“DD Review: Camera Obscura – Look to the East, Look to the West.”

Score: 1/10

Camera Obscura were kind of the darlings of the indie scene circa 2007, with their breakthrough LP Let’s Get out of This Country still standing as a classic in cutesy, steel-guitar-laden folk-pop. In fact, this LP helped them score a big deal with Merge Records, judging by the concurrent events. 

And that, I think, is part of the problem — despite the prevailing logic that these indie labels would foster ingenuous artistic creativity, we’ve seen, as in the case of Matador’s boorish handling of Cat Power (one of the greatest songwriters of this century), this unconscionable impetus for a “commercial hit.” (Not insignificantly, it’s pretty much inconceivable for a British label to stoop to such lameness.) This new Camera Obscura effort is pretty much a quarterly fiscal action plan from a bunch of tattooed white dudes in The North Face gear. 

Ok. The first problem is the programmed drums. This is a band that, when at their best, made their calling card warm, hearty folk rock, the stuff for cuddling up with in a cabin in West Virginia with a mug of hot chocolate. The ambition for commercial success, wielded, presumably, by the record label, but abided, of course, by the band themselves, has sucked all the life out of this band. And Tracyanne Campbell’s offensive, inane, antiquated declaration of “We’re gonna make it in a man’s world” does anything but help, although this probably is the best tune on the album, with its repeated chorus actually snowballing up something remotely resembling tension. By track four, this album was so flaccid I had to stop listening to it. It was like Antony and the Johnsons covering Bette Midler. 

I’m not really sure what’s going on in Scotland or what’s up with Tracyanne Campbell, why she’d oversee such a worthless enterprise here, but the situation is certainly cause for concern, this being the outfit that once gave us the timeless, indefatigable “Razzle Dazzle Rose.” The conclusion I’m left to draw is that ye olde land of Trainspotting, in all its moral stature, is hopelessly inept at nurturing artists and providing them with resources such a studio to record in, which would then alleviate them of their stifling marriage to Merge Records, theoretically. With Sub Pop, we’ve likewise observed a ham-handed artistic rule over artists, the type of thing that, when abandoned, can really springboard a group into another level. It’s like what Robby Krieger said: “The warden was gone.” 


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