Yes, it is. Pure pop, with Tracyanne Campbell’s thin, girlish voice and the band’s chipper tempo hiding the darker, almost scornful lyrics that touch on myopic love and loss of identity. Can you stay a girl while holding a boy’s hand? Do girls want to be protected like the Crown Jewels? Are you ready to be heartbroken?
Of course, on the surface, the song is the direct answer by Campbell to Lloyd Cole, who on 1984’s Rattlesnakes album asked the question “Are you ready to be heartbroken?” While Cole used his song to comment on earnestness in a cynical world and how it affects modern love over , Camera Obscura uses the contrast of warm, sprightly melodies and shimmering high voices to comment on using cynicism to escape a seemingly suffocating “ideal” situation. Love both sucks and is divine, and one can run the gamut between those two extremes all within five seconds of talking to the person you desire.
Camera Obscura is a band I enjoy without being in love with. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 1984 masterpiece album Rattlesnakes is easily one of my favourite 200 records (seriously, it’s there. Just wait). Cole as a lyricist is prone to pretentious narcissism, with all his “look at how clever I am!” references and philosophical meanderings, and sometimes his music veers to referential to the Velvets and Jonathan Richman, but the man could write a solid pop melody and many of the songs on Rattlesnakes overcomes what would later become unbearable tics. Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell on the other hand has a melodic sensibility that is utterly irrepressible and a cool, detached lyrical style that sometimes verges on ice queen, but this façade of Scottish stoicism sometimes crumbles around her. In the “Lloyd” video, she dourly mimes to her lyrics while a dancing couple straight out pretty people standard casting, resplendent in their brightly coloured mid-century style fashions, twirling through various candy coloured backgrounds in their plasticness. Peering out under her severe bob, unsmiling and barely registering any emotion on her face, she sings that she is, indeed, ready, because “I can’t see in front of my own nose at this moment.” Even I can admit to girlish single-mindedness when it comes to THE GUY I want in my life, while resenting the role I’m expected to play in this pas de deux.
It’s twee. But it’s delightfully charming, “Lloyd”. It’s flip side is Cole’s original song, which is darker, slightly menacing, ending with him repeatedly asking if you are ready to bleed. The death of love is emotional seppuku.
Together the songs make perfect sense to me- “Are you ready to be heartbroken after reading Norman Mailer and listening to Arthur Lee records?” “Yes, Lloyd, I am. Let me put on this raspberry coloured A-line shift dress and dance through a mountain of presents wrapped in LSD tripping wrapping paper!” One cannot experience the joy of love unless you have experienced the darkness that can come from it. If you are going to ask the question, prepare for the eventual answer.
Love is, in a word, infuriating.