CD Review: Paul Melancon, “Camera Obscura”

Written by CD Reviews, Music

This review is late. Eight years late, to be exact but I do have an excuse. The only way I could have gotten it in on time would be to dust off the DeLorean, shoot back to 2002 B.P. (before Popdose) and review it then. However, since that would be before Popdose, the paradoxes and wormholes and variant realities would all just…

Let’s cut through it – even though it was released eight years ago, Paul Melancon’s Camera Obscura might still be the best album of 2010, and here’s why: a great pop record is an insistent little bugger. It stays in rotation for days, weeks even, until you’ve learned every song, sing along in harmony and never, ever skip a track. While 2010 has been a remarkable year for releases, this particular album has spawned a minor obsession for me.

It’s not the first time this has happened. Last year, after hearing a couple tracks by the band Pugwash, I had to go back and get all of their CDs, even though they were all strictly imports from Ireland. The combination of familiar but sure-handed instrumentation, lyrics that presumed the listening capacity to appreciate them, and no shortage of unpredictable melodies virtually demanded it. Now, apply that to Mr. Melancon but understand that while Thomas Walsh and Co. has found a benefactor in Andy Partridge and his Ape label, Camera Obscura has been left to fend for itself at CD Baby. Don’t get me wrong – I love CD Baby, but they’re not in the business of promoting you.

It shouldn’t have needed to be that difficult. The ballads “Sherman” and the closing “Fine” are filled with mood but are not moody or mopey. Rockers like the opening “Overture,” “Hitchcock Blonde” and “Now Wait For Last Year” have shimmering jangle and a thousand influences, but none of them lay claim solely to Melancon’s sound. His sideways tribute to a certain E.L.O. bandleader turns “Jeff Lynne” into a fun, spot-on highlight. Sure, in context it might take on the veneer of a gimmick, but sometimes, when the gimmick actually works, you’ll forgive it anything.

The album as a whole has the unique position of not being able to offer up a ‘best track’, so rather than pretend it’s possible, I can only point you toward CD Baby and ask you to check the album out for yourself. This is the freshest eight-year-old out there and, I’ll say it again, maybe the best album of 2010.

Camera Obscura is available from CD Baby.