­mics, or too happy, or too sugary, to me, these are not criticisms — rather, they are confirmations of the simple fact that, for once, Camera Obscura is making significant progress in learning how to become a regular, sympathetic, solid, tasteful retro-oriented pop band.

Here is just a brief annotated list of the best songs on the album and their main points of attrac­tion. ʽThis Is Loveʼ is a charming piece of soul-pop, driven by a memorable brass riff and featuring Tracyanne at her sexiest, as she has finally become confident of her voice and its modulating abilities — the "turn out the light, just give in to the night" chorus dances quite close to «gor­geous» territory. ʽTroublemakerʼ sounds like the greatest song that 10,000 Maniacs never wrote, what with that folk-pop ascending riff and the moody "I know what you were talking about..." cho­rus. ʽNew Year's Resolutionʼ is a little overlong, but the song's friendly, faraway fuzz riff and the way it always escapes from the last notes of Campbell's chorus is charming and captivating. ʽDo It Againʼ, the lead single, may be essentially an unpretentious tribute to Motown exuberance ("call my number, 26 and three-quarters..." is such a Motownish start), but it's a perfectly viable variation, endowed with its own catchiness.

This is already four out of five, and although the band still ends up running out of strong hooks by the time the second half comes about, this is already three or four times as much as it used to be. Yes, I think I can see the problem — much of the time, it sounds like Tracyanne has been placed on Prozac: where, in the past, melancholy used to triumph over happiness, now even the saddest songs sound like merry carousel rides (ʽBreak It To You Gentlyʼ may share most of its title with ʽBreak It To Me Gentlyʼ, but the way the singer delivers that chorus, you'd think there was nothing really to break in the first place). However, one should hardly rate songs based on whether they sound happy or sad — whether they sound smart or stupid is what really matters, and since there is no over-emoting or distinctive fakeness in the delivery, I'd rather take that sort of «mellowing out» as a sign of emotional maturity rather than «selling out». Tracyanne Camp­bell «sells out» the day she starts sounding (and looking!) like Lily Allen, which I could theore­tically imagine, but not without a brain transplant in the works.

Seriously, where the problem with those early records was excessive seriousness, this relative transition to more «major» moods, as well as lyrics that are less cluttered with useless historical trivia (because we all know by now that the band leader is quite well educated and astute), and actual attempts at singing complex vocal melodies rather than just breathing out same-shaped icicles, as far as my opinion is concerned, helps the band get more rather than less in line with their true nature and musical destiny. Bored I still was, occasionally (it usually always happens when they begin country-waltzing), but irritated — no, not even remotely so. They have solidi­fied their position as a good, if not altogether great, pop band, and who knows, if this tendency continues and it is simply a case of «late musical pubescence», we might still be in for a big sur­prise in the future. Well, not very likely, but then I hardly could expect anything of this quality after their first two records, either. Thumbs up, of course.

Check "Desire Lines" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Desire Lines" (MP3) on Amazon

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