“We’re not really the same group of kids who were buoyed by the excitement of writing songs and skipping lectures that we were four years ago,” Gareth Campesinos! told PopMatters back in 2010, the same year the Cardiff-based rockers Los Campesinos! put out Romance Is Boring, their third album. “I think if anybody ever questioned what I was writing lyrics about (generally, rather than objecting to one specific lyric or something), then it’d put us all in a difficult position.”
In truth, Los Campesinos!, much like Weezer before them, have spent most of their career fighting off what they delivered on their first album, 2008’s twee-punk sugar rush of a record that is Hold on Now, Youngster…. So quickly embraced by critics as being the next big thing — a new indie-tentpole for the ADD generation — Gareth and the rest of the band wanted to push their sonic into darker territories. But Youngster proved so big of a hit that every subsequent record felt more like an apology for their debut instead of the debut being their sole exception to their career arc.
Their sophomore effort We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and 2011’s trembling beauty Hello Sadness, when grouped together with Romance, makes for a stellar heartbreak trilogy that is all breakups and bile, glockenspiels, and speakerfuzz. Gareth is a dynamite songwriter who can’t not give into his pop-rock sugartooth with sublime, catchy melodies often delivered at a fast tempo, but it’s his lyrics that prove to be the band’s most distinctive element, and on Romance Is Boring, we get nothing but pure raging id.
Re-released as a 10th Anniversary Reissue (and the band performing it in full through a pair of shows in London), Romance Is Boring is worth a revisit, even if this reissue edition does fans few favors outside of being made available in vinyl and with a previous iTunes bonus track (“Too Many Flesh Suppers”) being formally added to the lineup. There were certainly opportunities to package in other parts of the band’s expansive discography into this re-release, enough to even warrant a full bonus disc. Easy inclusions would be the All’s Well That Ends EP of notable album reworks released around the same time or the “Kindle a Flame in Her Heart” non-album single or the Heat Rash zine exclusive tracks). But as it stands, all that Los Campesinos! want to do is get this album back into the spotlight a bit.
What is unique about Romance Is Boring over the albums that surround it is just how much angrier and bitter it is. It is certainly a horny album, but it is also a frustrated one. “I think we need more post-coital / And less post-rock / Feels like the build-up takes forever / But you never touch my cock,” Gareth opines during album highlight “Straight in at 101”. But the villain isn’t a girl not wanting to have sex with him; it’s him, the narrator. “Some people give themselves to religion / Some people give themselves to a cause / Some people give themselves to a lover / I give myself to girls,” he whines at the end, upset that his breakups don’t match up with the rest of the world. It is the build-up and deflation of one man’s fragile ego across four minutes, and it’s a sight to behold.
While Gareth spends much of his time opining about drinking and fetishizing the idea of dying at age 45, much of his worry and anxiety comes from habits related to drinking and womanizing and simply not being able to help himself. It’s dealing with a lover you don’t understand, recounting “piss-soaked jeans” and parents dying from “an allergic reaction to a routine operation”. Sometimes Aleks Campesinos! serves as a balancing vocal counterpoint — her sweet tones countering Gareth’s shout-spoken vocals — while the band mixes thumping drums and quickly-strummed guitars with the occasional wall-of-sound wail, as group vocals and violins join in the mid-range to become a weaving blur of sound. It’s a distinct production trick that gives the band a unique sonic entity, effectively backing Gareth’s words as he parses out a relationship in a constant state of flux. “We are but two atheists in lust / We gotta make our own luck,” he notes on “These Are Listed Buildings”, and here, the band very much has.
Yet the album’s emotional centerpiece remains “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future”. It’s a tempo-shifting downward-gaze of a lament that uses sparse guitars and a more open-air tone to depict a girlfriend who self-harms and has an eating disorder. The male narrator tries to hold onto her even as it feels like their relationship is slipping away. The success of this brutally honest but endearing number is what would later color much of Hello Sadness, but here, it remains the album’s gravity and overall thesis statement. It’s a remarkable achievement, all rising and falling actions, and it still stings a decade down the line. Romance Is Boring, the band declares, but this album certainly isn’t.