Camera Obscura - Underachievers Please Try Harder

(ELE1104-2: 8428846211046)
Release date: 01/05/2018
Genre: Indiepop

TRACKLIST: 01. Suspended from class 02. Keep it clean 03. A sisters social agony 04. Teenager 05. Before you cry 06. Your picture 07. Number one son 08. Let me go home 09. Books written for girls 10. Knee deep at the national pop league 11. Lunar sea

Text written by Julio Ruiz.

(Musical journalist and critic. He directs and hosts Disco Grande radio show in Radio 3 (RNE).

The labor of diffusion and expansion in the Spanish market was made little by little. The credentials then used to introduce the band (something that now seems not to be enough to get the whole picture) were their geographical proximity and friendship with BELLE & SEBASTIAN through Stuart Murdoch. Those first singles started to be played in the radio and made way for Elefant‚s release of "Biggest blues hi-fi". Some people prefered "Happy new year", others "Eighties fan", some chose "Anti-western" and its male/female alternate vocals.

Their appearance at Primavera Sound Barcelona Festival served as a mere advance for what later confirmed in a tour with overcrowed venues (El Sol Club in Madrid showed a long queue of fans, the success with the highbrow audiences in Tanned Tin Festival are just two examples). Another fact for the records: CAMERA OBSCURA played more shows in this Spanish week-and-a-half tour than in the rest of their live career so far.

On those shows we started to relish those new songs to be included in this new album, which insists again in the keys previously displayed, now improved to perfection. That collection of flavors (British pop, acoustic intimacy, backing vocals, string arrangements, sixties sounds, country moods...) is present again in "Underachievers please try harder" (recorded between last year‚s April and December) again produced by Geoff Allan, that achieves to mantain a select and refined pulse in the album sound.

We shouldn‚t stop finding resemblances and parallel lines to those charming female vocals. No Harriets, Tracys, Nancys, Dustys or any French icon. Tracyanne sings like...Tracyanne. That‚s it. She is superb singing alone or when accompanied by John: both voices are so wonderfully pasted that it‚s difficult to think of a matching duet of today. She is also the main composer, signing the songs by herself or with John and Kenny.

The rest of the line-up(Gavin, Carey, Nigel and Lee) contribute to the instrumental brilliance, though there are also some additional musicians (flute, steel, strings...) which are part of the experimentation assumed by the main members in order to add more and more arrangements to improve the compositions.

The album advance is that true gem entitled "Teenager"; I‚d really want to know why the two songs in the flip, "I don´t want to see you" (sung by Tracyanne) and "Footloose and fancy free" (sung by John), two intimate moments only supported by piano and organ respectively, have not been included in the album. "Teenager" is from now on a new hit by CAMERA OBSCURA. It makes you think of a film like "The Wanderers", with music by Dion DiMucci or some other classics with beach-surf-tinged guitars a la "Shadows".

When the record start you may think it‚s Elvis‚ "Suspicious minds", but no, it‚s "Suspended from class", one of the best tracks in the album, no doubt it doesn‚t open the album by chance. Main virtues: John‚s second vocals, the female backing vocals -is it Tracyanne overdubbed or maybe Carey? And that full-blast ending, so typical of them. Superb production.

After another fragile, sensitive number ("Keep it clean") we enjoy the best vocal tradition à la RIGHTHEOUS BROTHERS or EVERLY BROTHERS in "A sisters social agony". They were all recorded at the same time.

The country touch, when John sings and he‚s replied by Tracyanne, is present in "Before you cry", another future hit we first listened in their Spanish tour. Again, the shadow of that glorious tandem formed by Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazlewood is conjured.

At the end of A-Side (vinyl version) we find the surprise of "Your picture" proving that some members of the band (namely Kenny) is fond of songwriter Leonard Cohen. Yes, it‚s easy to think of "Suzanne", one of the Canadian myth main hymns.

The flip opens with one of the tracks that was expecting to be delivered. It grows in crescendo till it manages to surround you (from LOVE to STEREOLAB or their contemporaries SALOON?), winning points when the guitar comes in to die in an instrumental climax. Close to "Number one son"‚s conception is "Knee deep at the national pop league", another of the lengthiest numbers in the album.

John sends us to the dancefloor with "Let me go home", a song written by himself, featuring refined backing vocals in the best tradition of the classic girl groups.

We also need to mention the intimacy and nakedness of another country-tinged track (featuring a delightful steel guitar) that is "Books written for girls" and the closing with "Lunar sea", another song of the same kind, featuring alternate vocals and written by John and Kenny.

If all this was not enough, look for the wonderful pictures (shot by Stuart Murdoch himself) of the female members of the band. Because of all this, from the sleeve to the content, I think we are in front of one of the best albums in 2003.

Text written by Julio Ruiz.

(Musical journalist and critic. He directs and hosts Disco Grande radio show in Radio 3 (RNE)

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