“French Navy” is just one of those songs, y’know? The ones that’s going to make you stop everything else you’re doing because it finished and the next track started and you need to hear it again. The greatest part of the song isn’t even the chorus, though the chorus is indeed catchy (both the vocals and the violin). No, for me, “French Navy” is all about the verses, and that’s why I’ll always prefer this song to “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken,” the song that captured everyone’s hearts just three years’ prior, whose verses were just there in comparison to the massiveness of that song’s chorus. (Also: it always bothered me that it seemed Tracyanne cheated on Lloyd in that song, or at least lied to him, “Because I can’t see farther than my own nose at this moment,” though no one seemed to notice.)
Here, big booming drums give way to an even better vocal melody and better lyrics too: “Spent a week in a dusty library / Waiting for some words to jump at me”; “You with your dietary restrictions / Said you loved me with a lot of conviction”; “Relationships were something I used to do / Convince me they are better for me and you.” The best part: the way Tracyanne Campbell squeezes the last word in “The things that you do / you make me go ooh.” And just when you think you’ve exhausted yourself listening to the song and you’re finally ready to the next song, you realize there’s some horns and backing vocals in the chorus that you missed the first fifty times you’ve heard the song because Tracyanne is just that commanding of a presence.
“The Sweetest Thing” is just one of those songs, y’know? The ones that’s going to make you stop everything else you’re doing because it finished and the next track started and you need to hear it again. The greatest part of the song isn’t even the chorus, though the chorus is indeed catchy (both the vocals and the violin). No for me, “The Sweetest Thing” is all about the verses, and that’s why I’ll always … ah, you get the point. Here, big booming drums give way to the best lyrics on the album: “I’m going on a date tonight / To try and fall out of love with you”; “On the bus radio, ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’ alone / I laughed at the irony / but life is stupid, the irony got lost on me”; “You challenged me to write a love song / Here it is, I think I got it wrong / I focused on the negative.” And look! They introduce a brand new melody in the outro before returning to the main riff but adding a counterpointing melody to that one.
Unfortunately, there’s a very dramatic drop after “The Sweetest Thing” that the band never recovers from; one of the commenters on The A.V. Club’s review of the album by the name of Tony Whale nails it: “I actually like this album a lot, although it does get a little saggy in the middle. It’s feels breezy and…unsubstantial I guess in a way, although I don’t necessarily mean that disparagingly. It goes well with my fabulous collection of scarves.” Though I prefer “French Navy” and “The Sweetest Thing” to anything off Let’s Get Out of the Country, I’ll submit that broadly speaking, it’s easier to listen to that album in one sitting because a) it’s shorter and b) it’s springier; My Maudlin Career indeed. Most of these songs are driven by big booming drums that are always simple and only sometimes effective, sprinkles of violin, faraway barre chords on the guitar, and a lot of reverb to imitate Phil Spector’s wall of sound approach. And lyrically speaking, Tracyanne Campbell hasn’t read close to as many books as Stuart Murdoch has, try though she might to catch up. The greatest offender is “Away With Murder,” which just plods along without a melody in sight (and no, that descending three note synth does not count). On the rest: “You Told a Lie” has a good melody; “Careless Love” has some of the album’s best moments (the way everything picks up after the heartbreaking “Oh I don’t think that we can really be friends” and optimistic “But I’ll try again” right after); closer “Honey in the Sun” vaguely successfully re-enacts “French Navy” with louder horns (no need for it to be almost 6 minutes long).
Still though, those two songs.