“ ‘My Maudlin Career’ is the sort of album that makes you want to stare out windows. With it off.”
So began this review as recently as 20 minutes prior to my writing now. What happened in this intervening time? I ventured out in the rain to get a sandwich from G-Heav; I ordered, awaited and then paid for my Number Four (heated up), selecting a Red Machine Naked Juice during the preparations; and then I returned to my room. I know I know I know — this journey means nothing to you, and, indeed, it would have meant nothing to me if I hadn’t been listening to “My Maudlin Career” all the while.
Upon setting out, I didn’t like the album so much. I didn’t really dislike it either, so my plan was to review Camera Obscura’s latest by explaining how this symptom, this compulsion to stare out windows, was not necessarily a bad thing, even given this compulsion to stop listening to the album. (It had to do with resonant textures. Resonant textures!) But I’m going to scrap that whole silly structure because, in the final approach to the Morse gate, as I shifted a plastic bag from my left to my right hand, to accommodate a back-pocket reach for my wallet, I realized that the album had grown on me. “The Sweetest Thing” was the song; its horns were swirling.
I usually don’t have the patience to incubate this sort of growth; normally, if an album’s first three tracks don’t make an impression on me, even if I keep it playing, my attention goes to other places. But out of some sense of obligation, I gave it a more-than-ample chance, kept it playing all hours — coming, going; working, sleeping; fetching sandwiches in the rain. But on the first seven or so listens-through, Tracyanne Campbell’s sweetly verbose utterances, the twinkling piano, the constantly-shifting guitar motifs … seemed lovely in the most bland, unassertive sense possible. It all registered somewhere in the far back of my mind, perhaps the same portion that deals with the Harkness bells and NHPD sirens.
But, on that approach to Morse’s gate, those “Sweetest Thing” horns somehow asserted themselves.
They must’ve put something in motion, too, because, as I listen now, bits of brilliance shine out of what was merely an agreeable haze: the Motown-inflected percussion on “French Navy,” the final vocal lift on “Other Towns and Cities,” the surfy guitar lines on “Sweetest Thing,” the third time Campbell declares “I don’t wanna be sad again” on the title track, heartrendingly different than the second or fourth utterance. These moments, none that long, are the difference between a pleasant, mediocre album and the grower we have here. So listen and give it a chance.