Thursday, January 2, 2014

Camera Obscura - "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" (LP Review)

Several years ago I rated Camera Obscura's "Let's Get Out of This Country" a perfect 10, and the perfection of that LP overshadowed the two previous LPs (I didn't discover the band until 2009).  Now that I've had some time to reflect on it, I have to say their 2001 debut LP "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" is awfully good in its own right.  Not as good as LGOOTC but still pretty good, and as I've said before: the iTunes play counts don't lie.

This LP doesn't offer the same variety of musical styles that LGOOTC presented, but they completely lock down the genre of "pop music for adults"*.  I think there is a rule that any discussion of Camera Obscura has to mention fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian.  While I recognize that Belle & Sebastian were first in this genre, but for my money Camera Obscura is a lot more enjoyable. 

One difference between this LP and LGOOTC is that although singer/songwriter/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell was still the center of the band, John Henderson (vocals/percurssion) was featured more prominently, in both duets ("Swimming Pool", "Anti-Western", "Double Feature") as well as lead vocals ("Houseboat").  Henderson left the band in 2004 and the supporting male vocal role was taken up by Kenny McKeeve, but in a diminished capacity relative to what we see in their first LP.  I love Tracyanne, but  Tracyanne & John both singing is pretty hard to beat.

In a perfect world, Camera Obscura would be a hugely successful band and "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" would be in the CD collection of every NPR listener under 50.  Not convinced?  Look at the cover art again, and then listen to the song "Double Feature":
Close comes this winter
Summer is no longer
And things, they seem much bleaker
We'll see a Catherine Deneuve double feature

TC: And our lives
JH: (Double feature, you will survive)
TC: will fade
JH: (Last forever so rest your eyes)
TC: as in darkness
JH: (Play with words when we cannot sing)
TC: we will bathe
JH: (This double feature means everything)
The question you should be asking yourself is "Why isn't Catherine Deneuve in dozens of pop songs?"

Standout songs: saying "all" would be cheating, so I'll go with: "Eighties Fan" (the only "official" video from the LP), "Happy New Year", "Houseboat", "Anti-Western", "The Sun on His Back", "Double Feature"  (listen to this YouTube playlist for all the songs).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

* One important exception: am I the only one that thinks the closing instrumental "Arrangements of Shapes and Space" sounds like the Texas-based, "post-rock" band Explosions in the Sky?

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