It only seems like yesterday that Summer Camp suddenly appeared on MySpace (remember that, kids?) pretending to be a Swedish twee-pop collective, before suddenly unveiling themselves as Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley, a couple with a shared love of sweet synth-pop, film dialogue samples and so much love for John Hughes that you’d swear they were natives of Shermer, Illinois.
The duo’s debut album, Welcome To Condale, was produced by Steve Mackey of Pulp, and was a perfect demonstration of how to create that holiest of holy grail – the perfect pop song. There were blissful choruses, bittersweet lyrics and clever storytelling elements threaded through all 12 tracks – it was, in short, one of the best, if strangely overlooked, albums of 2011.
For the follow-up, another major figure of the Britpop years has been hired for production duties – the rather legendary figure of Stephen Street, the man who produced much of Blur‘s best work as well as overseeing albums by The Smiths and Morrissey. If Summer Camp were at all intimidated at working with such a name, it doesn’t show on their self-titled second album: this is a record with so much swagger, poise and confidence it could have been recorded by a band twice their age.
It starts with The End, perversely enough – slowly ebbing and flowing through a dark, tense beginning, with Sankey and Warmsley swapping vocal harmonies, before a glorious key change kicks in after three minutes, almost exploding into sunshine as Sankey sings “pick yourself up from the gravel….there is no control, the end creeps up to us,”. It’s a call to arms to make every second count, and makes for a wondrous, life-affirming start to the album.
Fresh continues the journey, and if you’d presumed Daft Punk‘s Get Lucky would be voted the ubiquitous song of the summer, then this may force a recount. Swirling strings give way to an infectiously funky guitar riff and the sort of clever, bittersweet lyrics that are rapidly becoming Summer Camp’s trademark (featuring not one, but two, lyrical nods to Pulp). Add in a chorus that immediately lodges in your brain, and a wistful, melancholy coda of “I will try and forget about you…” and you have one of the best tracks of the year.
As in Welcome To Condale, this sort of quality runs all through the album. Fighters is a stark piano ballad, the insta-Prozac disco anthem that is Crazy has a chorus that just makes you want to jump up and down with joy, while Phone Call shows off a new side to the duo, with Sankey’s rapid-fire, half-spoken vocals blending superbly with a nagging piano riff.
It’s Two Chords which really shows how far Summer Camp have progressed though, a gorgeous, six minute long masterpiece that, like Robyn‘s With Every Heartbeat or Girls Aloud‘s Untouchable, manages to evoke that happy/sad ‘crying on the dancefloor’ feeling. When Sankey sings “Let me be perfect, that’s all I ever want…waiting, always waiting for the next thing…will you wait with me?” it’s enough to give you shivers. This is a massive leap forward for the duo, and surely the best thing they’ve yet done.
It’s the similarly personal and emotional Pink Summer which closes the album, and contains probably the record’s key line: “it’s not how much you love, it’s how much you are loved” (a twist on the final line of The Beatles’ The End, perhaps). It closes an album which celebrates life, love and all the complexities and insecurities both bring, and it does so magnificently well.