“The thing to remember about love affairs is that they are like having raccoons in your chimney.” So says Simone, a character in Lorrie Moore’s story, “Dance in America.” Simone goes on to explain that in an attempt to clear raccoons out of the family’s chimney, she and her husband once lit a fire hoping the smoke would cause the animals to make a swift exit back the way they came. Instead, they caught fire and dropped down into the living room where they darted about, charred and aflame, unto death. “Love affairs are like that,” Simone says. “They are all like that.”
This is a sentiment with which I imagine Tracyanne Campbell, the voice of Camera Obscura, to be intimately acquainted. Sweet, sweet heartache, that voluptuous delight so unlike all others: Camera Obscura’s stock in trade. On their latest, the aptly and wonderfully titled, My Maudlin Career, the boys and girls lock into a long, lackadaisical spin down the boulevard of broken hearts. It’s all about the joy of the lovelorn, melancholia as rapturous state of swoon. Raccoons, after all, when they have ceased to burn, leave such bright and warming after-images, traces of their flaming routes, long exposure memories that leave blurry streaks of colored light in the stead of sharply focused, snipped out moments. We get moments, of course, narrated with a mixture of remoteness and ache by Campbell. But with the passing of each song, as they build upon each other, all the maudlin musings and languidly sugared, classily arranged pop run together into one iridescent stream of pleasured longing.
First lines: “Spent a week in a dusty library /Waiting for some words to jump in me / We met by a trick of fate/ French navy my sailor mate.” And so the dance of romantic doom begins in a moment of, not novelty, but the genuine inspiration of an unforeseen event. “French Navy,” the song from which these lines are culled, is, along with “Honey in the Sun,” one of the moments of joyous exuberance which bookend My Maudlin Career. The video for the song, the first single from the album, pictures romantic meanderings around some of Europe’s most beloved (and be-touristed by lovers) cities. In one brief shot, we see the bearded beau with a cigarette jammed in his lip alongside (in an emulative act of mimicry) a photograph of Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s film, Pierrot le fou. A serendipitous little moment, the funny thing about it being that Belmondo’s betrayed Ferdinand (Pierrot) makes an amusing stand in not for the guy who wants to wear his cache of cool, but the woman singing the song about amorous bliss blossoming into ecstasies of suffering. Were there (is there?) a female version of the pierrot (clown for love, or, love clown?), Tracyanne Campbell’s starry-eyed, endearingly disastrous darlings, the voices she gives life to in the course of her maudlin career, would surely embody her time and again.
While, arguably, no track on My Maudlin Career is as immediately arresting as “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” or “If Looks Could Kill,” as a whole the album is their finest yet. Something like chocolate and goose down—though I’m not particularly sure what goose down feels like—on a rainy and dismal day spent home from work watching The Virgin Suicides. “This maudlin career has come to an end/ I don’t wanna be sad again,” sings Campbell on the title track, my favorite on the record. A momentary whim, whispered before the scars have healed and left a map of life lived breathlessly and boldly, a map of sorrows that rarely fails to please.
Video: “French Navy”