Camera Obscura’s touching pop allure 

It’s not easy to describe the euphonic allure of Glasgow’s Camera Obscura, the best band you’ve probably never heard. But the song “Swans” on their new fourth outing, “My Maudlin Career,” nicely encapsulates their sunny aesthetic.

It opens with ringing bells, slides quickly into a sea of chiming aquamarine guitars, which part gently for the warm vocals of frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell — one of the most joyous sounds in modern rock.

But the picture skews upon considering her melancholy lyrics: “No surprises in my record collection/ You must’ve thought I was someone else.” Or “I’m still afraid to get lost/ In a city I might explore.”

“But I’m not a loser, I swear!” says the sweetly self-deprecating songstress, who appears with the band in The City on Wednesday.

“I do have a few surprises in my record collection that you wouldn’t expect. But ‘Swans’ is also saying that you can never judge a book by its cover, never have any preconceptions about anybody.”

Staying humble, she believes, is one of her best qualities. “I think it’s important — a good deal of humility in anyone goes a long way, especially me. So that’s how I approach life.”

Campbell has morphed modesty into a new art form. Upon hearing Lloyd Cole’s “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” a few years ago, she immediately penned a bashful, but Phil-Spector-plush, response,  “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.”

The “Maudlin” album title reflects her enduring doubts about making a living in music.

“It’s difficult for people to support themselves doing this, incredibly hard,” she says. “So I’m still trying to work out if it is a legitimate career. But I’ve kind of put all my eggs in one basket.”

The chanteuse should be happy — she makes divadom look simple. 

Offstage, it’s a different story. “I’m not outgoing at all, and I struggle from time to time with low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence,” she says. “But I’m lucky, because a song is a great way to sort yourself out. And that always makes me feel a bit happier. Or at least less sad.”

Campbell’s best ideas occur when she’s tooling around Scotland by herself, on buses and trains. Her mission: “To write something sincere, something nice, that other people might get something from.”

This pensive popster, however, has a new boyfriend. “He’s fabulous, and we’ve moved in together,” she says. “So I guess I’m going to have to write happy songs now. And actually, I’ve already been struggling a little bit with that …”

Camera Obscura

Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $20
Contact: (415) 885-0750;

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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