When Cardiff, Wales’ Los Campesinos! started off in 2007 with Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP (QRO review), the Pavement (QRO album review)-inspired (and covering – QRO video), over-stuffed, boy/girl, ecstatic-twee jambalaya of the four males & three females was enjoyable, but seemed sure to fade, despite their uninhibited early live shows (QRO review of second-ever U.S. appearance). And if the band actually grew up, they were sure to lose what made them so accessible in the first place. Yet the band has managed to mature without getting old, on already-a-classic non-album single "International Tweexcore Underground" (QRO video), 2008’s amazingly enjoyable debut full-length Hold On Now, Youngster… (QRO review), the same year’s don’t-call-it-a-follow-up-LP ‘extended EP’ We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (QRO review), and now with Romance Is Boring, their gangly adolescence, with all the fits & starts, mistakes & growth spurts of a great John Hughes film.
After the pitch-perfect Hold On Now, any follow-up would face a trying time (perhaps why the band didn’t want the ‘follow-up’ label affixed to We Are Beautiful) – the listener naturally wants the new stuff to sound just like the old stuff, but be new. Where We Are Beautiful evened itself out and was single-less, Romance is a much more varied record, in terms of quality (and, at fifteen tracks, certainly more stuffed, though two of those – "200-102" and "Heart Swells / 100-1" are sub-minute instrumental interludes). The major, or at least most noticeable, addition is sharp-sounding noise-hits, which unfortunately can mar the fun you just know you would have on "Plan A", "Straight In At 101" and "I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me", as well as the sadness to "Who Fell Asleep In". And packing them all together in the middle (book-ended by the instrumental interludes) doesn’t help, either.
One might get sick of, or at least disappointed by that move, but that’s only because the Campesinos base is already so high. The chaotic jumble at the start of Romance works better with the ‘Campesinos sound’, especially on the title track (previously only known as "R.I.B." – QRO video of "world premiere"). Either of the moves does overshadow the lyrics somewhat, save in shout choruses & stripped portions, and Gareth (QRO interview) & Aleks Campesinos’ (QRO interview) dueling duets were a mainstay of what you loved about the band. Though Campesinos may have wanted to shift a bit away from vocals when making Romance because, at the time, they knew that Aleks would unfortunately soon be leaving the band to selfishly become a doctor – the female vocalist/keyboardist role has since been filled by Gareth’s sister Kim, but can anyone really replace your favorite Campesina (QRO Tribute to Aleks Campesinos)?…
All this might sound like it makes for a weak, or at least relatively underwhelming new album, but one must remember two things: a) the underlying Los Campesinos! strength is still there, and b) the amazing back third of Romance. "A Heat Rash In the Shape of The Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me To Charlotte" incorporates the mid-section’s sharper notes with the Campesinos sound expertly, while the band’s underrated melody shines through on "I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed. Just So You Know" & "This Is a Flag. There Is No Wind". Oh, and "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think of the Future" just might be the best song Los Campesinos! has ever produced. Certainly the most accomplished, "The Sea" sees the band reach a whole new level of emotion, intimacy, and power – hopefully, this is what they see at the sea when they think about the future.
By epic loss closer "Coda: A Burn In the Shape of The Sooner State" (are these Brits trying to steal the ‘States Project’ from Sufjan Stevens?… – QRO live review), the group has roughly squared their sophomore circle: Romance Is Boring is what you have loved about Los Campesinos!, but it’s also new. Yes, there are missteps to go with the moments of brilliance, but that’s what growing up is all about – or at least what it should be.
MP3 Stream: "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think of the Future"