Prolific British seven-piece show how sonic exploration can actually go right, and in the process prove that romance isn't all that boring after all.
As a thesis statement for Los Campesinos!’s third album, “romance is boring” is, if not an outright lie, then at the very least a red herring. After all, lead singer and lyricist Gareth Campesinos! spends the album’s 45-plus minutes thoroughly debunking his own theory, and he does it with relish. However, that should’ve been obvious anyway. Gareth has never been one for brevity, and it’s a safe bet to say that he never will be.
And so, Romance Is Boring will sound familiar to those familiar with Los Campesinos!. Like its two predecessors, the album finds the UK’s best band melodramatically ruminating on all subjects ripe for melodrama: love, death, sex and the intersection of it all. Gareth, as is his nature, castigates himself, his exes and the whole notion of romance all at the feet of savaged relationships. And yet the album remains uplifting, as despite all of the seemingly endless times that love has chewed him up and spit him out, Gareth knows he’s fighting a losing a battle, at the very least because soccer (ahem, “football”) won’t seem to fill the hole in his heart.
It also finds the band firing on all cylinders musically, relentlessly staving off the quick death that befell nearly all of Britain’s best bands before them, back when that sorta thing mattered. As previous album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed hinted at, Los Campesinos! have, in short time, found their sound. It’s an aggressive and raging brand of twee-leaning guitar rock, a bit removed from the cheery sugar-rush of their debut EP and album, which tries to find equal room for growling pockets of distortion, guitar tones that could scrape skin off the body, handclaps, violin, glockenspiel and now horns. There is bass in there somewhere. The fact that the seven-piece manage to make music that is as orchestrated and coherent as it is invigorating is only one of the few astonishing things about them.
What makes this possibly the best album of the band’s career is that it represents how sonic exploration can actually go right. It’s there in the way the epic “In Media Res” blossoms into a brassy shout-along and in the way “We’ve Got Your Back (Documented Emotional Breakdown #2)” transforms smoothly into a rather beautiful ballad. It’s there in the endearing crooning on the chorus of “Straight in at 101” and in the chugging motorik of “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me to Charlotte”. Plus, just as a reminder of what the band once was, there is catchy-as-hell pop-punk in the form of singles “There Are Listed Buildings” and “Romance Is Boring”.
What lurks beneath all of that is an album that splits the difference between the ruthless self-depreciation of their debut and the unflinching morbidity of its follow-up. A few songs aside, there is a seeming distance from heartbreak and heartache on Romance Is Boring that allows Gareth to re-assume a tone of cheeky resignation that was lost amid WAB, WAD’s shouts of “there's future in the fucking/ but there is no fucking future” and “I love the look of lust between your thighs”. Conversely, here we have Gareth sighing, “We are but two atheists in lust, you know we need to make our own luck”, and on “I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me", he sardonically hits on pretty much where this album lies: “All’s well that ends, I suppose.”
What’s great for Los Campesinos! fanboys and girls is that -- as anyone who follows the band on Twitter knows -- Gareth can’t shut himself up. This is the band’s third album in under 24 months, and it’s no less wordy and personality-driven than the previous two. This is a prolific band with a prolific and unstoppable songwriter, who we are clearly not hearing the last of. After all, I don’t think it’s an accident that on “Straight in at 101” when Gareth sings, “Some people give themselves to religion/ Some people give themselves to a cause/ Some people give themselves to a lover/ I have to give myself to girls”, the acquiescence can barely mask the anticipation.