It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley, collectively known as Summer Camp. Nearly five years in fact, since their third album Bad Love was released. But the duo have hardly rested on their laurels: Warmsley released a single every month of 2019, and made a move into soundtracking films, TV shows and computer games, while last year Sankey released her first film.
That film, an affectionate if occasionally biting documentary/essay about the genre of romantic comedies, is where Romantic Comedy, the band’s fourth album, springs from. This is not a soundtrack per se, although you will hear many tracks from it if you see Sankey’s film. It’s more a mix of tracks used in the film and songs inspired by romantic comedies, threaded together by short instrumental sections.
Love Of My Life, which was originally released as a single last year, sounds like classic Summer Camp straight from the off. With more than a nod to Saint Etienne, its swirling strings, carefree energy and pitch-perfect vocals from Sankey add up to one of those songs that sounds like an instant classic the moment you hear it.
The song that accompanied Love Of My Life, the Warmsley-sung Danny & John (here re-christened When Danny Met John) is, by contrast, a total about-turn from the usual Summer Camp sound. Inspired by one of Sankey’s film’s observations that the romcom genre can be stultifying hetero-normative, it’s a bittersweet tale of two men who can’t get their one kiss many years ago out of their heads, with lines like “as he inched closer to 40, his only friend was regret”.
What’s so delightful about the album (and indeed, Sankey’s film) is the way it both pays tribute to and subverts various tropes from romantic comedies. Song titles like You Complete Me, Nice Guy and Mr Wrong will be familiar to anyone who grew up with Jerry Maguire and Pretty In Pink, while the swooning Women In Love is about the various personas that women are given in such films – whether it be a woman who “drinks coffee after midnight and never cuts her hair” or swims in the sea every Friday after work. The fact that it’s set to a gorgeous melody that can imagine accompanying the roll of credits is a bonus.
The arrangements seem more muscular than before too – Warmsley has described Romantic Comedy as the first album they’ve recorded as a live band, and on tracks like The Ugly Truth, you can really tell: when the chorus of The Ugly Truth kicks in, it’s the cue for the band to step up a gear and the song feels like it’s about to rise up into the air. It Happened One Night (another nod to a famous rom-com) is a gorgeously lush piano ballad, while Barefoot In The Park (ditto) has a lovely Bruce Springsteen-ish driving energy to it which already sounds like a future live favourite.
Unlike their previous ‘soundtrack’ album (the score to Charlie Shackleton’s Beyond Clueless), Romantic Comedy feels like a standalone album in its own right – even the little instrumental interludes don’t feel like they’re slowing the album’s momentum down. In fact, it’s an album that, to paraphrase the 2005 classic of the genre, The Wedding Date, you’d miss even if you’d never heard it.