“A heart of stone, rind so tough it’s crazy, that’s why they call me the avocado, baby,” Gareth Campesinos shout-sings on No Blues standout “Avocado Baby.” It’s a goofy call to arms for the cynics and hardened souls among us and proof that Los Campesinos! is back in fine form.
On their latest LP, the Welsh sextet gets back to the basics that made them an interesting band in the first place, and it’s clear they’ve grown up and know what works. Blues is stacked with the band’s trademark upbeat melodies coupled with self-aware, depressing lyrics—a style few other bands have been able to replicate in such an exciting, savvy way. The formula is tried and true, and they’re smart to stick with it. The delicate balance between off-the-chart twee and bitter self-loathing tipped too far toward morose on Hello Sadness, which slogged along in its gray sameness. Blues manages to strike the happy medium that’s come to be expected from a Los Campesinos! album—and it comes off without a hitch.
As a result, there’s not much that’s particularly groundbreaking on Blues. Even so, from its start, the album feels like sliding on a long-lost glove. On album opener “For Flotsam,” the band winks at the awkward adult-in-progress shtick that’s typical of its oeuvre: “Knees knocking and/ Blood flowing so/ I want you to know that I want to,” alludes to the knobby, bloodied knees that adorn the cover of 2009’s Romance is Boring.
Leaving behind the youthful, glockenspiel-pounding sound that buoyed the infectiously sickly-sweet Hold on Now, Youngster … and Sticking Fingers Into Sockets means Blues has no shout-along anthem. This isn’t to say the album is without standout tracks, but the band does sound more bound by their own convention than they did on its early releases.
Blues succeeds is proving Los Campesinos! is still the smartest band on the block. The band often mingles 10-dollar words with kindergarten-level puns, a device that feels equal parts wizened and endearingly fragile. “Cementary Gaits” skewers The Smith’s song of nearly the same name, and Gareth pays lip service to the English football league (which he often vents his frustrations about on Twitter) and the ancient Romans in the same breath. “Glue Me” is another high note, where Gareth intones, “I’ll be gloomy till they glue me in the arms of she who loves me.”
The album also serves to debunk age-old tropes about getting older, namely that finding happiness and someone to love you will likely come around by the time you’ve reached a particular milestone age. Age clearly doesn’t mean you’ve got it all figured out (“She says, ‘If you’re unhappy, then you gotta find the cure’ / Well I prescribe me one more beer, beyond that I am unsure”) or that you’re suddenly less self-involved (“There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine”). They’re no longer exactly the horny kids they were on albums past, but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally think of undressing someone at a funeral—you grow up, but you never fully leave immature urges and insecurities behind.
Los Campesinos! has always been able to rip your heart out while keeping you dancing. Blues builds on their particular brand of earnestness, the kind that’s been sharpened to a razor-sharp edge by countless broken hearts, friendships ending and various disappointments. It’s that sentiment—the quiet pleading to be known, insulated by an air of nonchalance to avoid another let down—that feels particularly present as we try to read the subtext behind Facebook chats and subtweets all while trying to make our way in the world as fully-formed adults. Growing up is rarely painless.
3.5 out of 5 stars