For those of us that still persisted in seeing Los Campesinos!' brutal-yet-eloquent diatribes on youthful despondency as exaggerated tongue-in-cheek sentiment, last Christmas Eve proved how seriously the Cardiff-based seven-piece actually take it. “I put so much personal and biographical stuff into songs that it as good as breaks me” vented lead singer Gareth, regarding the leak of this, their third album. Whilst the outpouring was, of course, 100 per cent justifiable, it also completed a transition the group had been making since We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’s speedy follow-up to Hold On Now, Youngster tried to move them away from being the band that earnest 16-year-old lovers could sing along to. Put simply, they tried and have now been forced to mature.
Romance is Boring marks the tipping point when self-absorbent adolescent relationships and emotions become the things used to cower behind as escape from the harsh realities of life’s ticking clock. Gareth’s proclamation on ‘These Are Listed Buildings’ that “we are but two atheists in lust” is evidence of a very real greying in his intrigue with romance, whilst the epiphany that he’s “learned more from toilet walls than I’ve learned these words of yours” perhaps as much references the band’s earlier albums as his increasingly jaded views on complicated amours. His singing voice follows this precedent, continuing its descent from excitable yelp to cynical drawl; and musically the band are altering too. By now the cheap, instant gratification of Korg-y bleeps and burbles are virtually gone, replaced by collaborators Parenthetical Girls’ Zac Pennington and Dead Science’s Jherek Bischoff’s grander string and brass-based arrangements. These accompany an assault still upbeat in comparison with its lyrical content, yet undoubtedly more focused than previously (production is, alas, still too loud). When they break from this template, results vary: ‘Plan A’s’ attempt at following tour-mates Times New Viking’s lo-fi scuzzery is poor; however, the spectacularly titled ‘A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me To Charlotte’s introduction is amongst the most hair-raising moments here. Times truly are a-changing, and yet…
And yet, despite the album’s title - and testifying to it as early as track three - they still haven’t quite let go. Gareth still wants to be “the one you let keep track of the moles on your back”; he’s still fighting himself by baulking at the object of his desire, only to resignedly return (first track ‘In Media Res’s opening line of “let’s talk about you for a minute” is venomously spat out, only for our man to finish up wondering if “a lover by your side… is this something that would interest you?”); and he still needs Aleks to cool his jets- as she does on ‘We’ve Got Your Back’ with a curt “doe eyes, you’re kidding yourself”. Having departed since recording, it’ll be interesting to see how her replacement, Kim, deals with Gareth’s constantly meandering trains of thought. Romance is Boring is as reference-packed as ever: vaulting from sneering comparisons between post-rock and intercourse (“feels like the build up takes forever, but you never get me off”), to football analogies (“this opportunity found me unmarked at the far post”) and a televised talking heads-style “count down of the most heart-wrenching break-ups of all time” (Gareth’s is unsurprisingly absent).
However, eventually they break free of break-ups and sexual disappointment. ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’ draws the closest alignment between subject and atmospheric moods on the whole album, as the outspoken front man ultimately puts aside his inner monologue in order to plea with a depressed and anorexic friend that she’s “taken the diet too far”, before swearing “a thousand years no getting rid of me.” It’s in these moments of brooding, cello-led worry that we finally hear a changed Los Campesinos! - the closest thing to orthodox beauty they’ve perhaps ever produced; a firm push away from their comfortingly familiar hang-ups of old. Their sloganeering, haughtiness and mocking dismissal of their dislikes will always remain contentious, but never suggest they don’t mean it. This matters more to them than it does anybody else; Romance is Boring is the openly flawed but often brilliant proof.
8Simon Jay Catling's Score