Released: April 21, 2009
By: Andrew Reyna
My Maudlin Career, the fourth full length LP from Glasgow's Camera Obscura, is properly titled. On My Maudlin Career, lead-singer Tracy-Anne Campbell explores themes of mawkish and confused sentiment, lamenting over the difficulties of entering young adulthood. Camera Obscura was a band birthed in the idea of attempting to reincarnate 1960's pop music into modern indie-pop perfection. On My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura are successfully able to combine elements of 1950's and 1960's girl group vocal aesthetics with the musical styling of alt-country acts such as Wilco and Calexico along with the chamber-pop sensibility of fellow Glasgowians, Belle and Sebastian. While the comparisons to Belle and Sebastian have been overplayed, it's difficult not to take notice of the similarities. Both bands have an undeniable knack for creating almost annoyingly clever and catchy songs, both are fronted by clever, introverted, and charming indie icons, and both bands have been known to shy away from media attention. The one aspect that separates Camera Obscura from Belle and Sebastian is the lyrical styling. Tracy-Anne Campbell more than often takes the straightforward (but not necessarily literal) approach to songwriting in contrast to Stuart Muerdoch's metaphorical and tongue-in-cheek style.
"French Navy", the lead track off My Maudlin Career, is the perfect example. Campbell sings "I was criticized for letting you break my heart/I'm fully grown but I'm on tenterhooks with the looks". With that, the theme of the album is set. While Campbell, or at least the protagonist of the album, feels like they have come into their own as a young adult, they still find themselves in familiar relationship situations commonly associated with adolescence. Remind you, not the blissful and infatuated "I will always love you" moments, more like the "I wish I had never met you" moments, moments which are usually coupled with the pain of wanting to find something definite and finite. "My Maudlin Career" and "James", two of the strongest tracks on the album, further reinforce this theme. Any other band that would attempt to make this type of record would fail. Take the track "Careless Love", where strings take the forefront of the musical arrangement, a common practice, but one that often swallows the rest of the arrangement, taking away the elements of what makes a particular artist sound unique. That is why this album works so well, Camera Obscura still sound like Camera Obscura even when they are expanding on their sonic template. The importance of Campbell’s vocals cannot be stressed enough, her vulnerable and tender voice has never sounded more sincere, allowing the listener to empathize with the narrative being told. "James", the most beautiful track on My Maudlin Career, is musically and lyrically simple, yet Campbell's voice seems to make the emotion something tangible. At first listen, you are not entirely sure whether Campbell is the one doing the hurting or the one that is being hurt, but it does not matter so much, especially since the common thread from both points of view is the longing for a better time that is now past.
The album closer, "Honey in the Sun", works like a summary of the themes at play. While the protagonist has not fully escaped adolescence, they have come to understand that their best days are still ahead. Campbell seems to understand that while there is almost always the desire to escape the confines of youth, that feeling is almost always reciprocated later in life, when the complexities and burdens of adulthood lead to the longing for a return to the simplicity of youth.