CRITICS CAN'T SEEM to mention Camera Obscura without an inevitable comparison to fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian—like it's some kind of lamprey, hitching a ride in the wake of the latter's success. Yes, B&S main-man Stuart Murdoch produced the band's debut single, "Eighties Fan." And yes, both traffic in understated pop music that disguises dour, ennui-damaged musings in sweet, wistful melodies. But on its third album, last year's Let's Get Out of This Country, Camera Obscura showed it draws from a lineage that stretches back much further than If You're Feeling Sinister.
From the classic girl-group drumbeat that introduces "Come Back Margaret" to the sprightly string sections that conjure polished '60s pop, Let's Get Out is so full of musical references that it sounds like a long-playing paean to pop music. Even songwriter Tracyanne Campbell's lyrical scope is limited to pop's most enduring trope: lovesickness and soured romance. But given how explicitly Campbell addresses her relationship to pop music—as both a listener and a songwriter—she seems to be playfully toying with lyrical tradition, instead of penning confessional purges. In essence, she's writing songs about songs.
On album opener, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken," for example, she affirmatively answers the musical question posed by Scotland's Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" from its 1984 debut, Rattlesnakes. So when Campbell sings, "Hey, Lloyd, I'm ready to be heartbroken/I can't see farther than my own nose at this moment," she might be singing about being blinded by infatuation or self-absorption. Or she might just be enraptured by a song, her nose buried in a record sleeve.
The country-tinged ballad "Dory Previn" pulls the same trick. As the band drives through Montana to its next show, Campbell finds comfort after a breakup while listening to the songwriter of the song's title: "How I adore you, Dory Previn/I turn you up to 11 for the band's ears to bleed." As much as the song laments a split with an old lover, it also celebrates a redemptive relationship to pop music—one affair that never has to end.