Twee pop? Cuddlecore? Pomo-Spector pop? File it under whatever clever or convenient subgenre, one thing is sure: Isobel Campbell, previous member of Belle and Sebastian, introduces her first solo album under her own name (She released Swansong For You and Green Fields of Foreverland as the Gentle Waves.) with fully-orchestrated, willowy aplomb. Aplomb? You got it; grand gestures appear all throughout the thirteen songs on Amorino.
The album starts with the title track. Campbell’s signature dreamy vocals hover above a harpsichord keyboard, while a double bass subtly slides through the chord changes. In turn, a warbly/affected guitar and trumpet appear and solo; and the track ends with a man telling me something in French. I don’t know what he says; but I say this: “Amorino” is quite a groovy track.
The second track, “The Breeze Whispers Your Name,” whisks you away to a club. It is a small, darkish club where people chat in the periphery. There is a bartender somewhere in this club, and he clinks the bottles and glasses, while Campbell’s lithe frame slinks to the microphone. Can you see it? This track is lounge-tastic with its double bass, flute, and gentle guitar picking. Campbell’s velvety voice never strains to gain your attention, and you find yourself leaning in closer to listen: “The breeze whispered your name / Long enough to hear it / Trees whispered the same / What I must do is follow you.” As Campbell is following, “The Breeze … ” entices the listener to do the same.
Much of Amorino follows the hip, subdued mood established in the first two tracks. And, many tracks reside in the same vein as her Belle and Sebastian efforts. But good is good, even if it’s not ground-breaking. For a partial breakdown, consider the following categories: Highlights, Deviations, & Disappointments.
~ The Guitar Solos: simple, nicely affected (with warble and reverb) and consistent throughout the album.
~ Did you like “The Girl from Ipanema”? Consider Campbell’s bossa nova number “Johnny Come Home.”
~ With the mixture of strings, sad piano, flute, twangy guitar and muffled trumpet “Poor Butterfly” (despite its unfortunate title) elicits the most emotional response from this reviewer (What? It’s getting cold outside, and furthermore, what good pop music doesn’t have a few hints of sentimentality. Two words: The Cure).
~ The Layers: See the final paragraph.
~ “The Cat’s Pajamas” indeed! Campbell mixes with the Uptown Shufflers to produce one of the album’s most interesting surprises. Beginning with a cryptic sample (“Have you ever wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars … “), it erupts into a full-swinging, Dixie-jazz romp (there’s a banjo, a clarinet and a slide-whistle for chrissakes). Campbell’s vocals create a bizarre Birkin-esque juxtaposition to the period players.
~ “This Land Flows with Milk.” With its minimal piano and Isobel’s relaxed (and earnest?) delivery, it fully seems you are listening to the second to last song in a musical play. A musical? Yes, a musical. You know the song, after the lovers experience a misunderstood falling-apart (but before the grand reuniting) and yet the character still retains some hope. Yes, hope. There is always hope. Oh, and someone is playing a saw.
~ The Duets: The burden of releasing some dynamite duets with Belle and Sebastian (see: “Women’s Realm”) is the tendency to hold the new tracks up against the old. Is this fair? Well, probably not (or probably?), but that discussion is for another time and place. What I’m saying is the final two tracks, “Song for Baby” and “Time is Just the Same,” fall short of the mark Campbell has set with her previous collaborations.
OK, now for the layers and the wrap-up. Most of Amorino‘s songs begin lightly and simply but swell with the one-after-another addition of new instruments, until at some point a full string section arrives and washes the track away. Depending on your tastes, this can be good and bad. To my ears, when it’s good, it’s good. But, when it’s mediocre, it’s, well, a bit boring and overwrought (the amount of production, at times, can overshadow, and sort of stifle, Campbell’s charming pop songs).
In “Love for Tomorrow,” Campbell sings of the “you” who offers her a rainbow. I have no idea what this line means, but I bet that Amorino is offering such a gift to the listener. Do you like rainbows? Do you like orchestrated pop and certain 1960s French female vocalists? A fan of Belle and Sebastian? If so, don’t deny your pop sensibilities. Invest. And after you do, remember this: share the love.