There are seemingly infinite songs that can be and will be written about love, and Scottish troup Camera Obscura have penned a decent proportion of them across their previous output, writing almost exclusively around the topic. Album number five, Desire Lines, is no different. And there’s no reason why it should be when you do it as well as Camera Obscura do it, and have a lead singer like Tracyanne Campbell who seems to be able to make every single entanglement that she sings about be both believable and about completely different people each time.
Lead single “Do It Again” shows Camera Obscura in typically boisterous and poppy spirits as Campbell sings about a particularly amorous relationship, but zippy numbers like this are in surprisingly short supply on Desire Lines. Only the delightfully breezy “Break It To You Gently” lifts the tempo to anywhere near that level again. Rather, the band opts for much slower and grander songs here, spending more time on the additional instrumentation, which allows Campbell to add more heart to her voice and seemingly more emotion to the songs. On first song proper “This Is Love (Feels Alright)” the seamless addition of woodwinds to the band’s sound should come with a swoon warning, especially for those who already know they have a weakness for the Glaswegians’ ear for romance. “Cri Du Couer” is another major standout, on the opposite end of the happiness scale. This time glistening strings and gliding synths sway with the song then build as Campbell reaches her emotional peak with the simple-yet-devastating delivery of “I know, I know, I know, I’ll cry.” “Fifth In Line To The Throne” adds a dramatically regal bent to the fairly standard “should I stay or should I go?” narrative, but with plinky pianos, gentle guitar plucking, delicate percussion and ghostly vocals, it’s a triumph in a way that only Camera Obscura could have achieved.
The rest of the songs on offer are fairly standard indie rock slow-burners, but never without Camera Obscura’s uncanny knack of throwing some kind of earworm melody. Campbell’s wit and delivery are as on-point as ever, and often this is what lifts the songs up to Camera Obscura’s usual high standard of songwriting. Whether she’s being openly honest on a track like “William’s Heart” or poignantly funny on tracks like “New Year’s Resolution” or “I Missed Your Party,” she’s still the star of the show.
Desire Lines is undoubtedly a Camera Obscura album, but it might be their first that is more suited to quiet winter nights inside, rather than the sunny side of things that dominated their sound on their previous albums. This is no slight on the album, but rather an indication that it’s less immediate and will take more listens to leave its full mark. Luckily Camera Obscura make music that’s easily charming enough to warrant that time investment.