There’s always been a nostalgic edge to Summer Camp‘s music – that carefree nod to lazy, hazy summers, a longing for an idealised, John Hughes’ version of the ’80s rather than the actual bleak Thatcherite reality. For the duo’s third album, that nostalgia remains undimmed, but there’s a bittersweet side to the music that, although it’s always been there, seems to have been accentuated since the early days.
For, as the song puts it, love hurts and love scars. As the title of the record may suggest, Bad Love consists of 11 songs about love gone wrong, toxic relationships and the trials and tribulations of falling for someone completely wrong for you. It’s like the characters from debut album Welcome To Condale have grown up and experienced an emotional bruising and battering.
This being Summer Camp though, it’s never a chore to listen to. Bad Love has the band’s trademark lightness of touch and humour and, with this being the duo’s first self-produced album, there’s a pleasing confidence and self-assuredness that makes the record’s running time fly by – and while there may not be any huge musical progression from those first two records, Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey are so good at what they do that it hardly matters.
Every track, in fact, is fused with that confidence – from the full-on disco banger of the opening title track to the frantic closing thrash of Keep Up. In-between are songs about the hopelessness of love, about partners who let you down, and about that feeling where you sense a huge weight being lifted off your shoulders as a relationship collapses. Like all the best pop music, it’s uplifting, fun and danceable, but with a nagging sense of loss and sadness lurking just below the surface.
Nowhere is this best demonstrated than in Sleepwalking, which could well be one of the contenders for pop song of the year. It’s a lovely, lilting summer breeze of a tune which, when Sankey sings “is it ok if I lean on you tonight, keep me moving till I feel right” has the ability to shatter your heart into tiny pieces. Beautiful has an ache that only a song about the pain of an unrequited love affair can produce, while the brilliant Drive Past Your House is Bruce Springsteen produced by M83, a defiant ode to better things to come.
Although the general mood is one of reflection, there are also tracks like You’re Gone – which itself sounds like a bit of a throwback to Welcome To Condale’s Brian Krakow, with Warmsley on lead vocals and scuzzy guitars – which almost feels like it’s about to explode with euphoria, until you hear the downbeat lyrics: “you mean nothing, I mean nothing….cos you’re gone”. It’s that mirror of emotions that make Bad Love such a great listen.
Above all, this is just an album of wonderfully crafted pop music – the sort of album where your favourite track changes daily. One day, it could be the lolloping, infectious introduction to Horizon, the next day it could be the song to a drama queen that is Angela (“I think sometimes you cradle that empty hole in your heart”). And then another time it could be the lovely, minimal ballad Run Away, about a relationship being damaged by the restrictive small town that the protagonists live in.
In fact, perhaps the most appropriate line in Bad Love comes from the aforementioned You’re Gone – “this feels real in the way that a dream feels real”. Listening to this album is rather like a lucid experience that you never want to wake up from – and it is Sankey and Warmsley’s most impressive record to date.