Album Review: Camera Obscura – Desire Lines

My falling for Camera Obscura was a whirlwind romance, some years ago. I heard them on John Peel on the Tuesday (Disclaimer: before we go any further, these dates may be wrong in my head), went to see them at the Water Rats in London on the Wednesday, and popped into my local cd/record emporium on the Thursday to get hold of the cd’s.

As with all long-term relationships we’ve had our ups and downs since. Camera Obscura matured and changed their appearance, first losing co-singer John Henderson, and the non-appearance on this album of trumpeter Nigel Ballie (at least on the trumpet). More than that though, the thing that most attracted me to Camera Obscura all those years ago was this pure, almost child-like indie pop innocence, and maybe in the contravening years I haven’t been ready to accept that they are all grown up now. Even in this album there’s tracks where I long for both Henderson and Baillie. But now they are smart, savvy and grown up, they wear their influences and emotions with pride, so we see this 50’s almost torch song, but also saucy (do it again), happy (Everyday Reality) bookish (fifth in line to the throne) but still fragile (This is love) and beautiful (break it to you gently)

The record opens with ‘Intro’ a little vignette (see, I learnt something from writing music essays at university) the strings opening out as if we were pulling back the curtain on Camera Obscura’s little world. It segue’s effortlessly into This is love (feels alright) a stately gem,  and one which heralds the whole album, Tracyannes lovely vocal, heavy use of backing vocals, and this sort of 50’s inspired feel. It’s a little gem of a song. Troublemaker, the song that follows, is a proper indie pop song. Again Tracyanne delivers a cutesy but brilliant vocal (but I can almost hear the metaphoric ghost of John Henderson on this one) and the keyboard dances over the track always in the background, but always present. I don’t know why, I think it’s the lyrics but this sounds like an answer to Morrissey – quotes of dying in the arms of a twenty year  old (there is a light) and William…(it was really nothing). Of course, it’s probably rubbish (my interpretation) but it makes me love the song all the more.

New Years resolution carries on in similar track, showing the band have lost none of their ability to songs that are instantly loveable, but its the next track do it again that really shines. It bubbles with happiness, with cheekiness even, as Camera Obscura embrace a Blackpool postcard tune. And its brilliant. In fact its the two real uptempo tunes on the record that really make it for me. Cri Du Coeur, which follows sounds like one of those 50’s torch songs, complete with castanets, picked guitar and all, before  Everyday Weekday brings us back to reality, the slight cuteness in the lyrics translating into the music, but without ever becoming tired or (and how could it ever be with Tracyanne, whiny). Again The Fifth in Line continues to tread this faux-50’s path, its slow almost end of the night smooch in the scout hut doesn’t get in the way of a beautiful song, Tracyanne seeking clarity, through the tears ‘If you want me to leave, then I’ll go / Do you want me to stay, let it show / do you want me to leave, let me know / just let me know.

I Missed your party, for me, is the slight weak link. The band had trodden a beautifully fine line through the murky waters of twee, and at the beginning especially, there’s just a little stumble. In the end though, that chiming guitar thing going on is enough to charm you. Break it to you gently is the other noticeably uptempo number, and see’s Tracyanne lyrical quality, as she regale’s us with the story of the dangers of having plans, certainly where love is concerned. It the chorus that fizzes around your consciousness before settling in there, as comfortable as if it had been there for ever, which is one of the strengths of the album. Title track Desire Lines is the album closer, laid-back melancholy and country tinged, it draws the curtains on the album, as the imaginary credits roll by.

We’ve had our differences, me and Camera Obscura, and we’re certainly different people than when we first met. It’s not a teenage (i wasn’t a teenager, but bear with me on this) obsession any more. It’s like a grown up, more mature sort of love. But, if anything, Desire Lines is a reminder to me of exactly how much I am in love with Camera Obscura, and the answer is, a lot.

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